6 Cocktail Trends That Could Spike Your Customers’ InterestWant to turn the excitement at your bar up a notch? Consider some of these in
Like many industries (fashion, architecture), food and beverage is all about trends — setting them, following them, making the most of them to enhance the guest experience. They often start as creative outlets for chefs and bartenders and then grow as guests embrace them.
Craft cocktails are now popular throughout the industry, but they used to be the trend of the moment. Here are six newer trends that just might be that next big thing.
“Bars are paying more attention to the details, to every single detail of what’s in the drink,” said Julia Momose, head bartender at GreenRiver, a restaurant and bar in Chicago’s Streeterville neighborhood.
One of those details is ice. Making sure the ice used for craft cocktails is crystal clear and of the utmost quality is something on which more and more bartenders are focusing.
“If you think about ice, ice when it melts is water, and water is a balancing agent in cocktails. Water’s also used in spirits to bring them down to proof, to make them easier to work with and mix with and, you know, more enjoyable and neat in the glass,” said Momose.
“A lot of people are purchasing Clinebells [commercial ice machines], so that they can freeze 300-pound blocks of crystal clear ice and then either thaw it down or hand-saw or hand-chip it down to different sizes and shapes for different glasses or freezing fun things inside of the ice like flowers and toys…something to make the drink more fun, more exciting.”
Upscale ice is also better quality, said Momose. It uses cleaner water that is frozen without air bubbles “so that it’s denser and thus holds the cold better and keeps the drink colder longer.”
Can’t afford a fancy commercial ice machine? Consider alternative techniques like directional freezing, Momose said.
Changing cocktail menus
A trend that’s been gathering steam is changing cocktail menus monthly, weekly or even daily. This gives guests something new and different to look forward to.
Sportsman’s Club in Chicago and Spoon in Spruce Pine, North Carolina, regularly switch things up. Sportsman’s Club makes changes daily. Spoon’s menu changes according to what’s available in the area surrounding Spruce Pine.
Frequently changing menus can also encourage customers and bartenders to interact more as customers choose a drink from a menu that might be completely different from the last time they were in.
Attention to garnishes
Whether a simple citrus peel or an intricate assemblage of herbs, edible flowers or even sausages, a garnish can function as an important component of a drink.
Momose said these “little touches” make the drink that much prettier and also more enjoyable because of the aromatics from herbs, flowers or citrus oils.
“Garnish isn’t something that’s just thrown into or onto the glass for fun, it actually holds a purpose, it actually elevates the cocktail,” said Momose. “Pay attention to, ‘does this drink actually need a peel in it? Or maybe I can just express fresh oils over the top and discard the rest.’” (She noted that the pith, or underside of the peel, is mostly bitter and does not have those pleasant aromas, so use only the zest, or colored portion of the peel, if you plan to use peel.)
Consistently sippable, lower-proof drinks
After a period of high-octane cocktails, the pendulum is now swinging a little bit the other way as bartenders and customers turn their attention to lower-proof drinks that can be sipped all night.
Contributing to this trend is the recent popularity of the spritz (thanks in part to the book “Spritz: Italy’s Most Iconic Aperitivo Cocktail, with Recipes”), as well as bitter flavors, which are often features of spritzes and other low-proof cocktails.
Low-proof spirits like sherry and vermouth, which can be sipped on their own, are also giving this trend a boost.
“There are lot of interesting, fun vermouths coming into the market from Europe as well as being made here in the U.S. Those are coming up on menus either to be enjoyed on their own or with a splash of soda or in cocktails,” said Momose.
Flavorful, lower-proof cocktails are “a sign of restaurant buyers really stepping up their game, thinking about cocktails that’ll pair well with food.” At GreenRiver, bartenders make suggestions as to which cocktails pair well with which dish.
Kitchen items in the bar (and vice versa)
Kitchens and bars are often two distinct spaces physically, but they don’t have to be inspirationally. Collaboration — using typically culinary ingredients behind the bar and typically beverage ingredients back in the kitchen — can seamlessly blend the two programs and add another degree of cohesiveness to the overall guest experience.
Momose points to fennel as an example. GreenRiver’s chef uses it in a number of ways, for instance, for pickling and as garnishes (sliced very, very thin) in salads. Momose saw an opportunity.
She uses some of the chef’s pickling liquid in the Bloody Marys. And because there are “always so many more fronds and stems than there are bulbs,” she began using them as garnishes for some cocktails. “The [stem] garnish is actually fennel stem cut on the bias into little discs and placed delicately on the side of the glass so it looks like celery. It’s a Bloody Mary by all respects, but with a little twist. The base spirit is Aquavit instead of vodka. But Aquavit Bloody Marys are fantastic.”
Speaking of Aquavit, this caraway-scented Scandinavian spirit that’s somewhat similar to gin is quietly having a moment.
“Whenever I go out for brunch I ask if they have Aquavit, and I’ve been able to find it more recently. North Shore Distillery [in Chicago] makes a fantastic Aquavit. Gamle Ode…they make a really, really fun one — dill Aquavit.”
Explaining what’s in Aquavit, Momose said: “There will always be caraway. But, in addition, you’ll typically also find juniper, coriander, star anise, sometimes vanilla beans, sometimes some kind of herb. What the guys at Gamle Ode did is focus on dill. They have three different expressions of Aquavit. One that I really love is with dill but also some vanilla bean and citrus peel and star anise.” Catch Momose ordering her Aquavit Blood Marys on her days off at Chicago’s Longman & Eagle.
Aquavit hasn’t quite broken through in terms of full-on bar trends in the U.S., but it just might be the big behind-the-bar up-and-comer.
Lauren Schumacker is a writer who specializes in food and drinks.