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What's next for your drinks list?

28 December 2012
What's next for your drinks list?

Next year will see even more craft beers, bottled cocktails and 1980s influences making an impact on drinks menus across the country.Mike Palmer predicts the top 10 drinks trends for 2013

1 HARD SOFTS As reimagined junk food continues to cross over into casual dining (look out for 1980s snacks making a comeback), you might want to turn your thoughts to what should be served alongside it.

Some more progressive operators are pimping the traditional liquid accompaniments, making the whole experience altogether more adult. Boozy riffs on classic childhood brews aren't new, but they are enjoying a renaissance.

Examples include the Diner, which allows you to pimp your shake with a 35ml shot. MeatMarket in Covent Garden serves the shakes soft and hard; or you can slurp on a Miami Nice, a boozy slush puppy.

2 BOTTLED COCKTAILS It was only a matter of time before bottled cocktails came back. We're not talking about shop-bought margarita mix here, but high-quality, ready-to-go batch-made classics.

Let's face it, maintaining consistency when serving large quantities of cocktails can be fairly tricky. Training bartenders is expensive; the length of time for each serve can become an issue, especially at busy times. A number of commercial bottled products are available, although many have failed to achieve any level of penetration.

In the USA it's now common to find operators bottling their own drinks ahead of service. It's not all about efficiency and consistency, though. In fact, it started this time around in 2011, when Clyde Common in Portland, Oregon, began the trend by ageing its Negroni in a bourbon barrel. As well as imparting a depth and smoothness to the drink, it kick-started the volume cocktail movement that has continued since.

It's worth considering. SoulShakers, the London-based cocktail consultancy, works on a number of projects. Look up John Salt in Islington for some great examples.

3 COLD CRAFT Keep your eyes out for green juice (ve getable), which is rising in popularity. The driver here is both health and lack of sugar, and that's a winning combination for an increasing number of customers.

We're seeing a number of operators featuring juice menus at lunch to drive volume. Hotels are increasingly using their empty lunchtime bars as juice bars, and it's quite a nifty way of dialling back your alcohol messaging to drive trade, with the fruit masking beer fonts and back-bar signalling. Some hotels, such as the Mondrian, are offering detox bundles, though it's not widespread yet.

The supermarkets are only just picking up on it. And then there's the opposite approach: playing on the current nostalgia trend, which means featuring anything from Tropicana to UmBongo.

4 MICRO DISTILLERY Curious local spirits were once the preserve of the cheap 1980s French ski holiday - thankfully, no longer! This trend is quietly making its way into the mainstream for all the same reasons as craft beer.

Gordon Brown's attempt, a few years back, to liven up a particularly dull Budget by relaxing the insane rules around distilling liquor did not, as it turned out, prevent boom and bust. But it did kick-start a small group of passionate entrepreneurs to bring local gin back to the masses. There are many reasons why this has resonance, but mainly it's an anti-corporate backlash linked to heritage and local sourcing.

So we're seeing Black Cow Vodka from Dorset, English Whisky from Norfolk, a range of organic vodkas from Sweden, English Oak Smoked Vodka, English Breakfast Marmalade Vodka… you name it. Chase and Sipsmith has really kicked this off and is getting a lot of recognition.

Watch out as well for a return to those ski-trip cocktails. Where Campari and now Aperol have forged a path, we're beginning to see people embracing Charteuse and artisan vermouths. They're still quite niche but worth a thought.

5 CARBONATED COCKTAILS If you haven't already, the chances are that you'll start seeing house-carbonated cocktails pretty soon. There are so many reasons why you would want to. Bottled, carbonated cocktails are spreading. Flat Iron in Soho has a range planned and this trend is hitting bars from San Francisco to Chicago. Depending on how fizzy you want it to you can add carbonated water (or flavoured waters); better still, add CO2 directly to the drink and avoid the dilution. A quick Google search can show you the way.

In addition, savoury cocktails are finding a toehold. Over the past year the Pickleback has taken most of the blog space and these continue cocktails in that direction. Very high flavour light vinegar chasers or Thai drinking vinegars are on the way.

6 TEA EVERYWHERE Tea is trending this year and we're seeing it appearing all over the place. To some extent it has been hanging on to coffee's coat-tails for some time, but 2013 will see tonnes more PR for the drink as some of the big operators, such as Starbucks, dive head-first into the space.

And you don't need to restrict your thinking to the traditional cuppa. It's no surprise that we're already seeing more tea-based cocktails being poured - and we're not talking Long Island. Jasmine, hibiscus and green tea are being mixed with gin, aperol, even tequila. Absolut has released a Wild Tea variant, and most of our upscale cocktail venues are featuring a huge variety of tea cocktails: delicate, clean flavours and spurious anti-hangover claims are keeping the momentum up. For a good list, check out the Bar Chick website.

It's also worth considering iced tea variants to jazz up your soft drink selection. Next summer the high-street coffee gang will be maxing out their selections, so get in first. Bubble tea, which popped up last year, has stayed relatively niche, but green tea in smoothies is increasing its presence.

7 CRAFT BEER We don't often witness people paying more for less these days; with craft beer many do so gladly. You won't have missed the rise and rise of craft beer, and if you're able to avoid a tied drinks deal, you might want to think carefully about how you can embrace this.

Trends for higher flavour, local production and artisan ethics are driving customers to pay more for their beer, resulting in the growth of craft-only pubs and mini chains such as the Draft House, Brewdog and the Craft Beer Co. When Mitchells & Butlers urban professionals pub brand Castle broke free of its tied-pub range in favour of an interesting mix of fruit, wheat and American craft beers, volumes rose.

An interesting off-shoot is that, because the price and often alcohol content are ramped up, more half-pints are being poured. Therefore, it might be time to upgrade your glassware.

Watch out for a lot more Scandinavian beer, which is ready to pounce off the back of the Nordic food renaissance.

And where craft beer leads, cider is sure to follow. It's the natural next step for the drink. The multi-national brewers should be expected to up their craft credentials, even changing packaging colour to darken the appearance.

8 ICE It's not just about the liquid. Not so long ago ice was considered a luxury, and it still can be. Many upscale bars have been hacking chunks off ice blocks for some time, and it's beginning to spread. Ice blocks provide good theatre and look great on your front bar - and they melt slower. Other operators, such as Bar Boulud, are adding interest in the form of edible flowers or fruit encased in the liquid. Pollen Street Social also pimps its ice, serving Negroni's with a huge Campari and blood orange ice ball. The other advantage with spheres is that they defrost more slowly.

9 GROWER CHAMPAGNE High demand in emerging markets for the big-brand stuff has meant the Champagne houses have been steadily inching the prices up.

Increasing in popularity are the grower Champagnes, which take us back to the notion of wine produced by the same people that own the vineyards. You guessed it: it's the artisan trend again. We're seeing more and more operators moving their lists to growers. Look up Bubbledogs in London as a good example.

And here's a tip: look for "RM" in tiny letters at the bottom of the bottle (Récoltant-Manipulant), the proof they "manipulate" their own vines. The brands will have NM (Négociant-Manipulant), sourcing grapes from a number of growers to produce a wine under their own label.

10 COLA BEING REPLACED This would have been unthinkable just a few years ago, but flavour and health trends mean that people are increasingly likely to choose an alternative. That's why Coke has bought most of them!

So it might be time to have another look at your soft drink selection. Coke itself has released a new beverage dispenser, allowing customers to spike their Fanta or Coke with flavours such as vanilla, peach or raspberry. It is on trial in selected Burger Kings now.

Increasingly, Vitamin Water and associated products are being favoured. And this year we'll see many more H2O cocktails in various forms - basically water and juice variants which are refreshing but give other benefits, generally health. This means cucumber water will get traction, coconut water will break out of the supermarkets, there'll be more homemade fresco's (crushed fruit with mineral water) and expect a lot more wellness drinks.

The times they are a changing. Whether these trends apply to your business or not, what is clear is that people will be demanding much more interest across the categories in the year ahead. And if you can respond with adjustments to your range, you stand to gain from higher volumes and happier guests.

â- Mike Palmer is a brand concept and future trends consultant. He writes industry blog lostincatering.com.

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