Cocktails have come a long way since the 90’s. Do you remember the sugary, high alcohol mixes with plastic straws and umbrellas created predominantly for women? Roll forward to 2020 and the GB cocktail market is c. £587m+ (CGA Mixed Drinks Report), plastic straws are outlawed, cocktails have ‘moments’, they are ubiquitous, sophisticated and enjoyed by men and women equally.
Let’s fill in the gaps, what has happened to bring about such a change? As you would imagine, there is no silver bullet. But I would suggest culture has been the biggest driver of these changes.
Ethics, Culture and Consciousness
Millennials are much more health and socially conscious than the previous generations. The ethical issues surrounding the disposal of plastic straws reached a tipping point in 2018 with David Attenborough’s Blue Planet series. The disturbing images of plastic waste being consumed by albatrosses in Antarctica parents feeding straws to their chicks created a public outcry and perception was changed almost overnight. Ethical issues aside, given that taste is enhanced through smell, why were we using straws at all?
The health-conscious consumer and innovative drinks brands have led the explosion of the low / no products. This ever-growing sector is an exciting space to watch. "Non-alcoholic spirits, a relatively new category, which has seen volumes and value sales for the same period (year to Feb 2019), rise by 407% and 418% sales respectively" (Nicholas Robinson, The Morning Advertiser 2019. Trailblazers Seedlip have shown us that no alcohol spirits can command the same price point as traditional spirits. Their flavours are ever growing to suit more palettes. "45% of cocktail drinkers find the idea of low ABV appealing" (CGA Mixed Drinks Report, 2018). This also coincides with the growth of premium mixers brands, such as Fever-Tree, producing clean and crisp tonics which complement the drink. Retailers are enjoying the interest and growth in this space, allowing bar tenders to reach audiences which had previously eluded them - pregnant women, designated drivers and alcohol intolerant customers.
The upsurge in gin has been well documented, with it now reportedly taking a 20% share of the spirits market. No longer only twinned with tonic, craft producers have shown its versatility which has lead to further growth and interest from new consumers. To that end, consumers are better informed and more willing to experiment. A bar tender’s delight as that equals experimentation time!
The current trends are around premiumisation, choice and quality. Highballs are a perfect example where all of these elements collide with some fabulous outcomes. Highball drinks sit perfectly in a food-led occasion, long, refreshing and complementary to the meal. The premium nature of these exciting drinks is evidence of the thought which goes into the visual appeal of the garnish, (think glass wrap, flavoured paint), the premium spirit and mixer choice, weight and cut of the glass, clarity and shape of the ice to minimise dilution but allowing the bubbles to pass by frictionlessly. Choice comes from the abundance of quality mixers on the market.
Whilst choice and personalisation are mega trends, speed of service to the consumer has never been more in focus. We wait for nothing, everything is instantly accessible, so should drinks from the bar be. Cocktail flarers, whilst they still have their place, are being replaced with fast pour machines and prebatched cocktails. Whilst you may wince at the thought of a machine delivered cocktail, the consistency of serve, temperature and variety of offer can’t be ignored. Premium spaces will do well to avoid these machines, the interaction with a good bar tender and the theatre of cocktail creation can’t be beaten by a machine.
In the UK, we have been slow to catch up with our European friends who have long enjoyed the Aperitivo moment. The aromatic, bittersweet drink that precedes a meal. These beautifully crafted drinks awaken the taste buds and are best enjoyed slowly. For me, like blue cheese, I had to consume a fair few Negronis before I ‘got it’. Now that I have, there is no going back – this is my ‘go to’ premeal drink and I’m in good company. The growth and availability of this drink is on the rise.
So, what’s new, what’s going on, what’s happening right now? Having lived through the 80’s, it is with some dismay that it is having a renaissance moment. "Like it or not, the polarizing era in fashion is back in a big way" (Sarah Lindig, The Zoe Report). Where fashion goes, most things follow – the same is true for cocktails. Whilst I don’t expect to see wall to wall Woo Woos, I do foresee innovative, modern takes on 80’s classics. My bomber jacket and cap are going to remain hidden in my wardrobe until this phase passes...
I’m a huge fan of tequila and I am delighted to see the growth in this category. Not the sort of shot taken with salt and a lime wedge, but sophisticated pairings with the likes of grapefruit and served in a highball. Alternatively a full-bodied, oak barrel-aged Gran Patron over ice, sipped slowly. "78% of consumers are drinking it (tequila) as often or more than they did a year ago" (CGA Influencers Report, 2018).
A quick word on rum... the versatility of this drink lends itself to a variety cocktails whether white or dark, spiced or aged. Watch how the premiumisation of this drink will inevitably happen as more people switch on to this spirit.
One thing’s for sure, cocktails will continue to evolve and grow. Bar tenders will continue to innovate and delight our palates.
Enjoy the latest in drink innovation and enjoy premium hospitality at The Championships, Wimbledon...
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