Raising Our Glasses to 2014!

Wine, beer, and spirits trends for the new year continue to reflect consumers’ growing interest in/desire for micro-distilled and artisanal products that are locally produced, and packed with flavor.

BEER According to David Decker, President, Consumer Edge Insight, the good news for beer is that it’s seeing gains among the two groups that it has long struggled to reach: women and older drinkers (55+). As a result, he says, “It’s not time to start cutting back on the beers you serve; if anything, maybe reconsider the types you offer.” Benj Steinman, Publisher, Beer Marketer’s Insights, reports that while on-premise beer sales are down as much as 4%, sales of craft beers on premise are up modestly. And, while still a small percentage of sales, craft beer in cans is growing explosively, especially in the more casual chains, with certain brewers (i.e., Oskar Blues) only selling in cans. “Also, the appeal of sour beers has broadened from an initially small base – there’s a lot of cache about them. I think they definitely can have a place on an expanded beer list in a fine dining establishment because their flavor profile pairs well with food.” He notes that New Belgium, a Colorado craft brewer, is making a beer it calls “tart,” Snapshot Wheat, which has a hint of sour and is more sessional (low alcohol, with a balanced flavor of hops and malt) and more subtle in flavor than traditional sour beers. Benj adds that smoked beers, while trendy, are a very tiny niche product (i.e., Stone Brewing’s Smoked Porter with Vanilla Bean).

HARD CIDER While on-premise sales of hard cider are very small compared to other alcoholic beverages, sales are up dramatically, especially with women. GuestMetrics reports that in the third quarter of 2013, hard cider sales grew 52%. Michael Whiteman, President, Baum + Whiteman, says hard cider has appeal because “it’s food friendly, low-alcohol and gluten-free.” Technomic reports that beer brewers and major beer suppliers are now entering the cider market.

Tap technology is revolutionizing the beverage world – from beer, wine, and cocktails to taps for fruity soft drinks and barrel-aged cold-brewed coffee. – Darren Tristano, Executive VP, Technomic

WINE “We’re seeing a desire on behalf of restaurants to offer exclusive wines, leading to a renewed support for local wines, a boost in private labels, and fresh attention to boutique or micro-production California wines,” says W. R. Tish, Managing Editor, Beverage Media Group. “These types of wines are often offbeat and food friendly, as well as obscure enough to allow for healthy margins.” Ronn Wiegand, publisher, Restaurant Wine, says that red blends and white blends have surged in popularity, especially those on lists in the $5-$12 per glass and $25-$60 per bottle categories. “These blends usually contain one (or more) international varieties – Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Syrah, Malbec, Zinfandel, Grenache, and are ‘built up’ from there.” He says Prosecco alternatives – international bubblies in the same price range – are proliferating, and fueling interest in quality sparkling wines from around the world, especially those from France (Cremant), Germany (Sekt), Spain (Cava and others), and other regions in Italy. Evan Goldstein, President/Chief Education Officer, Full Circle Wine Solutions, Inc., says, “The reality is, for most restaurants sales of wines-by-the-glass drive their wine business, so preservation is critical.” There are inert gas systems like Enomatic and inserts such as Wine Shield, but the big buzz, he says, is around Coravin. This device enables a small amount of wine to be extracted from a bottle without pulling the cork, providing an opportunity to offer small tastes or glasses – perfect for older, rare, expensive bottles.

SPIRITS Jon Taffer, President, Nightclub & Bar Media Group, and Host/Executive Producer of Spike TV’s “Bar Rescue” and creator of “Taffer Time,” says flavored spirits are the single most powerful beverage trend today. “What began with flavored vodkas, which are still popular, has moved into flavored whiskies, tequilas, and rums, all of which offer great mixability,” says Jon. “With these spirits it’s important to create cocktails around them as they’re rarely ordered neat.” He advises buying flavored spirits by the bottle, as some might not have a long shelf life, and adds, “Ice is a critical part of the quality equation of any great drink, with sanitation and filtration being key.” Jon says a company called Glace makes and ships luxury ice – purified so it has no taste, the individually-wrapped spheres are good for those serving high-end whiskies and scotches. Lu Brow, Bar Chef, Cafe Adelaide & The Swizzle Stick Bar, New Orleans, LA, is part of a growing group who barrel aged cocktails. “They’re great for a busy bar because all you have to do is pull the tap,” she says. Lu recommends using a very small barrel, as it’s a less expensive mistake if it doesn’t work out, and to remember to soak the barrel first. Michael says the latest fixation of artisanal bartenders is making bespoke vermouths and stocking dozens of them. Lu adds that she finds having vermouth in a cocktail is very appealing to women, as it has fewer calories and a lower alcohol level.