Craft Beer and Beyond: New Artisanal Beverage Trends to Watch

Is your drink menu "crafty" enough to meet consumer demand?
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Introduce new flavors to your customers by offering craft beer from regional breweries like Greasy Luck Brewery in New Bedford, Massachusetts. (Photo: Christian Farland)

“Tastes are changing,” said Christian Farland, managing partner and brewmaster of Greasy Luck Brewery in New Bedford, Massachusetts. “Drinkers are becoming far more discerning and like to keep things varied. They’re often on the lookout for new flavors, and interesting, creative approaches to their beverages.”

Stepping in to meet consumer demand for variety is the craft beverage market.

In 2016, the craft beer sales grew 10 percent, generating $23.5 billion in revenue, according to the Brewers Association. But beer isn’t the only drink riding the artisanal beverage wave. Last May, market intelligence agency Mintel revealed craft spirit launches jumped by 265 percent between 2011 and 2015. So what’s going on?

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“Consumers are looking for genuine, legitimate experiences and products, and they’re often willing to pay a bit extra for them.” -Ken Weaver (Photo: Ken Weaver)

Catering to nostalgia

Ken Weaver, beer editor for “All About Beer Magazine,” said terms like “craft” and “artisanal” are suggestive of “high quality, low volume, earnestly produced things.” They conjure nostalgic images of a lone artisan toiling lovingly in a workshop, he said.

“Consumers are looking for genuine, legitimate experiences and products, and they’re often willing to pay a bit extra for them.”

Related: Bartenders Predict The Biggest Bar Trends for 2017

When it comes to spirits, Jeffrey Morgenthaler, drinks blogger and bar manager for Clyde Common and Pépé Le Moko in Portland, Oregon, said the term “craft” is used denote spirits that were made more by hand, rather than in a large industrial process.

“Whether it’s agricultural products or spirits or beer, people often believe that things labeled ‘craft’ are better for them, better for the planet and better for local economies — not that any of that is necessarily true, but I think that’s why it’s so popular,” he said.

Building a craftier menu

In an expanding artisanal food and beverage market, restaurants and bars need to make sure their drink selection is keeping up with the trends. Here are a few craft beverages to add to your menu if you want to cater to current tastes, bring in new customers and drive sales.

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A study by Mintel shows that increased availability of craft beer has escalated the amount of beer consumed by customers. (Photo: Aleksandar Karanov/Shutterstock)

Craft beer. According to Mintel research, craft is quickly gaining ground on the mainstream beer market. Three in 10 beer drinkers report consuming “craft style” beers from national brands like Shock Top and Blue Moon, and nearly a quarter drink “true craft” beer from small, regional breweries. What’s more, 54 percent of consumers who say they’ve increased beer consumption say growing availability and variety of craft beer was a driving force.

Noted Farland, “Much remains to be seen, but I believe craft beer is now deeply rooted in American culture and that we are still scratching the surface of its potential.”

Related: How to Build a Craft Beer Menu that Sells

Hard sodas. Also rising in popularity are hard sodas. The trend was largely kicked off by Not Your Father’s Root Beer from Wauconda, Illinois, and has swiftly gained ground, especially among millennials. Beverage Marketing Corp. estimates the hard-soda market grew 175 percent between 2015 and 2016.

Related: Do’s and Don’ts of Marketing to Millennials

“The nostalgic pull of hard sodas, plus savvy maneuvering of the Not Your Father’s brand, has made that industry huge in just a few years,” said Weaver.

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Craft fruit brandies are a good starting point for introducing craft spirits to your menu. (Photo: El Nariz/Shutterstock)

Craft spirits. When it comes to craft spirits, Morgenthaler said his rule of thumb is to stick with agricultural spirits. “Tequila or brandies tend to be better made in smaller productions. Rum and whiskey, on the other hand, tend to be better when they’re made in more large scale operations.”

“Farm to glass” mezcals are first on his list of suggestions for adding to a bar menu. “I find that in the case of more agricultural spirits that are made from fruits, hands-on and craftsmanship does make a big difference. Artisanal mezcals are typically distilled by the people that grow the agave.” He also recommended craft eau de vies or fruit brandies.

Craft coffee. The artisanal trend isn’t limited to alcoholic beverages. For example, cold-brew coffee is blowing up in coffee shops. Research from Mintel showed a 580 percent increase in cold-brew coffee sales between 2011 and 2016.

If you’re set up for bar service, nitro coffee is another option. Nitro is essentially cold brew coffee infused with nitrogen. It’s served from the same style faucet as nitro stout beer, which gives it a smooth, slightly effervescent taste. If you want to offer a unique drinking experience to coffee enthusiasts, nitro is the way to go.

Regardless of what craft beverages you add to your menu, make sure your servers and bartenders are educated on your drinks selection, said Morgenthaler. “In general, people are attempting to be more educated about what they consume. It’s just as important for us, the people who are selling these things, to be educated about them. If we’re going to sell them to our guests, we should know all that we can and be selecting the ones that taste good.”

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