From orange wine to barrel-aged cocktails and clarified Pina Coladas; you’d be forgiven for thinking there’s nowhere left to go and nothing left to drink. Where else could the flavour map possibly take us and how many more textures can liquid appropriate?
Unlike the fashion world, where trends prove increasingly cyclical, drinking trends are only evidence of our growing understanding of the possibilities out there. After remastering the classic cannon of cocktails over five years ago, London is now firmly moving forward, and putting the dreaded years of 1990s behind it. Thankfully we all like to take our cocktails without the cavities these days.
However, there is a distinct two-year gap between bartender trends and what we all consider trendy to drink. Like the catwalk to the high street, it takes time for the word to spread and the flavour to trickle down to, if not the masses, then at least the discerning drinker.
Luckily 2017 is already promising to push our palates and expand what we consider drinkable. Here’s our 10 growing trends to look out for this year, from ones that are entrenching themselves in our drinking habits to others only just starting to grip the bartending community.
1. World Whisky - both on the back bar and in your cocktail
Scotch and bourbon are hardly going to be knocked off their perch as the two biggest whisky categories in the world. For a start they're simply too tasty, with an endless array of styles and flavours, to bow down to new world spirits. As I write there are millions of litres of whisky slowly mellowing in barrels up and down America and Scotland, and these two styles are also found in nearly all whisky cocktails, making Scotch and bourbon incredibly accessible. Across the world, however, smaller markets are fast proving themselves worthy of a spot on the back bar.
Irish and Canadian whiskies may be slightly less well-known but these are two nations with a rich history in the whisky world and which produce unique blends and malts to fall in love with. If you’ve wandered no further from the Highlands than to Speyside or Islay then 2017 will be the year to experiment and sample them across London in neat drams and in spirit-forward cocktails. However if you‘re already an expert on Ireland’s pot stills then watch out for whiskies from the east.
Japanese whisky is already highly valued and the best distilleries can price their bottles higher than most single malts. Yet cocktails with the prized amber liquid are rare to come across. Both Suntory, which produces the well-known ranges of Hibiki, Hakushu and Yamazaki, and its competitor Nikka – two of the main names in Japanese whisky – produce blends designed for mixing which are younger and don’t have the same staggering price tag as their older expressions. Nikka Blended whisky was designed to be pourable behind cocktail bars as were both Hakushu and Yamazaki Distillers Reserve with their forward fruity flavours of yuzu, grapefruit and lemon and raspberry and coconut respectively. Higher in price, Nikka From The Barrel is considered by many top London bartenders as the best mixing Japanese whisky available today – it’s candied orange peel notes and rich cinnamon and clove mean it can stand up in Manhattans, Paper Planes and even a Penicillin with Yoichi.
Away from Japanese whisky, 2017 will bring an increased awareness of malts from Tasmania, Australia’s southern-most state, France, Wales, New Zealand, Switzerland, Taiwan and even India. With such a range of climates attempting to mimic the great whiskies of America and Scotland we can look forward to some intriguing world whiskies.
2. Regional Liqueurs, Vermouths and Amaros
Every village in Europe, at some point in history, figured out how to make booze from whatever crop they had in abundance. And most of them still make it today, from Floc de Gascogne and Pineau des Charentes to Chartreuse and Calvados – and that’s just France.
This week marked the launch of 30&40, an aperitif from Normandy that mixes calvados, pommeau (a traditional drink made in Normandy which mixes apple juice and apple brandy) and rum. Founded in 2015, this unique brand is already making waves in the cocktail scene and shows an increasing awareness for regional products which bring a new flavour profile in to the bar.
In 2017 watch out for more small, regional blends breaking into the market and appearing in your drink. Intrigued? Ask the bartender to try a splash on its own, you may just find your next favourite aperitif to sip over ice in the summer.
3. Herbaceous, Vegetal Flavours
Sugar and citrus are the base of most great shaken cocktails, bringing balance to Daiquiris and Margaritas the world over. However the dominance of these flavours, alongside sweeter fruits such as pineapples and strawberries, has meant there’s been little room for deeper, more savoury flavours to sneak their way into the cocktail shaker, or stirrer for that matter.
Don’t be alarmed, we’re not talking cocktails that taste entirely of lettuce, but if the umami of a Bloody Mary makes sense then why not mix booze with hints of truffles, mushrooms, celery and carrot.
Dandelyan’s pioneering exploration into botany flavours is a great example of how well these tastes can work in drinks and this will slowly spread across the cocktail industry as 2017 ticks over.
4. Inedible Textures and Flavours
Looking outside of the drinks world is the best place for gathering inspiration, and if you fancy a challenge, going beyond even the known food world is yet more daring and rewarding. Drinks before their time have thus far incorporated textures of leather and wax and flavours of minerality from stones. This isn’t as undrinkable as it reads however – wax-rested drinks have a beautiful buttery texture while leather-aging adds a similar, fatty roundness.
Just as we have been sourcing flavour and texture from wood for hundreds of years, 2017 promises to bring a whole plethora of new elements from outside of the gastronomic lexicon. Be brave, and dive in.
5. Shrubs and Vinegars
Syrups aren’t the only way to bring a flavour into a cocktail and for a more complex addition, shrubs are proving to be the way forward.
A shrub was an ingenious way to preserve ripe fruit before refrigeration, yet they were almost forgotten once the fridge became a common household item. A few years ago they started to make rare appearances on cocktail menus and are increasingly becoming more mainstream. You can make shrubs out of most fruits by adding sugar and vinegar, and the result is a pleasingly tart yet delicious liquid which can have spices and herbs added in. Rediscovering this process has opened up a whole new style of drinks, which started to appear as a trend in the summer of 2016. Now, as winter evolves into 2017’s spring, they will be the ingredient of choice. Syrups are definitely going to have to take a back seat.
6. Wine-Varietal Specific Cocktails
Wine has always had one role in mixed drinks, to lengthen them. From fizzy cocktails served in flutes to a bulbous Kir, it’s never really mattered if you had champagne, prosecco or cava to hand.
Not anymore. Today’s professional bartender knows their wine inside-out and is aware of the differences between a riesling to a grüner veltliner and how this will work in a cocktail. Wine cocktails have been on the rise since low-alcohol drinks became a trend (see 2015) but it’s only now that not just any red or white will be chucked into the shaker.
As the consumer's palate has grown beyond an oaked chardonnay and a crisp savingon blanc, so too have wine cocktails had to develop their finesse.
7. Coffee Cocktails
Read: not the Espresso Martini.
The Espresso Martini is a great cocktail. There's no question of its utter delightful deliciousness. However, since its invention in 1983, we’ve struggled to get a better coffee cocktail on the table. So what’s the problem? Outside of the creamy Irish Coffee, Lebowski’s equally-rich White Russian and the iconic Espresso Martini what do we have? Where are the flips and sours and bitterly refreshing coffee swizzles?
Answer: they’re on their way. The issue has been coffee’s complexity, it has an incredible 300 flavour constituents in green coffee alone, rising to a staggering 900 in a single and rather humble roasted coffee bean. It also pairs with a ludicrous array of flavours – from almond to avocado and banana to coriander seeds. It’s also hard to balance the sweetness and acidity and bitterness within a cocktail without losing one of those key elements.
“Coffee is less stable than tea and must be brewed to release its full spectrum of flavour, but its mixability should not be overlooked. Whether steeped in a French press, pulled as an espresso shot, or made into a syrup or liqueur, coffee is a challenging ingredient to incorporate into cocktails,” wrote Jim Meehan in The PDT Cocktail Book.
2017 will introduce us to a whole new world of coffee cocktails. Coffee Negroni anyone? Just don’t knock it till you try it…
8. Experimental Bars and Drinks Lists
Five years ago London needed a reminder of what a cocktail should be, and what a neighbourhood bar felt like. The likes of Happiness Forgets, Satan’s Whiskers and the Portobello Star became the iconic institutions of London in response to this gap in the market. And more will come, classic cocktail neighbourhood bars rarely fail if they can replicate that ease of being alongside simple, world class drinks.
“Satan’s had, and still does have, lots of simple tasty drinks, whether it was an A&B Sour, a Whiskey Smash or a Bitter Summer they were staples that weren’t changed and the classic element of the bar reminded London what drinks were. It was about taking away mad garnishes and saying this is what drinks should be,” says Marcis Dzelzainis, Satan’s opening manager, now at Sager + Wilde.
However, London has had plenty of time to be reacquainted with classics. Any Londoner in the know can confidently order Manhattans and Negronis, Whiskey Sours and Perfect Ladies in more bars across town than ever before. 2017 is the year to get back to expanding bars both in design and their drinks offering and truly pushing the envelope. Expect to see brand new concepts rather than cut and copy jobs of exposed bricks and twists on a Golden Fizz, instead there'll be drinks which build on classics rather than mimic them and above all experimentation done with the basics of a bar kept well in mind. Let us never return to the dark ages of needing a cocktail-reset. We happen to know of at least one major opening which will blow all our tastebuds skywards. We'll tell you all more about that in a few weeks...
9. Straw Wars
Millions of straws are thrown out of UK bars each day. Millions. They end up in landfill, in our oceans and in brutal attempts to murder our wildlife. Then there’s the napkins, the bottles, the citrus rinds… the ways in which bars are wasteful can feel endless but 2017 is the year the industry has picked to start making a change.
How will it affect you, the drinker? You may find no straw in your drink and a cloth or leather coaster underneath it. Hardly huge changes to get adjusted to but we must beg, don’t then demand a straw.
Sustainability matters, help the bar world make its much-needed and long overdue changes.
10. Accessible Craft Beers
Craft beer went a little crazy in the first half of this decade. By a little crazy we mean queues stretching across the weekend to try latest releases and people driving the length of the land in pursuit of the latest brew which could only be accessed on a certain day in May.
The mantra of 'the rarer the better' is being slowly torn down in the beer world and 2017 will see this trend increasing as big beer continues to push its craft arm and drinkers accept that just because it’s inaccessible doesn’t mean it's outstanding.
It’s not just the beer drinkers helping to undo five years of craft insanity either. The major problem with the small = great trend was that the breweries which enjoyed a heyday from rarity were quickly turned into tomorrow’s fish and chip wrappers. Now these breweries, having been stung by this experience, are making great beers which are accessible and are attracting a more loyal audience. Which we think, is something to celebrate.