Bartenders Tell Us What's Shaking in 2017

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Bartenders around the country give their predictions for what’ll be hot (and not) behind the bar this year.

Mezcal. A culinary approach. An abandoning of fussy, overwrought cocktails and a return to simplicity. These are just a few of the trends that bartenders think will be tops in 2017. Find out more of their thoughts, as well as the drinks they hope get left by the wayside:

“The tiki train is full steam ahead...and bartenders will be looking for new ingredients to set theirs apart, [like] tropical drinks involving more amaro and herbal liqueurs. After the popularity of Cynar, I can also see more creative shots becoming a trend with combinations of bitter, herbal, and spirit. I sincerely hope the Moscow Mule falls out of trend soon, and can we give the copper mug obsession a rest while we're at it?”

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– Bryan Tetorakis, Assistant General Manager, Polite Provisions, San Diego, CA

“There are so many amazing, new, well-made products hitting the market coming from incredible sources and being produced by people that really care about what they are putting in the bottle. Irish whiskey and mezcal are two of the most rapidly growing categories and there is no slowing down.”

– Frank McGrath, General Manager, Polite Provisions, San Diego, CA

Billy Helmkamp, co-owner of The Whistler in Chicago - 2017 Bar Predictions

"More people on the other side of the bar will take notice that the floor has risen in terms of talent behind the bar – bartending is once again being embraced as a legitimate career choice. Combined with the revival of long-lost spirits, the current beer boom and general popularity of cocktails, your average bartender is more knowledgeable, has better technique and a deeper understanding of the trade than they did just a few short years ago.

– Billy Helmkamp, Co-Owner, The Whistler, Chicago, IL

Jess Lambert, head bartender at Boleo in Chicago - 2017 Bar Predictions

Culinary techniques [are] making their way into our processes behind the bar, [including] molecular techniques such as gels, spherification, clarification, and fat-washing. Chefs know how to extract and enhance flavor experiences through a variety of culinary techniques. Our bars have become our kitchens, and we are in the business of creating an experience from start to finish. One of the things I love about the beverage world is that the community has guts and they do everything with gusto! If something is new, and pushes boundaries, but has integrity to it, cocktail culture will usually get behind it."

– Jess Lambert, Head Bartender, Boleo, Chicago, ILPhoto: Colin Beckett 

Smaller markets continue to push their way to the top by really embracing who they are, authenticity. Second, I think that people in general are starting to realize less is more [and are taking] a minimalist approach, [using] less ingredients but equally as special. Third, I see people embracing new cultures and sharing them with their neighbor; produce and spices that are not used every day will be more prevalent. The most exciting prediction I have is a return to casual, fun cocktails that respect the classics. As a community we had to go back and re-learn or really learn the craft, educate ourselves and our guests that this is a real trade and a craft (constant work in progress). Now that as an industry we realize the importance of making a Manhattan correctly and having a solid base of classics, we are also starting to have fun with it. After all, we are drinking, right?”

– Julia Petiprin, Head of Operations + Design, Sundry & Vice, Cincinnati, OH

“I foresee a return to engaging and attentive service in 2017, a Cheers-type warmth where bartenders attach themselves to a bar for the long haul, sharpening their expertise while garnering a loyal crew of regulars one drink at a time. We will see fewer hotshot, tattooed bartenders one-upping each other. We will see less overwrought and over thought, misguided messes in tiny glasses, and more lighter and simpler drinks. Instead, we will see more fun, lower ABV drinks. Expect a lot of home-made Radlers, Snakebites and Boilermakers. Kombuchas and ciders are going to be big for a minute too. Anything probiotic, anything with bubbles, anything with less judgement. 2017 is the year when people are going to be able to drink what they like to drink again. I also expect to see ingredients like yuzu and prickly pear finally figured out.

– Jeremy Allen, Head Bartender, MiniBar, Los Angeles, CA

“Consumers are looking for less ingredients and less flash from their beverage. They want to know the ingredients in their spirit, where it came from, who made it and why. Guests are now expecting their bars to have fresh, high-quality ingredients; those things are no longer something that sets a bar apart, they have become the industry standard. Non-bourbon American whiskeys, sipping tequilas and mezcal [will continue to grow]. I see a trend, albeit slowly, away from hoppy beers. The IPA trend is a whole lot similar to an IPA itself: it's better consumed fresh. As drinkers discover more and more beer styles, I feel the trend will move toward the old-world style beers, with their great balance and subtle hop presence. When asked what I think will die, my best answer is sugar; cocktails are now getting their sweetness from alternative ingredients. Adding agave nectar, fresh fruit purees, shrubs, fortified wines and other items are taking refined sugar out of the bar.

– Ryan Kelimoff, Bartender, Cafe Americano, Las Vegas, NV

“There’s going to be a rise in small, neighborhood-style bars with well thought-out bar programs, along with a significant focus on the level of service that’s being provided and the relationships between bartenders and their guests. We as bartenders and bar owners need to return to taking care of our guests and focus on going the extra mile, providing true hospitality for them. I’ve seen a lot more aquavit on menus; the flavor profile is so different from what we’re used to here in the states, and I believe bartenders will utilize the spirit more in their cocktails.”

– Jeremy Elliott, Chief Mixology Officer, STIRR, Dallas, TX

“Bartenders will notice even more educated consumers, [and] a demand for fresh, quick, consistent and quality cocktails will grow. With the culinary aspect still on trend, lower ABV cocktails will show up more on cocktail menus for guests who want to try more than just one without the headache. Over-the-top, complex cocktails that take too long to make and lack consistency will continue to phase out. Bartenders and bar guests have steered away from these for guest’s fear of odd flavor combinations, unknown ingredients and waiting an eternity to drink it. I think bar patrons will continue to want new twists on old favorites but, instead of Prohibition era, we will move into the 70’s and 80’s eras.

– Morgan Zuch, Bar Manager, Datz, Tampa, FL

Kelly Magyarics, DWS, is a wine, spirits and lifestyle writer, and wine educator, in the Washington, D.C. area. She can be reached through her website, www.kellymagyarics.com, or on Twitter and Instagram @kmagyarics.