The cocktail elite — from well-known and up-and-coming mixologists to brand ambassadors and industry experts — were in New Orleans this past week for Tales of the Cocktail. Throughout diverse seminars showcasing technique, products and innovative ideas, five trends emerged that you should put on your radar. As these gain traction in the cocktail scene, they could mean new opportunities in the chain and hotel beverage program arena.
1. Think tonics. When it comes to mixers, you should always keep your eyes open for new products that can enhance your beverage lineup. During “Making Love to your Tonic and Gin,” William Grant Company Mixologist Charlotte Voisey and Jim Ryan, the National Brand Ambassador for Hendrick's Gin, looked at the history of tonic in the modern world and discussed why it’s a compelling mixer. From Schweppes to Fever-Tree Tonic Water to Canada Dry and new quinine-flavored syrups that are just about to hit the market, the range of tonics now available suggest that your gin is only as good as the tonic you add to it. In fact, new tonics elevate the gin flavors and can make a simple drink very complex. By taking your tonic selections up a notch, you speak to today's imbibers' more sophisticated palate and create a more premium experience.
2. Sweeteners are all the rage. With skinny cocktails and healthier alternatives now a staple drink menus, now's the time to think of using alternative sweeteners in cocktails, especially those that deliver a natural sweet flavor. At “Let’s Not Sugar Coat It," a panel led by PS 7’s Gina Chesevani, she suggested adding honey to drinks. Although the panel advocated harvesting your own honey, look for local at bee farms or organic producers. Honey comes in different styles, tastes and flavors, and can be an added bonus to any cocktail, not only in healthfulness and taste profile, but also in marketing value.
3. Ice counts. During the “How to Build a Cutting-edge Ice Program,” Chad Soloman and Christy Pope of Cuffs & Buttons instructed on the importance of quality ice matters in creating a great cocktail. Larger pieces of ice, for example, mean slower melt and less dilution. Manage your ice program to fit your environment and your cocktail list, the pair advised; think of ice as an investment in your drink program, because ice can really change the drink for better or worse.
4. Menus matter - but be wary. You probably already have a menu with vibrant pictures and vivid descriptors, as well as a bar team that can make all your offerings to perfection, but your menu must constantly evolve. Angus Winchester, global brand ambassador for Tanqueray, and Sean Finter, CEO of Barmetrix consulting practice, led "The Menu" seminar. While constantly taking your drink menu to the next level is important, they cautioned about entering the world of technology. E-tablets are a great, innovative idea, the pair warned, but be sure to implement them in a way that only enhances server capabilities and doesn’t take away from the ambiance or joy of going out to imbibe. Finter says innovative menu formats should assist in making the sale, but shouldn’t be a substitute for good service or a knowledgeable staff.
5. Music makes the brand. Be aware of the music you’re playing. Music is important to the ambiance of your business, but also it is associated with certain drinks, explained DJ, musician and cocktail consultant Brother Cleve, also known as Boston's unofficial ambassador to cocktail nation, and Tanqueray’s Global Brand Ambassador Angus Winchester at the “Cocktail Culture — Music” seminar. Putting as much thought in your music as you do into your cocktails and training your staff will help you not only different your concept but provide some "subliminal seduction" to patrons, ingratiating them further into your brand and experience.