Making predictions is a game anyone can play, and this is the perfect time of the year to do so as the light of 2013 begins to fade. Here, then, are some trends that will emerge in 2014 in bars and restaurants.
1. Cider makes a major move. For any number of reasons, cider is perfectly positioned to emerge finally as a beverage deserving attention. There’s the explosion of interest at retail, the growth of both international and American brands, the emergence of very small production ciders, and the waning of popular domestic beers, which are losing shelf space in stores to ciders, and may soon begin finding the same is true in restaurants. The quality and range of brands and styles is starting to impress and the push from major suppliers – Angry Orchard from Samuel Adams and Stella Cidre from A-B InBev – will make room for smaller brands as well.
2. Alt-whiskey comes of age. The many American micro-distillers have been getting great coverage of their wares, but in many cases they are hard to source products, often too expensive to make it onto many back bars and frankly uneven in quality. But many of these newer distillers have had a few years of experimentation under their belts, and in some cases, the whiskies they laid down a few years ago are getting close to their time. Expect a few more of these new whiskies to follow High West, Hudson, Balcones, Corsair and other brands into the limelight.
3. Vodka hits the wall. People have been predicting this for years, but in recent conversations with retailers, I’m hearing the same story: flavored vodkas, especially the confection and cake-flavored brands, are losing share rapidly, and many of the other peripheral flavors are flattening as well. Even unflavored vodkas may finally be losing their attraction. Meanwhile, consumers are increasingly liking what they’re finding in the bourbon, rye and American whiskey aisles; when retailers start trading vodka shelf space for bourbon, you know something’s up.
4. Bye-bye barreled cocktails. Do you know what makes a barrel unsuitable for aging spirits? I don’t – there are men and women for whom that’s a full-time job. And my guess is that most bartenders who barrel-age their cocktails don’t either. One of the best-known barrelers, Jeff Josenhans of San Diego’s US Grant Grill, does it the right way, by connecting with the folks at High West Distillery to barrel the recipes he concocts. That’s one significant reason his are so good, but for the most part, I have been underwhelmed, and even once served a cocktail that had so obviously been resting in a tainted barrel that it was almost undrinkable. Flash to bartenders: people like Negronis and such with sharp edges unsmoothed, and anyway, the fad has passed so most of you can stop now.