The biggest trends succeed at the apex of craveability and profitability. These examples show how operators stir up that perfect storm through beverages.
Kefir, Shrubs and Mead
Although a growing number of health-oriented restaurants have installed kombucha taps, fermented options go beyond this familiar tea drink. SHED has an entire bar devoted to fermented beverages. In addition to offering housemade kombucha, it serves kefir water, shrubs, hard cider and mead (fermented honey) made from locally sourced products. Technomic reports 57 percent of consumers seek out restaurants serving locally sourced items, so this fresh beverage trend is ripe to pay off.
2. Coffee mocktails
The Roosevelt Coffeehouse
Prepare to see coffee in new forms in 2016. Restaurant consultant Baum + Whiteman notes bitter tastes in general are gaining traction. Coffee tonics—a blend of espresso and artisanal tonic water—give baristas a chance to show they are working the tasting notes of coffee like wine and beer, says Kenny Sipes, founder of The Roosevelt Coffeehouse. “The tonic pulls all the fruitiness from the espresso, adding complexity and allowing customers to experience flavors they might not have noticed before.”
3. Champagne-based cocktails
Today’s consumers are into everything that bubbles and fizzes, except traditional sodas, according to Technomic. So, naturally, Champagne-based cocktails are popping up on menus everywhere, in the form of sparklers paired with spirits. “These types of drinks also offer a point of differentiation on the menu for those guests who may not enjoy a stronger cocktail with a bourbon, gin, vodka or rum base,” says Gregory Howard, Yard House’s beverage manager. The chain menued its Ruby Sparkler, made with prosecco, elderflower liqueur and a splash of framboise, as a winter-season special. “It offers a touch of sweetness from the framboise along with the floral elderflower making it balanced and approachable,” Howard says.
Brian Means, Dirty Habit’s bar manager, says he’s noticed an increase in sherry sales since he added a by-the-glass list. Shim cocktails, also known as sessions—consisting of low-proof alcohol such as sherry, cider, sake or vermouth—keep that momentum going. The bar-focused restaurant’s Three Amigos cocktail, for example, has two different sherries and vermouth as a base; it’s finished with a splash of walnut oil and an orange twist. Serving shims lets customers explore the menu without getting sloppy drunk, says Means. “Low-proof spirits give [operators] the option to offer a cocktail menu at lower cost,” he says. In addition, their alcohol content means operators only need a less expensive beer and wine license instead of a liquor license to serve them.
5. Floral infusions
The Royal Enfield
Operators are harnessing the power of flowers, such as hibiscus and elderflower, to flavor drinks. Florals underscore seasonality and were ranked as a top trend at the most recent Fancy Food Show. L.A. Chapter, located in the Ace Hotel, rolls several current trends into its floral-focused Royal Enfield. The cocktail stirs together gin, milk-washed apricot cordial, sherry, rose water, dandelion, burdock, salt and chamomile smoke.
Switchels—old-fashioned, down-home tonics—are enjoying new life in today’s health-conscious climate. Comprised of water, vinegar, sweetener and sometimes ginger, switchels’ all-natural ingredients make them “100 percent on-trend,” says Caden Salvata, beverage director of this Chinese-American restaurant. The Haymaker Punch plays off Mei Mei’s local-sourcing bent, combining local honey, apple cider vinegar and bitters. Salvata introduced the $3 nonalcoholic refresher as an alternative to lemonade or limeade. Now it’s a menu staple—the restaurant’s most popular housemade beverage—and easily varied from season to season.
Plank Smoked Old Fashioned
New York City
Smoked cocktails follow the multisensory trend occurring on the culinary side and lend bars a showcase to flex their technique. American Cut uses a brûlée torch to burn planks of maple wood. Bartenders then cover the seared wood with tumblers to trap the smoke in the glass, releasing a cloud of maple smoke when the drink is presented. Head bar manager Alexa Rose Amendolagine says it’s an opportunity for staff to put on a show for guests and explain the process. “The smoke itself adds an immediate olfactory connection,” says Amendolagine. “People remark that it takes them back to memories around a campfire or fireplace.”