A Look into the Spirits Crystal Ball for 2017

Image: Jameson Caskmates

Just like the last few years, 2016 turned out big for spirits in bars, restaurants and nightclubs. Enthusiasm among customers for quality drinks was off the charts last year, and we can expect that to carry over this year. But how will customer demand manifest? What spirits trends will drive 2017?

In our last set of predictions for 2017, we look into the spirits crystal ball for the five top trends.

1. Growers keep growing.

Tequila, Irish whiskey, Cognac, mezcal and American whiskey, for the last few years, have continued to develop a slew of new customers. Most of those who “discovered” these particular spirits are inclined to get their first taste on-premise. The hottest of the five categories in terms of trajectory right now are whiskeys from Ireland and America, agave spirits from Mexico, and the most recognized and successful French brand of Cognac, Hennessy. This is partly based on cocktail culture, partly on the international trend for all sorts for whiskeys, and partly on the plethora of new brands.

Innovation and bartenders finding ways to highlight them are important as well, so look for other spirits to emulate the track record of these spirits.

2. Pushing the envelope.

Irish whiskey and Scotch whisky finished in beer barrels; bourbon finished in Cognac barrels; tequila spending some time in rye whiskey casks, port pipes or Scotch barrels... Distillers are finding that cross-pollination can bring new flavors to their spirits, building on their already established popularity and offering loyal consumers something new at the same time. Many of these products are made in limited quantities and can be hard to source for on-premise accounts in certain markets. But some, like Jameson Caskmates (a program in which brewers get Irish whiskey barrels for finishing their brews, which they then return to Ireland for finishing Jameson) are apparently being made in large enough volumes to take a stab at a permanent place on your back bars.

3. Volume down, dollars up.

Gin and vermouth are two examples of products that seem to steadily lose volume but can still make money for savvy operators and producers. Both are now very much dependent on cocktail culture for usage, as small producer brands or those with interesting flavor profiles and processes continue to bring curious customers to the fold. Both gin and vermouth cocktails are well established in recipe books – most of the pre-Prohibition cocktail tomes feature dozens of them. But modern drinkmakers are using the more unusual flavor profiles of the contemporary gins and vermouths to create new drinks that are big sellers at bars and restaurants.

Vermouths, both the classic Old World types now back in distribution and the New World creations from winemakers and distillers, are especially showing how, when volume sinks, there is still money to be made.

4. Nothing new under the sun.

Amaros, aperitif wines, pisco, sake, cachaça, liqueurs, sherry, port, bitters, tinctures, phosphates, syrups, teas, even once rare spirits like soju and baiju, have made their way into the consciousness of bartenders and the drinks they routinely devise. For the most part, however, the bar cabinet is full. Bars and restaurants will now take the time to absorb all those ingredients, rationalize them, and do away with some that simply don’t fit their concept or don’t find favor with customers.

In 2017, it will be time to streamline the inventory and not try to include every item that promises to be the next new thing…

5. Fast and simple cocktails.

Whether via increased draft programs, more advanced prep regimens, or cocktails with fewer ingredients, bars are starting to realize that customer patience with overly elaborate cocktail preparation is nearing an end. There are so many options today for a consumer who wants a well-fashioned bevearge that those who don’t find creative ways to cut the wait will increasingly send them scurrying to more hospitable spots. Well-established bars have always tried hard to balance quality with speed, and that will become more important as the fight for bar and restaurant traffic gets more intense.

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