Top Spirits Trends for 2021: Appeals to Community, Premium Experiences and Hospitality

Top Spirit Trends 2021 Moonshine University
Consumers now expect their favorite businesses to offer curbside and delivery options – including distilleries. Pictured: Angels Envy delivers direct to a customer.(Moonshine University)

Experts at Moonshine University – which offers hands-on training and services to the distilling industry – named the top trends that will shape the spirits industry in 2021, and there are lessons to be had for everyone in the bar and restaurant industry.

Driven by the long-term effects of an on-going pandemic, this year’s forecast focused on authenticity in the form of appeals to community, premium experiences and hospitality, according to the educational organization.

The Premium Experience
Moonshine University said that after a year of difficulties and robbed experiences, consumers are more likely than ever to indulge in premium spirits. In fact, the premiumization trend that has been seen in many categories over the past few years got a strong boost in 2020, and Moonshine expects it to continue into 2021, as consumers seek authentic, elevated experiences from the comforts of home.

“Sipping tequilas and mezcals will offer adventurous new taste experiences, while high-end gin and rums will be crucial for re-creating sophisticated bar-and-restaurant-worthy cocktails,” said Colin Blake, Moonshine University’s director of spirits education.

In 2021, consumers will also trend beyond small batch or single barrel releases and begin to take up more interest in experimental expressions of premium positioned products – think “grain-to-glass,” creative secondary maturations, innovative mash bills, unique blends, and the like.

At-Home, But With A Hospitality Appeal
With COVID-related limitations restricting the number of visitors to distilleries, bars and restaurants, the industry has had to discover new ways to reach consumers – but with change comes fresh opportunities, per Moonshine University.

“Now we’re almost a year into life under a pandemic, and consumer behavior has shifted,” explained Kevin Hall, corporate development, Moonshine University. “Habits formed under this shared ‘new normal’ have been cemented. Consumers now expect their favorite businesses to offer curbside and delivery options – including distilleries.”

In many states, regulations have been relaxed to allow for formats friendly to current circumstances, but the permanency of these allowances is a matter of state and local governments – either way, Moonshine University’s experts anticipate the trend will at least continue into 2021. In the meantime, distilleries are encouraged to be attentive to hospitality, even as their customers enjoy spirits at home.

“Distilleries need to be just as creative with contact-free delivery and to-go cocktails as they are with nurturing relationships between consumers and their brand,” said Blake. “That authentic appeal to hospitality is so important for the longevity of that relationship.”

Back to the Backyard

In times of crisis, consumers often look to spirits for comfort. Though the “tried and true” brands belonging to the largest producers have been getting most of the love lately, craft distilleries shouldn’t be counted out just yet. With strong connections to their communities, smaller producers will find success in the New Year by utilizing hyperlocal approaches that spotlight regional expressions.

“It’s something we say all the time in our classes: ‘Own your own backyard,’” noted Blake. “That’s still the best move for craft distillers. Forget about expansion plans for now – focus on serving your community.”

Craft American whiskey provides a window into how brands are already using local appeal to create success. In Texas, for example, craft distilleries are making whiskey and bourbon with an authentically Texan flair. Dark and bold, these spirits are products of the unique environment in which they are produced. As experimentation across the United States continues, Moonshine University anticipates more regionally distinctive spirits to crop up in 2021 with craft producers leading the fray.

Of course, if 2020 has taught us anything, it’s that no one has a crystal ball and that things can change rapidly.

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