Can you believe 2016 is here? Neither can we.
It’s been an exceptional year for the food and beverage industries. Craft breweries emerged on every corner, rye whiskey made a huge comeback, and diners were buried under offerings of fried chicken and waffles. 2015 was impressive and indulgent, but we couldn’t be more excited for the year to come.
It’s a constant struggle for restaurants and bars to stay on top of beverage industry trends, and 2016 is set to bring some interesting ones. So we spoke to our industry insiders about what to expect.
Here are our favorites.
Amaro and Herbal Liqueurs
Paulo Pereira, Beverage Director at Brass Union, gave us some insights into his predictions for this year. “In 2016, I see no slowdown with the popularity of amaro. From using it as a base spirit to using several varieties in a single cocktail, or even as a modifier, I see more and more bars utilizing this intriguing and versatile category of spirits. I think we could even see a rise in herbal liqueurs. I've been having fun playing with some of those recently, and I’ve had good feedback from guests and colleagues alike.”
Just five years ago, cider had a (totally unfounded) bad reputation. Many American drinkers knew little about it and had probably never tasted it. In 2015, hard cider gained ground and identified itself as a serious contender for our favorite beverage. But this year, cider is poised to experience a full-blown revolution.
Wassail, in New York City, is leading the charge of this uprising with a whopping 16 ciders on tap and 120 bottled ciders on their beverage menu. Here, you’ll find cider variations from all over the world and the unlikeliest of places. Paired with a fine-dining, plant-based menu, Wassail offers an international flight of three for $15, and the staff provides extensive wisdom and answers to all your cider queries. We bet you’ll see more hard ciders on tap in restaurants and bars all over the country in 2016.
And this provides a nice transition to our next trend…
Innovation is the word of 2016, and bars and restaurants are certainly tapping into that (sorry). Restaurants are focusing on their beverage programs and analyzing their efficiency, and, not surprisingly, beer won’t be the only thing on tap in 2016. Kegs full of wine and pre-batched cocktails will now be a staple at many establishments.
This is smart for many reasons. We all know how crucial time management is when running a bar, and tap-based cocktails can eliminate the wait involved with mixing popular drinks one by one. Installation costs may be high, but providing tapped wine saves money, reduces waste, and the process is generally better for the environment.
The only battle will be persuading patrons to tweak their perception of a proper beverage.
The popularity of sour beer has been growing steadily for a while, and this year it’ll make a massive return among craft brewers. Despite the name, though, not every sour beer is sour—some are earthy, some are fruity, and others have merely a mild tartness. However, producing sour beers can be significantly more tedious than other craft blends, so don’t expect sour beers to completely flood the marketplace any time soon.
Russian River Brewing’s Supplication and Temptation sour brews have been popular for quite some time, and one of our personal favorites is a Flemish sour ale from Belgium, the Cuvée des Jacobins Rouge.
Hyper-Local and House-Made Everything
Consumers continue to demand more house-made and locally-sourced products, and the beverage industry is no exception. Restaurants and breweries are now introducing their own house-made sodas and carbonated beverages, such as ginger ales, root beers and hard soft drinks. Many are creating liquors and beverages infused with a range of flavors, like ginger and florals.
Thanks to all the locovores out there, we’re also seeing an ongoing demand for neighborhood collaborations and hyper-local sourcing, so we expect to see more joint efforts by local institutions when it comes to products, menus and even guest starring.
Whiskey had its moment in 2015, but gin will be leading the liquor pack this year. Barrel-aged gin, such as Grand Ten’s Wire Works, is on the rise, and in 2016 bartenders will become more creative with classic gin cocktails and flavors. According to Andrew Freeman & Co., we’ll see gins aged in whiskey, brandy or rum barrels to create flavor infusions “with tastes of botanicals and sweetened with hints of vanilla, maple, and brown sugar, creating a gin that is easy to sip and is the perfect complement in any number of cocktails.”
Coffee and Nitro
Sterling-Rice Group recently identified its top 10 culinary trends, naming coffee as one of the new innovations for beverage makers. Whether it’s coffee-infused cocktails or dry-hopped coffee on nitro tap, restaurants and bars are jumping on the trend. Establishments are installing nitro taps for both bean and beer, and breweries are experimenting with more coffee flavors than ever.
The collaboration we’re most excited about in 2016? Boston’s Gracenote Coffee Roasters are teaming up with Treehouse Brewing Company, a western Massachusetts brewer whose beer is proving more and more difficult to get our hands on. The pair just released a coffee stout called Double Shot, and we’re dying for a taste. Gracenote’s coffee was also recently added to the cocktail menu of one of our favorite Boston restaurants, Alden and Harlow. Think bourbon, lemon, maple, and Gracenote’s latest roast as an Alden and Harlow coffee liqueur.
Food and Cocktail Tasting Menus
Fine-dining restaurants around the country are continuing to pair full tasting menus with cocktail offerings, which is a testament to how far cocktails have come in the last few years. Cocktails-by-the-course programs have increased in popularity, but in 2016 we’ll see this exciting beverage trend really take off in the form of full tasting menus.
James Beard award-winning restaurant, Eleven Madison Park, offers its diners the option to choose between a wine pairing or something more adventurous, like seasonally-focused cocktails, to complement their menu. The bar managers work closely with the kitchen to make sure every pairing works. In 2016, we’ll see other restaurants catch on to this but in a more simplified way, offering ‘suggested’ cocktail pairings next to each of their menu items.
Back to Basics
All these new beverage trends are pretty exciting, but we’re also predicting one more: a return to simplicity. Over the last few years, we’ve seen some impressive innovations when it comes to specialty cocktails and beers, but some consumers are getting tired of products that take ingredients too far. Less is more when it comes to retaining the integrity of ingredients, so we’re expecting simple cocktails with high-quality, fresh ingredients on the horizon.
By now you can probably tell how psyched we are about 2016, which is why we’re serving up more smarter bars and restaurants with all of these tips!