Ones to watch in 2018: trends in cocktails and other drinks

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Mark Ludmon examines some of the trends in drinks and cocktails for Britain’s bars in the year ahead

With the arrival of “Dry January”, the trade was braced for the usual rise in people avoiding alcohol. However, the overall trend is that more people are giving up on booze throughout the year, or at least cutting back. Around 40% of British drinkers decreased their alcohol consumption last year to save money or for health reasons but this is no reason to panic, according to Benoit Broch, investment director of hospitality private equity specialist Livingbridge. “The shift in consumer behaviours and appetite for non-alcoholic options does not need to be seen by operators as a negative. This presents a significant opportunity for pubs and bars to increase their drinks offering to embrace low-alcohol and non-alcoholic beers, ciders and wines.”

Bars should take advantage of this trend by stocking up on more adult soft drinks and developing their non-alcoholic cocktail offering, says Amy Burgess, trade communications manager at Coca-Cola European Partners (CCEP). “With nearly a third of people claiming they would consider ordering a mocktail if offered, they represent a significant opportunity for licensees looking to maximise their sales and a key growth area looking to the future.” Citing the latest CGA Mixed Drinks Report, she also points to the health and wellbeing trend driving the popularity of low-calorie cocktails as well as soft drinks like Coca-Cola Zero Sugar and Schweppes Slimline Tonic. “With 27% of consumers purchasing a low-calorie cocktail at least once a month and nearly a third saying they would prefer to order a low-calorie cocktail over a standard option, it is increasingly important for licensees to maximise this opportunity by offering a varied menu that features low-calorie and low-sugar options.”

Leading supplier Bibendum has been working on ideas for Dry January with non-alcoholic spirit Seedlip, available as the aromatic Spice 94 and herbal Garden 108. “We see the trend for non-alcoholic periods on the rise, gaining better momentum in all on-trend operators,” says Bibendum’s head of spirits development, Tim Veale. “Shim” drinks which use sherry, vermouth, sake and port as lower-ABV alternatives to spirits like vodka and gin are ones to watch in 2018, according to Bibendum’s 2018 Trends Report. “People are no longer demanding that a cocktail contains 50ml of hard spirit, as long as these low-alcohol versions are made with as much care and love,” explains Bibendum’s business development executive Darren Flanagan. “While we still have a way to go before we’ll see a lot of people sipping on ports and sherries, their use as a cocktail ingredient is now widely recognised.”

Borough Wines & Beers is shifting more in this direction with its portfolio, adding a range of products that are low-alcohol or alcohol-free. In December, it became exclusive UK distributor for the Lurvill’s Delight range of botanical sodas and Nonsuch Shrubs – a collection of non-alcoholic drinks blending fruit juice, sparkling spring water and cider vinegar, with no added sugar. Borough Wines is also working with distiller Surendran & Bownes to develop a 0% ABV gin. “I am really excited by the influx of low- and no-alcoholic drinks to the market and pleasantly surprised by the quality of them too,” adds marketing director, Corinne Pyke. “I wanted to create a range of drinks with the same care and consideration that we give to selecting the wines and beers that we stock.”

Mixers

“Shim” drinks are also a trend highlighted by Global Brands, reflected in tasty signature serves recommended for its Franklin & Sons premium mixers, such as Natural Indian Tonic Water. “Some of our favourite low-alcohol and ‘& tonic’ drinks are white port and tonic and white sherry and tonic,” says Jen Draper, head of marketing for Franklin & Sons. “Both port and sherry channel nostalgia and offer less than 20% of alcohol by volume – perfect for toning down by mixing with tonic water. Vermouth and tonic is a perfect example of this: vermouth is traditionally considered moderately low-proof, boasting a 15% to 18% ABV, so when mixed with tonic offers the perfect lower-alcohol drink – while still tapping into the ‘& tonic’ trend we see becoming increasingly popular.”

Ginger Beer Franklin & Sons

Franklin & Sons has been part of a new wave of premium mixers such as The London Essence Co, Lamb & Watt, Luscombe, Fentimans, Double Dutch and Schweppes 1783, following the same premium trend in spirits. “Our findings show that the rise and rise of premium-quality tonics and mixers is continuing, with consumers using their re-kindled love for a G&T to re-invent forgotten favourites such as brandy and sherry with tonic,” Jen adds.

Fever-Tree, which pioneered the trend for premium tonics for a G&T when it arrived over 12 years ago, has extended into mixers with dark spirits, most recently launching Smoky Ginger Ale and Spiced Orange Ginger Ale. “We have identified the same trends emerging within dark spirits that led to the rise in premium gin consumption, including ‘premiumisation’, the growth of cocktail culture and the rise of craft distilleries,” explains Fever-Tree founder Tim Warrillow. “The long-term opportunity is huge: globally, premium dark spirits including whiskeys, rums and brandies are the most consumed premium spirits, making up 60% of the total premium spirits consumption compared to gin at just 6%.”

Lower ABV

Aperitifs such as Spritzes continue to rise in popularity, boosted by the trend towards lower-ABV drinks. “Pre-dinner cocktails are now an occasion in their own right, and continue to be a trend with UK consumers,” says Crispin Stephens, head of commercial planning and activation at spirits distributor Bacardi Brown-Forman Brands. “Findings show almost half of people are likely to drink a cocktail before a meal, and one example of a popular aperitif is a Spritz.” In BBFB’s portfolio, Chambord black raspberry liqueur can be mixed with dry white wine and soda water for a refreshing Spritz, while the signature serve of a Chambord Royale, combining the liqueur with a glass of fizz plus a raspberry, is a simple way to capitalise on the ongoing growth in sparkling wine. “By tapping into the prosecco trend, bars are able to upsell up to 46 glasses of sparkling wine as a cocktail with one 70cl bottle of Chambord, ultimately boosting gross profit,” Crispin explains.

The continuing popularity of the Aperol Spritz brings together the popularity of aperitif serves and the trend for bitter flavours in food and drink such as Negronis. “Classic cocktails using spirits such as Campari, with a bitter flavour profile, are going from strength to strength in the UK market as the consumer palate continues to diversify with customers seeking out new flavour experiences,” points out Nick Williamson, marketing director at Campari UK. This also feeds into the increasing demand for premium soft drinks, with Campari UK introducing Crodino – the most consumed non-alcoholic aperitif in Italy – in its classic 100ml bottles in summer 2017.

The lower-ABV trend is set to really show its colours in the beer sector, with increasing numbers of brewers introducing lower-strength ales and lagers. Some are specialising, such as Nirvana Brewery in east London, which has launched its second 0.5% ABV beer, Sutra IPA, and Big Drop Brewing Co with a stout, pale ale and lager all below 0.5% ABV. One to watch in 2018 is The Small Beer Brew Co, founded by James Grundy and Felix James, formerly at distiller Sipsmith, using a new brew process to make what were once known as “small beer”. Their first two products are a lager at 2.1% ABV and a dark lager at 1% ABV, with The American Bar at The Savoy in London becoming one of the first stockists. “The Original Small Beer is very forward-thinking and we believe it could open an entirely new market of lower-alcohol drinks that deliver the same great flavour we would expect from their higher-strength cousins,” says The American Bar’s bar manager Declan Mcgurk.

Cider

While the lower-ABV trend is yet to have a significant impact on the cider category, consumers continue to seek out craft and premium products, points out David Sheppy, sixth-generation master of cider at Sheppy’s. “Expertly crafted drinks with known provenance are forecasted to remain popular in 2018. A specific cider trend emerging is the growing popularity of ‘dry’ cider. In a market that has had a strong fruit and sweet cider dominance, the crisper flavour is making a revival.”

However, Alok Mathur, co-founder and CEO of ODC Drinks, believes that fruit cider is on the cusp of growth and “adventurism” as with beers, gins and mixers, which has led ODC to launch Pomegranate Panache and Mango Fandango ciders in 500ml bottles, made with natural flavours and high-quality fruit. “For too long the sector has relied on flavour and packaging innovation, but millennials and the upcoming Generation Z seek more than just new tastes and convenient packaging – they value experiences and seek natural, healthier drinks,” he explains. “With ODC we have a natural fruit cider and a challenger brand with the mojo that these young drinkers are truly beginning to relate to.”

Spirits

Much to the surprise of some in the bar trade, gin continues to blossom, with new brands flowing onto the market and more consumers discovering the category. Gin leads the rise in premium and super-premium spirits in the UK, according to the Going Premium report from research group CGA. Consumer demand for craft spirits has helped Scottish gin Caorunn grow sales by 235% from 2014 to 2017, says its global brand manager Iboyla Bakos Tanner. “The category has seen an increased demand in small-batch, artisanal products.”

The coming year will also see more demand for flavoured gins, predicts Anja Weise O’Connor, senior marketing manager at Halewood Wines & Spirits. “The key trends that we expect to see in the on-trade include continued growth of flavoured spirits, particularly gin, where the opportunity to diversify and consumer appetite remains strong,” she says. Alongside its premium Whitley Neill Gin, Halewood is to expand its range of fruit-flavoured expressions with a Raspberry Gin and Blood Orange Gin alongside the existing Rhubarb & Ginger and Quince gins.

Corte Vetusto mezcal

Agave spirits are also continuing to grow in the UK, with new tequilas coming onto the market such as super-premium Uwa that includes triple-distilled reposado and añejo expressions rested in Speyside single malt scotch whisky casks. From a smaller base, mezcal is soaring after a stream of new brands entered the UK in 2017, such as single-origin Corte Vetusto which highlights the different varieties of agave plant in each expression. “As we have seen with other categories, I believe the trade and consumers will trade up to better-quality mezcal as they appreciate mezcals like Corte Vetusto that hero the agave and offer more than just smoke,” says founder David Shepherd. “Mezcal will feature on more cocktails lists and in a broader spectrum of cocktails as bartenders start to experiment with the breadth of flavour in mezcals like Corte Vetusto and look to showcase that.”

According to Bibendum’s 2018 Trends Report, mezcals and tequilas with provenance such as Marca Negra and single-village Del Maguey will continue to gain popularity. “In 2018 I think more and more venues will look to improve their offering, and we should see more care going into choosing the agave products stocked on back bars,” says Bibendum’s Darren Flanagan. He notes that super-premium tequila is seeing the most growth, up 20% last year, according to CGA.

Ready to serve

After a period of decline, the ready-to-drink (RTD) category is back in growth, driven by brands such as WKD and VK, with CGA figures pointing to value being at £203 million in the on-trade last year. The success of VK – with VK Orange & Passionfruit and VK Tropical Fruits leading the seven-strong range – has been from ensuring RTDs remain relevant and getting consumers to view RTDs in a different way, says Global Brands’ head of marketing Jen Draper. “No longer are sweet and sugary liquids the be all and end all of the category. We have developed our portfolio of brands to make it more exciting and innovative than ever before.”

Bars and restaurants have been adding premium ready-to-serve mixed drinks to their lists by working with the likes of Spirit of Zing which has created pre-batched bespoke cocktails for operators such as Jamie’s Italian and Rosa’s Thai Café. The spread of cocktails from top-end bars into the mainstream is being supported by ready-to-serve cocktail range, Shake ‘n’ Serve. The seven-strong line-up, from a Mojito and Cosmo to a Pina Colada and Margarita, come in shaker-shaped packaging, with more due to be added in 2018. “Cocktails haven’t worked in the RTD format before because people have tried to be too clever whereas we have given customers what they want,” says founder Gerry Smyth. Ready to serve over ice, they are already being used behind the bar at Genting casinos and Village Hotels but Gerry says there is wide demand from pubs and bars that want to offer cocktails but lack staff with the right skills. “Not every bar can afford a mixologist.”

A premium range of ready-made mixes for frozen cocktails has been launched into the on-trade by drinks specialist Vimto Out of Home. The new brand, Frÿst, offers popular cocktails such as a Blue Lagoon, Strawberry Daiquiri and Mojito, for mixing with a spirit and dispensing from a slushy-style machine. “Frozen cocktails are set to continue to be the trend of 2018 as bars look for drinks that drive additional sales for little additional cost, while consumers want to experience premium drinks that they don’t have to wait for,” explains senior customer marketing manager Ed Jones. “Having frozen cocktails on tap offers a massive advantage, especially in high-footfall bars. It requires minimum time and effort from bar staff: they simply pour the base spirit, add the frozen mix and serve.”

Tails, the premium bottled cocktails, has been securing new accounts, with both bespoke solutions and its range that includes Negroni, Berry Mojito, Cosmopolitan, Espresso Martini and Amaretto Sour. It has now ventured into another growing area, cocktails on draught, providing them in kegs for running through traditional beer lines (pictured top). With stylish fonts, the first cocktails on tap include Negronis and Berry Mojitos, with more due in 2018. “It is really taking off as it’s addressing speed of service, consistency and reducing training and wastage,” explains founder Nick Wall. One of the first operators to take it on is Boma restaurants, installing them for the busy vault bar at Boma Bridge in Putney, south-west London. “Drinking repertoires have changed a lot in recent years,” Nick adds, “and cocktails are increasingly part of that so the demand for draught cocktails is there now.” Whether pre-batched or from scratch, the cocktail boom will only get bigger in 2018.

Copper Dog - Apple Dog and apple

Copper Dog looks ahead with plans for cocktail competition

Although crafted by leading master blender Stuart Morrison with eight single malts from across Speyside, Copper Dog has been breaking with convention since its launch a year ago by club entrepreneur Piers Adam in partnership with Diageo. Described as the “democratic face” of whisky, the blended malt whisky is suggested for serving in cocktails and even with cola as well as neat. “We want to change the perception of how you drink whisky,” explains the brand’s country manager Calum Lawrie. With fruity flavours and hints of vanilla and spice, Copper Dog has been used for cocktails at top bars such as Artesian at London’s Langham hotel, building on a growing trend for scotch-based cocktails. Its signature serve is the Apple Dog, mixed with granny smith apple juice over ice. “It is part of a move towards darker spirits, with people looking for flavour,” Calum adds. In 2018, it will be engaging even more with bars through a global cocktail competition.

The Gibson bar set to launch its own gin

Since opening The Gibson in London two years ago, Marian Beke has been championing the classic cocktail that gives the bar its name. He has now achieved his ambition of creating a gin that perfectly complements the recipe’s pickled onion garnish, working in partnership with the team behind Copperhead Gin at Filliers distillery in Belgium. The result is Copperhead The Gibson Edition Gin which is being launched at the bar in January before going on general release through Copperhead’s UK distributor 10 Degrees C. “I wanted something a little bit spicy, savoury and dry but I couldn’t find anything on the market that was big on savoury, umami flavour,” Marian explains. The Gibson Edition has a base of five classic botanicals – juniper, coriander seed, cardamom, angelica and orange peel – plus distillations of 14 spices traditionally used in pickling including mace, pepper, cassia, bay leaf, ginger, allspice, fennel and dill. It is finished with a touch of eight-year-old genever to add to the smooth and complex taste.

Tia Maria coffee cocktails

Coffee cocktails

Originally created by legendary bartender Dick Bradsell in the 1980s, the Espresso Martini has shot up in popularity over the past two years. The growth in coffee cocktails has been driven by new brands such as Hundred Fifty Lbs and Conker Spirit’s cold brew coffee liqueurs, Fair Café, Merlet C2 Café and Mr Black Cold Press Coffee Liqueur which is already working with DrinkUp London to organise a second Espresso Martini Fest in August 2018.

“This is just the beginning for the trend, which is set to boom even further in 2018 and the decade ahead,” says Gemma Monaghan, on-trade marketing manager for leading coffee liqueur Tia Maria. According to research for Tia Maria by The Future Laboratory, a new global coffee cocktail culture will break out due to consumers’ increasingly sophisticated palates and expectations. Through the Tia Maria + Coffee Project, new coffee serves are spreading such as the Tia Flat White Russian and Tia Iced Popcorn Frappé.

BNIC cognac

Cognac unveils new identity for 2018

A new brand identity has been launched for cognac, aiming to inspire both consumers and the trade to explore the French spirit. With a new “bold and flamboyant” logo, it was developed by the Bureau National Interprofessional du Cognac (BNIC) with the winegrowers and negociants of the region. “Authenticity, heritage and terroir are at the heart of the new identity – concepts that are central to today’s expectations of the current spirits market,” explains the BNIC’s director of communication, Claire Caillaud. It is set to build on last year’s upturn in imports for cognac, including a 3.6% increase to the UK.

Dragon's Son Sofitel London

Metaxa to celebrate 130 years

A new push is planned for Metaxa, the classic Greek spirit, to tie in with its 130th birthday in 2018. Activity is under wraps but, in the UK, the focus is Metaxa 12 Stars which, like the rest of the range, is created from a blend of barrel-aged wine distillates plus aromatic Muscat wines from the Greek island of Samos and a secret botanical recipe of roses and Mediterranean herbs.

Signature serves include the Metaxa Ginger Rock made by pouring 50ml of Metaxa 12 Stars into an ice-filled glass, topped with ginger ale and garnished with a roll of cucumber and zest of lime. The spirit is also being used in cocktails at top bars such as the St James Bar at Sofitel London St James including the Dracula-inspired Dragons’s Son (pictured above), created by bartender Matteo Giannuzzi using Metaxa 12 Stars infused with flower Nuit d’Été, Sauternes infused with Bulgare tea, Taylor’s 20-year-old port, sugar syrup, Campari and a homemade sloe gin mousse.

Originally published in a shorter version in the January 2018 print edition of Bar magazine.

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