Opinion: What will cocktails look like post-coronavirus?

Julian de Feral

Julian de Feral

13 May 2020

From modernising tiki and disco drinks, to streamlining costs and simplifying methods, Julian de Féral presents what he thinks bars and their drinks will look like post-lockdown

As bartenders around the world busy themselves in creative and unexpected ways, there is an underlying truth that, whilst they might enjoy the challenge of making drinks with that stuff growing through the cracks of their doorsteps, they miss the bar.

Specifically, working in one, serving drinks for a guest demographic more varied than their dogs and their nans, and geeking out with their colleagues about the finer points of the cocktail universe.

When all is said and done, might we be prepared to lose particular styles?

Naturally, drinks debates are still rife in the virtual world, and perhaps opinions are becoming even more entrenched as cocktailians focus their pent-up energy on the theoretical and analytical. But when all is said and done, might we now need to be prepared to lose particular styles?

Surely it isn’t unrealistic to expect that the bar business will be somewhat streamlined when some of those remaining doors start to creak open? For example, are there, rather than individual drinks, types of drinks that have been happily riding a crest of popularity that might quietly and somberly be brushed under the carpet?

Modern history

Although I’ll probably have my ear bitten off for including ‘tiki’ and ‘disco’ in the same boat, there is an assumption in some circles that once public drinking is reinstated it might be something of a more simple, sombre affair. Rather than hedonistically glitter-balling the night away drinking semi-ironic disco drinks, guests might be more inclined to slowly sip ‘regular’ beer, wine and, at the very most, a competitively priced ‘back to basics’ classic.

However (and here lies the connection), tiki, tropical and, more recently, disco drinks have repeatedly proven themselves to be great survivors. Conceptually these genres of drinks are rooted in fantasy, which makes them delightfully adaptable to zeitgeists and modifiable for mashups. This makes complete sense considering these were styles born of a need for escapism during times of economic depression, so in fact history would indicate we might indeed see a continued rebirth of these drinks, albeit with some fine-tuning.

Significantly tiki/tropical/disco have also seen something of a simplification (or in more high-tech cases, literal re-distillation) in line with a modernist approach.

A book called Minimalist Tiki addresses the notion that – with the cornucopia of exotic and esoteric ingredients often used, as well as home-made ingredients containing multifaceted ingredients – many might find replicating such recipes daunting. The idea that one can still make a solid tiki drink without wearing the shirt, knowing the secret handshake or having access to wild ingredients seems particularly relevant now, especially considering that in lockdown many people will likely have more time to hone and adapt simple skills.

I like the idea that a modernist visual approach can be applied [to tiki/tropical/disco drinks] as well as a pairing-down of ingredients

What I personally consider ‘minimal tiki/tropical/disco’ also accounts for the significant visual style of these genres. I like the idea that a modernist visual approach can be applied as well as a pairing-down of ingredients. Not feeling obliged to invest in expensive vessels or bountiful garnishes can tempt bars into readily dipping their toes into these categories.

It also gives reluctant, puritan guests more of a reason to venture out of the shadows cast by their down-and-brown vintage tipples, that presumably they’ll have had enough of after months of home drinking non-perishables.

Streamline to survive

A significant and sobering thought is the consideration that it would not just be a dialling-back of the look. Bars would be wise to freeze their prices to tempt imbibers back but will also need to start recouping money in order to survive.

I would not be surprised to see corners being cautiously cut in terms of quality: less middle-shelf spirits, more ‘house spirits’; less of your cold-pressed papaya, more ‘death of fresh’.

There will of course be consequences for other categories, styles and trends too.

Classic cocktails? Other than a similar downgrading of quality, I would expect them to carry on as they were, with the continued de-snobbification.

The ‘molecular’ or ‘multisensory’? Although they might provide an experience not readily replicable at home, I find it hard to envision the freshly released prisoners flocking to bars tinkering with spherification and smokes. I would imagine newbie investment in lab-grade tech would slow down for the foreseeable, while bars who already have their thingamabobs in place will make the best use of them being able to create their own ingredients from scratch.

While there has been a positive growth in wellbeing and health during this period, there has also been a boom in off-trade consumption. While I can imagine a continued – even enforced – awareness of health, it would surprise me to see such a steady growth of brands attempting to release new ‘non-alcoholic’ spirits at a premium, particularly if their target demographics have already got a fridges full of scobys (the bacteria used to make kombucha) at home.

I would imagine newbie investment in lab-grade tech would slow down for the foreseeable

Almost preemptively, another trend that was picking up traction was the explosion of new RTDs and the beginnings of seeing ‘hard seltzers’ on the market. I tried a delicious hard seltzer (5% abv) from Oscar Blues Brewery last night but couldn’t help thinking that for the price point (around £6/355ml can from my local pub) even the less-adventurous home imbiber wouldn’t struggle to essentially make a similarly quaffable highball at a fraction of the cost.

Whilst RTDs will be more commonplace at home and perhaps even more in bars now, I would expect more realistic price tags, and bars to consider continuing to offer their own batched cocktails as take away options.

Beyond bartenders

Ultimately with bars having had their influential grip loosened, it will be the brands with the deepest pockets and strongest distribution routes that will have a more powerful impact on the consumer than the furloughed bartender. But this is not to say that they can be unscrupulous.

The best brands and consultancies will invest in genuine talent and creativity to think of original ways to persuade people into their corner of the bar or supermarket: non-corporate, globally conscious, genuinely heartfelt, personal and generous.

In fact, I write this overlooking my partner (brand activation manager for Gin Mare) meticulously spending days sculpting and painting ceramic coasters for her brand’s loyal accounts. A freebie bottle of booze just won’t cut it anymore.

A friend said to me a few weeks ago that the public’s perception of value is drastically changing.  After we shake our slippers off there will be those who value the exclusivity and privacy of their member’s clubs even more.

The public’s perception of value is drastically changing

 

There will be many more who will find that diamond garnish in their ‘ultra-premium luxury Martini’ laughable or be less likely to fawn over a fancy bar’s trophy bottle of liquid history.

There will be those who will skip the yearly holiday and find the most comfort in the familiar chatter of a bar; a simple bottle of rum, cheap pineapple juice and disposable cups in a sunny park with friends; or just a hug.

With thanks to the community of London Bartender’s Association, where I posted my original question and had Imbibe UK commission this piece as a direct result.

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