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Delivering pizzazz in cocktails: adult beverage trends

Infusions, liqueurs, tactics make the drink

Restaurants are keeping it fresh in 2019, both from an ingredient perspective and with their plans for their adult beverage programs. They’re also waxing savory and herbal. According to the What’s Hot 2019 Culinary Forecast, published by the National Restaurant Association, savory, fresh and herb-infused ingredients are a top trend.  More than half of restaurant operators plan to add new adult beverage items in 2019, suggests the report. In the casual-dining and fine-dining segments, about 70 percent are introducing new drinks.

Bartenders and mixologists are leaning to the adventuresome, savory and herbal, yet keeping things familiar. “A dash of angostura or other bitters can also really add that medium palate of savory you’re missing when a cocktail falls a little too tangy or sweet, says Patrick Cook, beverage director, Hyperion Public Studio City. Bitters, when used in moderation, can be a great unsung hero.” At Hyperion, guests enjoy the Ventura Boulevardier, which combines Wild Turkey Rye, Punte E Mes, Cynar 70, Mole bitters, and orange peel. Mole Bitters deliver hints of chile and chocolate that can add richness and depth. Cynar 70 not only delivers a kick to the drink but balances it with “a rich, sweet (but not too sweet), nutty, mildly bitter finish,” said Food and Wine of the high-proof liqueur.

At the bar, botanical flavors and hints of floral tones heighten a drink’s sophistication. At P.J. Clarke’s in Philadelphia, Mike Gillespie, assistant GM and bar manager, uses Fever Tree tonic blends, such as Mediterranean, to spice up classics as familiar as the Gin & Tonic. “We use many Fever Tree products at P.J. Clarke’s,” he says. “They make a number of interesting tonics… one of my personal favorites, they use quinine (which is essential to tonic) from the Congo and add essential oils from flowers, fruits and herbs located around the Mediterranean.”

Chief mixologist Asadour Seheldjian at BG Lounge in Beverly Hills creates a deep flavor experience in the Rosas El Jalisco, featuring El Tesoro Reposado Tequila, fresh grapefruit juice, homemade rose simple syrup, fresh lime juice and thyme; also in Not an Aviation, combining butterfly pea flower infused Amass Gin with centerba torella, italicus, fresh lemon juice and rosemary. BG Lounge’s sophisticated drinks blend well with its elegant lounge feel and nod to art with paintings that evoke a museum-like ambiance.

Not an Aviation cocktail at BG Lounge. Photo by BG Lounge.
Not an Aviation cocktail at BG Lounge, Beverly Hills, Calif. Photo by BG Lounge.

Keeping it simple

As far as beverages are concerned, many consumers are returning to simpler and fewer ingredients, a direction that bar programs need to take in stride. “Whiskey and soda or whiskey and ginger ale can fill that desire,” says Eric “E.T.” Tecosky, Jack Daniels U.S. Brand Ambassador and Dirty Sue Olive Juice owner and creator. “And speaking of Highballs, I am starting to see the Jack & Coke find its way back on menus… or I’ve also seen some bartenders starting to use Coke as an ingredient and making some really creative new-school Jack & Coke cocktails.”

Zena Polin, restaurateur of  award-winning venues in the Maryland suburbs of Washington, D.C. is also a fan of making small tweaks to tried-and-true favorites and adopting drinks popular  due to simplicity. At The Daily Dish in Silver Spring, Md., her Old Fashioned Rye combines gin and rye and adds dehydrated orange slices; and the Summer Newport features only Plymouth Gin, dry vermouth, and wet rocks on the side. 

Getting savory

“Another trend we’re seeing is culinary savory flavors making their way from the kitchen to the bar,” says Tecosky. “At upscale spots it isn’t unusual to see cocktails involving mushrooms and broth.” At Birds & Bees in Downtown Los Angeles, The Earth Angel is a whiskey cocktail offering a deep, “luxurious and savory experience,” says Jake Larowe, Birds & Bees GM and bar manager.  It features Balvenie 14-year Caribbean cask, lactobacillus fermented mushroom juice cocktail, and is served with chocolate dipped dehydrated mushrooms and oranges. Birds & Bees’ unexpected ingredients and house made tinctures, liquors and syrups are always on the menu to add adventure for guests.

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Making it an experience

The composition of great cocktails is driven by trial and satisfaction. Yet, the drink experience isn’t complete without the accompanying ambience, service level and image-worthiness. “Consumers are attracted to ‘Instagrammable’ cocktails, meaning that we not only need to focus on the recipe and the contents of the beverage, but also the vessel, as that can take the photo opportunity to the next level,” says Shannon Salupo, corporate beverage manager for Quaker Steak & Lube. “Consumers are trading up. They want a beverage or cocktail with a higher perceived value and desirability—something that others will see and want.”

What’s next in cocktails? Keeping an eye on adult beverage trends helps set the tone for cutting-edge bar programs. According to Tecosky and Shalupo, brandy is on the rise—also mezcal; within the whiskey category, Rye is a pace setter. The current, more discerning consumer wants a beverage experience that is refined by what accompanies or infuses the liquor of choice, and is completed by drink knowledge, appearance and ambiance. From botanical and savory, to simple and fresh, these trends can raise the bar, and guide a successful adult beverage program this year.

Photo credit: BG Lounge (featured: Rosas El Jalisco, inline: Not an Aviation)

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