Our experts weigh in on what—and how—you will be drinking this winter
What’s new? What’s next? In some ways, the pandemic has changed everything about how we drink. In others, it’s only accelerated trends that were already in the works. We checked in with experts both local and global, and here’s what they had to say about the way we’re drinking now and in the months to come.
“The overlying trend in cocktail consumption is elevation of experiences with premium spirits,” says Jay Jones, bar development leader of JOEY Restaurant Group. “While an Old Fashioned may now be familiar to a much greater number of general consumers, the idea of ‘upgrading’ to a more premium spirit has gained allure.”
This applies to sprits of all types: gin, whisky, rum and especially tequila.
“The biggest thing that came out of pandemic drinking conditions, it’s that we now collectively care more about the quality and integrity of what we’re sipping—and embracing the premium cost that tends to come along with it,” Jones says. “It’s a tremendous thing to see.”
That said, we’ve also become used to the ease of cocktails-to-go, pre-batched drinks, e-commerce and, above all, ready-to-drink canned cocktails and hard seltzers.
“RTDs are absolutely having a moment right now,” says Olivia Povarchook, bartender at Tocador on Main Street. “Every cocktail you could think of and then some seems to be available in a bottle or can right now. It’s not just about vodka sodas anymore. There’s tons of variety.”
So much for the at-home-mixology trend. While we were supposedly staving off pandemic bordeom by making all those fancy drinks, global consumption of canned cocktails grew by 43 per cent, according to the ISWR drinks-market analysis firm. And it’s still growing.
Meanwhile in B.C., thanks to relaxed (if still somewhat murky) liquor rules, you could also get a drink made by your favourite barkeep sent right to your door.
“I think in Vancouver at least, to-go cocktails are starting to have their heyday,” says Andrew Kong, premium bartender at H Tasting Lounge at The Westin Bayshore. “The pandemic has forced a lot of restaurants and bars to start serving cocktails differently, so things that travel are appearing more and more.”
3. Lower-proof cocktails
“I personally think people are very much getting on the bandwagon of non-alcoholic and low-ABV cocktails,” says Kong. “I think a lot of bars should start thinking about their non-alcoholic selections with as much thought as their regular cocktail menu.”
The sober curious are finally being served more than cranberry-sodas, thanks to zero-proof spirits like Seedlip, Sobrii and Lumette! And for those who just want to drink a little less, lower-proof vermouths and amaros are replacing traditional base spirits in cocktails.
“You see the rise of amari with the low-ABV cocktails such as the Bicicletta, Sbagliato, Americano and Aperol Spritz,” Kong says. “It allows people to enjoy multiple drinks over longer periods of time without getting intoxicated or over-drinking.”
4. Retro drinks
Look at a cocktail list lately and is that… an Espresso Martini? Yep, sure is. The caffeinated retro classic invented by Dick Bradsell in late 1980s London is currently the sixth most popular cocktail in the world, according to Drink Lab, and almost certainly being poured at a cocktail bar near you.
There is comfort in the familiar, especially after a year and a half of relentless bad news and uncertainty. No wonder we’re enjoying our simple comfort foods and easygoing retro cocktails like slushies, punches, highballs and, it seems, vodka-based “tinis” that will, as the saying goes, “wake you up, then fuck you up.”
After a year of epic drought, heatwaves and wildfires, sustainability is on everyone’s mind these days, and bars and restaurants are seeking solutions big and small to lower their impact on the planet.
“We are looking more towards sustainability behind the bar by implementing low- and zero-waste strategies for 2022, such as stainless-steel straws to replace paper ones,” says Renée Lauzon, restaurant manager at The Courtney Room in Victoria.
That applies to everything from reducing food waste to demanding accountability from suppliers to switching to compostable takeout packaging.
6. Plant-based everything
It also means recognizing that meat and dairy farming is a huge contributor to climate change, and that more and more consumers are adopting a plant-based diet as a result. Crafty bartenders are seeking out vegan products like oat or nut milks, vegetable oils and Ms. Better’s Miraculous Foamer.
For instance, Povarchook says, “I am seeing fat washing becoming more prevalent as of late. But not the bacon or duck fat washing that was popular in recent years—think coconut oil, olive oil, the more vegetarian-friendly options.”
7. Tequila time
If there has been one trending spirit in 2021, it’s tequila, following the “ginaissance” of 2019 and the rise of rum in 2020. Indeed, Forbes Insights projects that the global tequila market will grow from US$9.89 billion in 2021 to US$14.70 billion by 2028. And virtually all of that growth is coming from handcrafted, ultra-premium tequila.
8. New (to us) spirits
At the same time, we’re also looking for “the next unknown ingredient,” says Kong. “A big one people are starting to play around with is baijiu, the grain spirit out of China.” He notes that Miantiao and Laowai are two establishments introducing this spirit to Vancouver consumers. “Another one I think will start showing up soon is sotol. Mezcal has been quite popular, of course, so a spirit very similar to it would likely be interesting for people.”
9. Social connections
If we’ve learned anything this last two years, it’s the importance of connecting with other people, and your friendly local is still the best place to do just that. “That’s why you go to a bar, because we are social animals,” says Robyn Gray, the general manager of the Queens Cross Pub in North Vancouver.
The other thing we’ve learned is that there is a whole lot of social injustice out there, and a whole lot of people who are badly paid and badly treated, especially in hospitality. No wonder the industry is making the issues of diversity and inclusivity a priority.
“There has been a real moment of reflection for the trade over the past 18 months,” the pioneering London bartender Ryan Chetiyawardana, a.k.a. Mr Lyan, told the Diageo Taste of the Future conference in August. “The idea of human connection has become so important. It’s helped people reassess what’s important and fast-tracked concerns such as sustainability.”
10. The cocktail
“The desire to explore and discover is more prevalent than ever,” says Jones. “That means underexplored spirits and less-familiar cocktail designs are getting the chance to be experienced again—or for the first time.”
It’s been almost two years of shut-downs, restrictions, staff shortages, supply-chain issues, rising prices, anxiety and, for most of us, far too much time spent on social media. Who knew all of that would be a recipe for a renaissance in cocktail creativity? Yet here we are.
“The trend train has been making cocktails at home,” says Gray. All that home mixology has made for an educated drinker, but one who misses the social aspect of the bar. And that has democratized the cocktail, moving it from high-end lounges to chain restaurants and pubs.
“To be super basic about it,” Gray says, “the cocktail is the trend.”
—by Joanne Sasvari