Trend-spotting: 15 Flavors in Fashion

Predicting beverage trends can be difficult. Though some flavors in fashion make perfect sense — Malbec’s star is deservedly on the rise in the wine world — others that take off may come as a shock: Who would have guessed sour beers would be a hit with female imbibers?

Though it’s almost impossible to predict what flavors will become in vogue, simply keeping up with the trends is nearly as difficult. So at the VIBE Conference in mid-March, some of the leading names in the alcohol beverage world gathered to discuss what’s hot now, what’s coming on board — and what is so 2011.

The panel comprised: Peter Serantoni, who has designed the beverage menus for several casual-dining chains and now is the man behind GarnishesDiageo Dining Solution; Kim Haasarud, a James Beard-honored mixologist, author and beverage consultant who has developed beverage programs at some of the top restaurant and hotel chains and who represents Proximo Spirits and Tree Top; Doug Frost, a Kansas City author who is one of only three people in the world to become a Master Sommelier and Master of Wine and who is a founding partner of the educational and consulting company Beverage Alcohol Resource; Stephen Beaumont, one of the leading authorities on beer through his books and regular speaking engagements; and David Commer, a chain account beverage specialist with more than 30 years of experience in the hospitality industry and the president of consulting firm Commer Beverage Consulting.

So what do they see in store for the future—or just as ways to keep up with the present? Following are 15 trends to note in 2012:

To start, panelists note the classic cocktail is making a comeback in a big way. Though some of the top bartenders have been committed to these cocktails for years and have scoffed at the many iterations of the Anything-tini, guests are picking up on the simple, restrained yet immeasurably flavorful style of classic cocktails. And if bartenders can continue to make these cocktails fun and approachable, the panelists said, this trend is here to stay. Irish whiskey and flavored whisk(e)ys also have been big sellers as of late, providing an opportunity for restaurants to capitalize on a growing trend.

One spirit has retained the No. 1 spot in guests’ drink orders, and that’s vodka. The spirit is a perennial favorite among guests sidling up to the bar, comprising 22% to 28% of spirits sales, panelists noted. But while it’s much adored by guests, it’s been much maligned — especially in recent years — by mixologists who brush off the spirit as flavorless. But not anymore. Bartenders will cozy up to the clear spirit now and use it as a base in plenty of inventive cocktails.

One way to get inventive? Using what’s available. That may seem counterintuitive, but it works. Rather than ship in exotic fruits and juices, find additions to drinks that are grown or made locally and are fresh from your area. And, of course, don’t forget the garnish — extra points if it’s local, fresh and unique, too. Guests appreciate this dedication to the local movement, and it gives them a chance to see what their city has to offer year-round.

Cocktails are obviously crucial to a beverage alcohol program’s success, but so is wine — and what better way to capitalize on both than by connecting the two? Wine cocktails are big and growing bigger, but bartenders’ skill levels need to increase even faster to ensure guests aren’t just getting a mishmash of wine, spirits and mixers that contaminate the integrity of the wine.

On the wine front, there are three flavors to watch: Moscato, Malbec and Riesling; Moscato is continuing its success, while the other two are quickly on the rise.

Another trend on the rise providing options as equally complex in flavor as wine: sour/tart beers. Though initially they might sound unpleasant, their success — especially with women — has been anything but. Keep an eye on these often small-batch or craft brews in styles such as Lambic; they could be hot sellers on your beer menu.

Craft styles, yet again, continue to grow. And rather than facing market saturation, they’ve seen the opposite effect: There actually is not enough craft beer on the market to keep up with demand worldwide, panelists said. Bars that have not yet caught on to the craze: Now’s the time, especially as light beers and fancy styles (read on) gain steam over middle-of-the-road, big-brand beers.

Other trends to watch in the craft beer category: barrel-aged beer (don’t be surprised if you see wine-barrel beers next); session beers, which are categorized as low-alcohol-content, flavorful styles brewed especially to be enjoyed over a longer period of time; and beer and food pairings, which are still gaining interest from consumers.

When it comes to selling beverages, try out the latest technology, panelists suggested, by offering an iPad beverage list. Technology, along with a well-trained waitstaff, can allow consumers to gain the information they desire on spirits, cocktails and wine — or at least provide them with an experience that stands out among the rest of their visits.

Now that you know what’s in, here’s a look at what’s out — or at least what should be heading to its demise.

• “Skinny cocktails” are a trend but shouldn’t be, panelists said, because, as they noted, “Do you seriously think you’re going to be healthier if you drink a cocktail?”
• Though barrel-aged beer is on the rise, barrel-aged cocktails are a no-go; the panelists suggest find the smokiness in the spirit, not the cocktail.
• Moonshine, though it had a brief rise in creative cocktails, is now done.
• Overly complicated cocktails also had their day in the sun, but these too shall pass.
• Shiraz soared to wine glory recently but now has dropped off in favor of options such as Malbec.

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