Bottoms Up in 2013

Wine, beer, and spirits trends continue to reflect consumers’ growing desire for premium products, new and different flavors, local/craft/boutique products, and value – with quality being paramount. Consumers want to experiment and explore and be “in the know” – the one to tell friends about a new beverage.

WINE “Sparkling wines are exploding – based around Prosecco – for two primary reasons – they’re easy to drink and relatively inexpensive,” according to Ronn Wiegand, publisher, RestaurantWine. He says that Cava has benefited from the interest in Prosecco and to expect the sparkling trend to be around for a long time. W. R. Tish, managing editor, Beverage Media Group, concurs and adds, “Prosecco is a boon for restaurants because they can charge $10 per glass and still have a great markup.” Ronn says that anything with the name Moscato in it is hot, especially with the younger crowd. “These wines are great for moderately-priced restaurants, and I’m happy that the younger crowd is drinking Moscato because at least they’re drinking wine, and when they’re ready there’s a chance they can be moved to Rieslings and beyond.” Daniel Johnnes, wine director, Daniel Boulud’s Winex Group, says he’s seeing a trend to more diversified wine lists in terms of countries of origin, with a great emphasis on value. “There are up-and-coming wine areas as well as old traditional regions that have not exported before, such as dry wines from Portugal, and crisp, fresh, white wines from warm wine regions such as southern Sicily. If the quality is there, we’ll buy them for our restaurants,” he says. Ronn remarks that it’s a great time to be a wine buyer. “Wine quality has improved significantly and great wines are being produced in almost every country, a lot of which go well with food and can be priced to hit the sweet spot of $6 per glass and $35 per bottle.” Tish reports a rise in “concept” or themed wines with unpredictable, memorable names like Cryptic and The Prisoner, which grab the attention of consumers.

“With the explosion of available beers, wines, and spirits, savvy restaurants are making ongoing tastings and training sessions the rule, not the exception. Product knowledge is key to gaining diners’ trust.” – W.R. Tish, managing editor, Beverage Media Group

BEER According to Jeff Cioletti, editor-in-chief, Beverage World, “The major on-premise beverage trend continues to be the growth of craft beer at 13%-14% a year.” Matt Simpson, owner, The Beer Sommelier, says other beer trends to watch are craft beer in cans (more recyclable, lighter to transport, zero “skunking”), beer sommeliers, beer cocktails, beer and food pairings, using glassware specific to beer types, larger beer lists (typically a split of 50-50 craft and big brands), and sour beers (wild yeast and bacteria-fermented ales). Especially popular with brewpubs are ales in casks or firkins (small wooden or metal barrels from which the beer needs to be consumed within a day or two). Bill Pecoriello, president, Consumer Edge Research adds that hard cider is often rolled into the beer category as some brewers are making it. “While hard cider is gaining popularity and there’s a lot of press about it, it’s growing from a very small customer base, which is important to keep in mind,” he advises.

SPIRITS Beverage Media Group reports an increasing interest in brown spirits, especially bourbon. Regarding popular flavored spirits, he says that consumers have not yet maxed out on flavored vodkas, and the trend of flavoring spirits is seeping into other spirits as well, i.e, rum, tequila, and bourbon. According to Gaz Regan, cocktail expert, bartender and author, the hottest spirit around right now is mezcal. “Bartenders are going crazy with it, using it in very small quantities in lots of cocktails to give depth.” Gaz says another trend is “throwing” cocktails – a Spanish technique that involves pouring ingredients back and forth from a height of several feet using two halves of a shaker, one with ice that is capped with a strainer and one with ingredients. (This method aerates the cocktail and cools it down.) Gaz notes that there are fewer “silly cocktails” that were being made by bartenders simply to show off and weren’t worth drinking. Craft spirits continue to gain momentum as new distilleries pop up around the country. Allen Katz, co-founder/vp, New York Distilling Company, says there is also a trend for large and small distilleries in the U.S. and in Europe to make small-batch or what he prefers to call “boutique” spirits and, as a result, there are lots of undiscovered gems on the market at great prices. “Customers are very interested in learning about these boutique spirits and experimenting with different flavors – especially those that are 100% natural and/or bitter and are very compatible with food.” He adds that overproof gin and whiskies (with alcohol levels above 50%) are making an appearance, which, when mixed with other ingredients to reduce the strength, retain the purity of the spirits’ flavor.