What’s Hot? Five Trends We Love . . . and Five We Could Live Without

By: Joanne Sasvari

The world of alcoholic beverages is a particularly, ahem, fluid one. Here are five trends that we’re drinking in right now and five that we’re ready to dump down the drain.

In: Retro ’90s Cocktails
Out: Being Judgy About Them

When the craft cocktail revolution hit in the mid 2000s and early 2010s, we banished the vodka-based “tinis” of the 1990s to the backbar of history, along with the V-shaped glasses they came in. But as we sipped laboriously constructed drinks conjured from hand-foraged botanicals and topped with molecular “air,” we forgot that simple drinks made well (Cosmopolitans, Espresso Martinis, Appletinis) are really, really delicious.

Now these 1990s classics are back in style. This time around, instead of using cheap vodka and sickly-sweet syrups, bartenders are elevating cocktails with premium ingredients and sophisticated techniques. And we are not enjoying them ironically—we are really enjoying them, especially with the Gen Z obsession with all things retro. Nothing is less cool right now than being snobby and judgmental about someone else’s drink of choice.

In: Yummy Umami
Out: Over-salted Rims

Sure, we’ll always enjoy a fruit-forward wine or citrusy cocktail. But what we’re really craving right now is umami—the savoury fifth basic taste you find in olives, blue cheese, and mushrooms. We love the savoury notes you find in many orange wines—whites made with skin contact like red wines—and the delicate hint of saline in coastal wines from Vancouver Island or northeastern Spain. Savoury gins with botanicals like seaweed, olives, thyme, and rosemary are growing in popularity, as well as another classic 1990’s drink, the Dirty Martini.

What don’t we love? Over-the-top salted rims that were everywhere not long ago, especially the ones with tons of chili or pop rocks (ow) that cover half the glass. They are sticky, messy, and overwhelm the flavour of the drink. If you must rim a glass, less is more.

In: Divine Decadence
Out: Overpriced Anything

Though seemingly counterintuitive, many consumers are just as happy paying $30 as they are $15 for a drink—if they feel they’re getting their money’s worth. It’s not easy to get consumers out of the house and into a bar these days. Many upped their home bartending skills during the pandemic and, with inflation driving prices up and staff shortages bringing service quality down, they are reluctant to spend money on something they can easily make themselves. While consumers might not go to bars as frequently as in years past, they are more willing to pay a premium for their special outing.

So, if you want people spending money in your bar, offer bespoke experiences, attentive service, and extraordinary beverages with a little something special on the side. In other words, bring on the caviar bumps, Champagne sidecars, ultra-premium spirits, and gold leaf garnish. Just think twice about overcharging for a basic Negroni.

In: Low- and no-ABV Beverages
Out: Cranberry-soda

More and more consumers are avoiding alcohol for reasons that are no one’s business but their own. And more and more producers are creating exceptional zero-proof beer, spirits, cider, and even wine to quench their thirst. With so many incredible zero-proof choices available, offering your non-imbibing guests nothing more exciting than cranberry juice and soda water is just plain lazy. Why wouldn’t you offer them something as thoughtfully made as what you serve the rest of your guests? (See our story on page 10)

In: Boxes, Cartons, Paper Bottles
Out: Heavyweight Packaging

Not all that long ago a big, heavy glass bottle was the very essence of clout because it suggested there was something very precious inside. Today it suggests a producer who is at best out of touch and at worst uncaring about the planet.

Those heavy bottles demand more resources to make, more space to store, and more fuel to ship.  This is why progressive consumers are rebelling against them. In 2021, a petition was circulated at the COP26, the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Glasgow, asking wineries to reduce the weight of bottles. And the powerhouse Liquor Control Board of Ontario has made lighter-weight bottles part of their sustainability mandate.

What’s even more sustainable than thinner glass bottles? Lightweight cartons, bulk boxes or kegs, and biodegradable paper bottles—less packaging, less waste, less stuff to store, and more friendly to everyone on the planet. Now that’s a trend that has staying power.