Attendees of the 2015 Beverage Executive Symposium were given the incredible opportunity to receive beverage trend information from one of the most respected bartenders in the world. Steve Schneider of Prohibition-style concept Employees Only in New York City shared his valuable, front line insights about ingredients, builds, cocktail trends and even naming beverages. Steve expanded on the results of a Nightclub & Bar beverage trends survey presented by NCB’s Kristen Santoro. The survey was given to 5,000 bartenders and achieved a response rate of 15%, or 750 respondents over a short two week period.
On the subject of whiskey, bartenders – including Steve – are noticing that the spirit has become very popular with women, with flavored, easy-drinking products leading the pack. According to Steve, the Old Fashioned and Manhattan seem to be the most ordered by women. Smashes – a shaken cocktail with herbs, spirit, lemon and sugar – are also seeing a surge.
In terms of ingredients, basil, rosemary, sage, mint, and thyme, along with tea, have increased in popularity due to the flavors, textures, aromas, and savory element they introduce to cocktails. Cucumber, carrots, celery, asparagus, and pickled vegetables pair very well with gin and Spanish sherry. They also go well with pisco, opening up new avenues for beverage experimentation. Steve is using and seeing an increase in demand for zebra lemons, blood oranges, pink grapefruit, character oranges, finger limes, apples blackberries, coconuts, mangos, strawberries, kiwis and pineapples (particularly charred pineapple). Luckily, the rise of gourmet grocery stores means exotic fruits aren’t difficult to find or particularly cost prohibitive. As fruits lend themselves to the creation of tropical beverages, Steve sees the cocktails he can produce with citrus fruit as a way to transport his guests to another place. When using fruit (and other ingredients), fresh is best as cocktail builds can then feature less premium spirits. If bartenders aren’t using fresh ingredients, Steve suggests cutting back on the size of the cocktails.
"Fresh fruit is the most important part to me," said Steve. "Fresh ingredients all the way. It's so easy."
Spice is another cocktail category that bartenders have noticed is on the rise. Cherry peppers, jalapeños, pepperoncini, and habanero should be available to your bartenders. An incredibly popular cocktail at Employees Only is the Ready, Aim, Fire. Made with either mezcal – a spirit experiencing a huge surge in popularity – or rum, the Ready, Aim, Fire features pink peppercorn and Hellfire Bitters. Pink peppercorn provides a heat element with its peppery flavor.
Spirits, herbs, fruits and citrus, vegetables, spice, and cocktail categories aren’t the only trends Steve has witnessed firsthand. He has noticed that over-the-top presentations are actually driving away the average guest. Too many types of signature glassware can also be alienating to guests, so Steve recommended having just one signature glass with a simply logo on it. "A nice little logo on your elegant glass is a good idea,” he said.
While wrapping up the presentation, Steve was asked how he goes about naming his cocktail creations. Most often, he comes up with cocktail names just by having fun with the whole process. He also noted that bartenders like to use puns which goes hand-in-hand with having fun when naming signature beverages. Of course, the ingredients in a cocktail can heavily dictate the name. Finally, Steve suggested taking into consideration how a guest will sound when ordering a signature cocktail. If the name is too silly, is perhaps offensive (depending upon the venue), or may otherwise prevent a guest from wanting to say it, that’s a sale that will most likely not be made.