In 2018, we saw the birth of outlandishly flavoured gins in the name of 'ginnovation', the rise of low-abv drinks and the growth of cocktails on tap. What's in store for 2019? We asked a panel of bar experts to reveal which trends are poised to sweep the industry
On-trade gin sales passed £1 billion for the first time in a 12-month period in 2018. Will gin continue to thrive, or will another spirit steal the spotlight?
The bar experts
Dan Dove, founder,
Dan Schofield (DS): I think gin will keep growing and growing. There are more brands coming out every year, and I think while the big brands will continue to thrive, consumers will start to look for the smaller, craft brands.
Richard Wynne (RW): I think mezcal will be a big thing, it's so versatile. High-end Mexican restaurants talk about mezcal almost like its cognac. We had an inquiry yesterday for 50 people coming into Little Bat for brunch, and they said they want three mezcal- or tequila-based cocktails for the party. I was like, who are you? You're middle-class suburbanites, how do you know about mezcal? It's amazing.
It'll be interesting to see how mezcal performs in bars with Brexit coming up. The prices might soar and make it less accessible, but I'd love to see more come through the big distribution companies. In a couple of years, I'm sure there will be a mezcal product that rivals the big guns in the tequila market.
Dan Dove (DD): As a category, you'll hear lots of people call mezcal or tequila the next big spirit, but I think vodka is the one to watch next year, with lots of innovations coming out off the back of new gin infusions.
With more and more people cutting down on alcohol consumption or abstaining from drinking altogether, bars are getting more creative with their non-alcoholic options. What’s in store for the no-abv category in 2019?
DD: Health is a trend that isn't going away. Every brand is talking about CBD [a cannabis compound that does not produce a high] at the moment, and teas will carry on gaining momentum – both sparkling teas and teas led by superfoods.
Within the non-alcoholic [spirits] category, I think we will see 20- or 30-plus non-alcoholic brands launch in 2019 that are specifically category-led. Seedlip tries to play all spirits at the moment, but you’ll start to see non-alcoholic amaros and vermouths, and more non-alcoholic beers.
RW: Many people want a healthier drink but still want that buzz, so more companies are looking into using cannabis in their products. I think there's scope for that to move forward. I also think [non-alcoholic spirits] are a really interesting category that's only going to grow this year. For Seedlip to get in on the category as an aperitif [with new sister brand Æcorn] will be a big move.
Kombuchas will be important this year. We've started using kombuchas already at Callooh Callay, and we're launching a new menu at Little Bat in March where we're starting to look at different flavoured kombuchas, whether they're floral or spiced or anything like that.
Since kombucha is still a new thing, what we've done at Callooh Callay is use it in a cocktail that's very accessible. We've done a version of a Cosmopolitan substituting cranberry juice for cranberry kombucha, with orange sherbet and sherry in there as well to give it some sweetness. If bars and cocktail bartenders see kombucha as a different juice, there's no reason it can't be used in non-alcoholic, low-abv or even shaken drinks for a different flavour.
What cocktail styles will take off in the coming year?
DD: The highball as a drink will become the go-to style of drink in many bars, no matter the level of bar. The rise of gin has driven that – the classic gin and tonic has helped push the highball serve overall. It's a drink that can be executed in the top bars down to mainstream chains. You're able to create a lot of complexity in a simple drink. It's beautifully clean-looking and can be made to scale at bars and events.
RW: All of a sudden a number of aperitivo bars are popping up on World's 50 Best Bars, and a lot of bars now have their own aperitivo menus. A lot of the brands that come to us now for pouring deals or marketing ideas put a lot of their budget behind vermouths and aperitifs because they're seeing so much scope for return.
I hate happy hour, offering two-for-one discounts – I think it cheapens your brand. But if you can offer something better that's of good value, that's really cool. Aperitivos, anything made with vermouth, sherry or amaro, are generally relatively cheap because you're not paying £25 a bottle, you're paying £7 or £8 a bottle. You can still make a percentage GP and offer something at a decent price. It's a great way of getting people through the door to taste delicious drinks that won't get them absolutely wasted.
Though 2018 saw many exciting openings, the industry also faced a string of big-name closures. What new methods will bars use to drive business and footfall in 2019?
RW: I wouldn’t be surprised if there are a number of bars that start using Deliveroo, or varying their licence, so they can feasibly deliver cocktails to people's doorsteps. If companies like Deliveroo are still going and making money, then why leave the comfort of your own home if you can get incredible cocktails delivered to your door at the same price as going out? I think this area of the market could triple or quadruple in the next 12 months.
Genuine Liquorette’s programme of takeaway cocktails – the way they take you through the creation of the drink and you can order through their website – is groundbreaking. It's something that anyone with an off-licence should look at in terms of inspiration. Soon everyone will be doing it.
DD: Bars will up their game on digital content this year. We're seeing brands create digital content that drives revenue and loyalty. To have a chance of being positioned as a top bar you have to be able to PR it in some way and drive awareness on social media.
I think you'll start seeing bespoke apps more within the bar industry to drive loyalty, for advertising purposes and for menu changes. Apps could also play a real part in a multi-sensorial experience in bars. Is it that your app connects to a menu within a bar, and you're able to listen to audio sounds while you're drinking the cocktail? You could use your phone as a bolt-on to the menu.
You'll see the rise of in-house bar products to bring people in. We've seen lots of bitters and syrups, but lots of bars are doing more. Ago [Perrone, director of mixology at the Connaught Bar,] is a great example. He just created the Connaught Gin. Bartenders are now becoming more savvy about how to create their own products, often with crazy equipment. They're able to now distil in-house. You already see a lot of bars doing prebatched cocktails, but I think you'll start to see bar-launched products hitting the market.
The bar and the kitchen have gained inspiration from each other for years, and this trend made even more headway in 2018. How will the conversation between the bartender and chef professions evolve?
DS: I think bartenders will start looking more to locally sourced produce the way chefs do.
DD: Calculating the calories in cocktails is gaining traction, the same way that chefs calculate calories in their food. Bartenders are starting to understand the calorie content in their drinks. I know that drinks brands are also looking to place their calorie content on the bottles.
We’re also in an era where the majority of bartenders feel they have the right to write a book. It's a crossover into chef-world. You’ll see superstar bartenders come off the back of it, as chefs have done.
Backlash against the plastic straw was one of the biggest sustainability issues of 2018. What new approaches to sustainability will develop in the coming year?
DD: Using technology to help lower the carbon footprint of bars. Hydroponics and aquaponics both play into this. We're starting to see smaller kits being introduced into bar tops and within bar design, as an actual steady piece of equipment that allows bars to produce ingredients year-round.
RW: I think there will be a big shift in the way we use and reuse glassware. You see a number of coffee shop regulars going in with their own bamboo coffee cups. I think that's something that the bar, especially neighbourhood and independent bars, could look to in terms of regulars getting their own cups or personalised cups. It can only be a positive thing, from a financial and an environmental perspective. We can look at being more sustainable through the way we use almost every consumed good we purchase, asking 'how can we go beyond the basics of what everyone else is doing?'.
Keen to learn what else is in store for the world of drinks in 2019? Check out our 2019 pub trends forecast here