Words by Simon Difford
Gin, Porn Star Martinis, Espresso Martinis, Negronis, reusable drinking straws and ridiculously overpriced soft drinks masquerading as spirits are already a thing; usurping vodka, the Mojito and the plastic straw. But what are the 10 big things that will emerge and grow during 2019?
In the decades gone by, bandwagons would trundle slowly through our lives and the early adopters would still be enjoying the ride years after they discovered it (whatever ‘it’ was). Now bandwagons fly by, propelled by social media and a desire for the latest thing (whatever that ‘thing’ is), and those early adopters have long since jumped bandwagons by the time the mass market has even realised IT is a THING.
So, I look back with nostalgia to the vodka craze, a craze which played out over at least a decade, arguably multiple decades. Premium vodka became super-premium vodka with ever more elaborate filtration methods and packaging. Flavoured vodka came next and then silly flavours followed, but they took their time, awaiting their turn on the marketing bell curve.
How relatively quickly the present gin craze has steamed in and through our media feeds and bars. Barely has Plymouth, one of the world’s oldest gins, properly sorted whether its packaging should be modern, art-deco or vintage, that wedding cake gin is nearing on the horizon and people are looking to whisk(e)y as the next big IT/THING.
1. Botanical spirits
Folk are already predicting that gin will fade quicker than you can say “alcopop” to make way for whisk(e)y – whisk(e)y as a generic spirit from USA, UK, Ireland, Japan and numerous other countries. Hence my spelling with an (e).
Considering the depleted stocks and ever skyward prices, you may think whiskey has already boomed and folks living in Scotland and Kentucky may laugh when I say localism will help drive whiskey sales. However, while most boutique distilleries are selling their gin to folk keen to be neighbourly and support local producers, many of the same distillers are still patiently waiting for their whiskey to mature. Much of this whiskey is now coming of age and new whiskey drinkers will be recruited by the same people presently selling them locally made gin.
Whiskey will also be helped by old serves, such as whiskey & soda, becoming fashionable due to its flavour, long serve, and lack of sugar. Demand from emerging markets such as India and China will also play their part in whiskey’s assurgency, but it will not be whiskey that knocks gin.
Many new gin drinkers, the types that in previous years were either underage or declared vodka drinkers, don’t actually like the taste of juniper. Hence, by default, they don’t like gin but drink gin because they perceive it to be fashionable. Hence the rise of pink gin, flavoured gins and generally what I call “vergins” [pronounced virgins) because they verge on being a gin.
Enter botanical spirits, made in the same way as gin (re-distilling neutral spirit with botanicals) but without the juniper. Tellingly, it’s not gin distillers that are leading this exciting spirits innovation but vodka producers such as Square One (a little ahead of its time) and Ketel One whose launch in one US state in summer 2018 was so successful that stock had to be airfreighted from the Netherlands to keep up with demand.
Botanical spirits offer all the complexity of gin but without the restriction of having to use juniper as a predominant flavour. Arguably gin is merely a flavoured vodka and flavoured vodkas are about to be reincarnated as botanical spirits. This is the spirit category I predict will drive sales in 2019/20 and beyond.
2. Spiritless spirits (AKA Phantoms)
The likes of Seedlip annoy me. Not because they are incredibly overpriced for what they are (people are happy to pay), or due to their flavour (I’ve had some tasty Seedlip cocktails), or indeed because they are non-alcoholic (I like a cup of tea). They annoy me because they mascarade as “spirits” while at the same time flaunting themselves as being alcohol-free. By definition, a spirit is a volatile liquid. Liquids that burn when ignited are volatile. Pea soup is more volatile than Seedlip. At least pea soup can cause volatile gases.
Part of what excites me about the aforementioned botanical spirits is that they present themselves honestly to the public with a category name that portrays what they are. I would be equally excited by non-alcoholic products if rather than spirit they called themselves something appropriate, phantoms perhaps? ‘Phantom’ suggests spirit and is defined as “something apparent to sense but with no substantial existence.”
Whatever they call themselves this is a drinks category that will continue to grow during 2019 and hopefully, new entrants will stop misrepresenting themselves as spirits, or worse, “non-alcoholic gins”.
3. Retro classics
Cocktails from the 1970s and 1980s are back! Truth is they never really went away. People enjoy Sex On The Beach a Slow Screw Up Against the Wall, and a Screaming Orgasm Between The Sheets. And why not. They’re fun and they are becoming fashionable as a new generation of drinkers discover them for the first time. And folk like a bit of sexual inuendo in a cocktail name. Porn Star Martini anyone?
4. Best-selling cocktails during 2019
Of all the 1970s and 1980s cocktails it is the Screaming Orgasm and Slow Comfortable Screw Against the Wall that were the most viewed on Difford’s Guide over the last four months of 2018 (9th most viewed and 10th most viewed cocktail respectively out of 4,500 cocktails). Considering the latter is just one of the family of Slow Comfortable Screw cocktails so spreading traffic across numerous cocktail pages, it would appear that the Slow Comfortable Screw could be set to challenge the Porn Star Martini.
Discounting the Amaretto Sour, Bramble, Negroni, Margarita (Tommy’s or otherwise) and Espresso Martini due to them already enjoying their moment, in addition to the two above, these are my five cocktails to watch during 2019:
Gin Basil Smash - lurid green with fresh basil and gin. A contemporary classic. The bold Instagram friendly colour of this cocktail coupled with Joerg Meyer’s own social media presence make his drink my top tip for 2019.
White Lady - this gin based classic sour smoothed with egg white continues its ascendancy.
Penicillin - thanks to this cocktail, bar-made fresh ginger juice and honey syrup is now commonplace.
Bernice - this early vodka cocktail from the 1950s is delicious and looks set for a revival.
Corpse Reviver No.2 - a gin-based bartender favourite. So was the Negroni!
Cantaritos - similar to but rising much quicker than the Paloma.
5. Fun & Tiki
I do like a dimly lit speakeasy-style bar with mellow music and a low murmur from the other clientele, all sat and obscured from view by high back booths. Very civilised. But I’m 53 and folk like me still go to bars to drink. Others seek more exuberance and fun. They don’t want to spend the night chatting to a bartender resplendent in jacket and tie about bitters or hydrosols, they want to have a fun night in a fun bar. Bars such as Be At One and the London Cocktail Club are fun. Tellingly, both bar brands are expanding fast.
Tiki offers fun and escapism served by the sharing volcano bowl. You don’t just go to a tiki bar to drink, you go there for an experience, the kind of experience that would otherwise involve air travel to another culture. Tiki has a sub-culture that I predict many more people will discover and enjoy in the coming years.
Tiki or not, bars that are fun to be in will continue to grow in popularity during 2019, particularly in large towns or city centres.
Fermentation is hardly a new thing, without it we wouldn’t have alcohol. But beyond yeast eating sugar to secrete alcohol, carbon dioxide and heat comes flavour, and purported probiotic health benefits. Enter kombucha, a non-alcoholic drink made by a scoby fermentation. Fermentation with a symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeast (SCOBY) may not be something you are aware of but by the end of 2019 you are sure to have enjoyed what it produces.
7. Low / No alcohol beer
“Low and no” is a term much used by the folk peddling the phantoms (see above), but even more dramatic than the rise of phantoms is the rise of low and non-alcoholic beers. This has been a mainstream trend over the past couple of years but what is exciting are the emerging “craft” low and no beers such as from the Big Drop Brewing Co. that are reinvigorating the category. They may lack the body of a “proper beer” but with dry hopping replacing the bite of alcohol they make driving home from the Rose & Crown after a few jars with your mates acceptable, enjoyable, safe and legal. Every brewery will soon be offering low alcohol and non-alcoholic beers and every decent bar will carry a selection to choose from.
We are apparently nuts about coconut. I’ve noticed coconut products such as dairy-free yogurt filling the supermarket shelves, while in the cocktail competitions I’ve judged recently, coconut water seems to be what cranberry juice was to bartenders back in the 1990s. Even the Piña Colada is fashionable again (see 1970s above and the Champagne Piña Colada). Coconut looks set to be one of the key cocktail flavours of 2019.
9. Café bars and all-day offerings
There are more laptops and tablets on the tables of your average coffee shop than packs of sugar. More of us work from home or away from the office and fix both our coffee dependency and need to escape the same four walls by working in a coffee shop from time to time. The morning and afternoon trade enjoyed by such places has been missed by most pubs and bars. However, increasingly bar operators are maximising returns on their property overheads by opening all day with menus, lighting and atmosphere morphing as morning turns to afternoon, evening and then late-night drinking. This trend can be seen playing out from English country gastro pubs to the excellent Senios bar in Athens, Greece. Serving afternoon tea will soon be commonplace in pubs and bars.
10. Cocktails at home
Whether settling down to spend a night with Netflix or with friends over a dinner party, drinking at home is growing faster than drinking out. While cocktails have also grown in popularity, so far in the home they have struggled to compete with the convenience of beer, wine and simpler mixed drinks. However, the traffic we enjoy on this website and the sale of cocktail books indicates that this is changing. Folk used to tackling complicated cooking recipes find mixing three or four ingredients with ice to make a cocktail comparatively quick, simple and more enjoyable. I predict a return to the home cocktail bar, some looking like something from the 1970s/80s (see above).
Sustainability is no longer a trend, it’s here. A disturbing video of a sea turtle with a plastic straw stuck in its nose helped bring about the end of plastic straws in bars but the eradication, or at least reduction in single-use plastics, still has a way to go. If you use Nespresso pods, do you recycle them for example?
So far, bar owners and operators have been slow to look at energy usage and arguably bartenders laudably starting work early to re-purpose what would otherwise be waste has served to increase their energy usage. As I sit here listening to the hum of refrigeration in our own bar, I predict a move to more economical machines in bars and a broader view of what being sustainable is.
Lastly, I see changes in drinks marketing strategies.
Once upon a time, before social media, marketers and the worth of their promotional spend were measured by case sales (be that 8.4 or 9 litre). Now likes on social media channels seem as important as how much a product actually sells. Likes and views have a perceived worth as the screen-obsessed swipe, like and favourite. It is largely meaningless engagement if indeed such fleeting interactions can be classified as engagement. However, every now and then a brand receives a huge social media-driven boost in sales so continuing to fuel the social media gold rush.
My prediction is that more marketers will seek deeper and more meaningful brand engagement than mere likes. Less is more. Less reach but more meaningful engagement. Better to talk to 200 people who end up buying your product than being liked by 200,000 people who don’t even know what it is you’re trying to sell.
Anyway, hopefully, you’ll like this page. Happy New Year!