You don’t need a crystal ball to advise you that beverages will play an important role in 2012. Harder to predict is where to focus your efforts and investments in the broad beverage arena. Here are a few nascent drink trends that according to the experts are poised to gain traction in the year ahead.
In New York City, beer gardens have been popping up like crocuses in spring, from the huge 6,000-square-foot Spritzenhaus to Batali and Bastianich’s high-profile La Birreria at Eataly. Most of the major players have tried their hand at beer gardens, including Jeffrey Chodorow’s BeerPark and Tom Colicchio’s Lot on Tap. According to Hope Tarr, co-producer of smartphone app Beer Gardens NYC, there are over 60 beer gardens in New York. Curiously, beyond a sprinkling of beer gardens in one or two other cities, the trend hasn’t taken hold elsewhere. Urban-bound New Yorkers are especially hungry for the greenery that beer gardens provide, suggests Tarr.
That growth does point toward a national trend, however, according to David Henkes, vice president and on-premise practice leader at the Chicago-based consultancy Technomic Inc. The problem lies in beer gardens’ too-narrow definition. You don’t need a garden to sell a lot of brew. “Beer-oriented concepts in general are very on-trend right now,” says Henkes, citing a growing number of chains and independents that feature an extensive collection of craft beer and mircrobrews. “Beer gardens are probably a local manifestation of that trend in New York,” he notes.
Farm to tumbler
“As the farm-to-table movement continues to grow, more bars and restaurants are applying the idea to beverages as well—call it farm to glass,” posits Lynnette Marrero, a New York-based consultant, principal of Drinks At 6.
Indeed, the locavore movement is naturally progressing from food to drink. Bar taps these days are more likely to dispense regional microbrews than domestic macrobrews. Bartenders are mixing cocktails that showcase micro-distilleries’ products made from locally grown grains. Restaurants located in wine regions offer nearby vintages on tap.
“Local craft beer, regional wine, locally distilled spirits are on-trend with what consumers are looking for,” agrees Henkes.The appeal is that these products are not mass-produced and that drinking them is a way of supporting the local economy. And he adds, “Buying local is very much on-trend. We will see that in all the beverage categories.”
In Colorado Springs, Colorado, the Broadmoor hotel resort’s beverage program places great emphasis on serving local craft beer as well as cocktails made from Colorado micro-distilled spirits. The property’s Golden Bee Pub contracted with local Bristol Brewing Company to create an ale for its 50th anniversary.
Wine for the common customer
As customers have scaled back on wine purchases, they’ve made a happy discovery: inexpensive wine doesn’t always taste cheap. Cheap wine can be good indeed. In restaurants, if the price is right, they are more willing to drink good house wine and more accepting of nontraditional packaging.
“Wine is appealing more to the common man,” asserts Henkes. “Consumers are starting to realize you don’t have to spend a lot to get a good wine.”
“There’s still the foodie scenester diner, but the bulk—80 to 90 percent—of the wine-buying public is less adventurous,” says Marnie Old, a Philadelphia-based sommelier, author and wine consultant. “These people are seeking value. We are going back to the days of the house carafe wine, and that’s what bag-in-box wine is for.”
According to Technomic research, 43 percent of on-premise wine occasions were house wine occasions. “Consumers are more accepting of screwtop bottles and bag-in-box wine,” comments Henkes. The bag-in-box format works well for house wine because dispensing is convenient and customers don’t see the container, he adds.
These days there is a greater variety of better-quality wines in bag-in-box packaging, points out sommelier Old. “I think there is going to be more acceptance of this package on premise,” she predicts.
The singles bar
“Restaurants and bars have to move beyond the value proposition and create differentiation,” declares Henkes. “If you are competing on cost alone, you’ve already lost.” One way to create that differentiation is to be an expert in a single type of beverage.
“There are a number of single-spirit places in New York and San Francisco and other big cities,” notes consultant Marrero, citing establishments exclusively devoted to tequila, mescal or rum. “I think that single-spirit concept will spread across the country,” averrs Marrero. And Pisco, the South American grape brandy, is going to have a big year, she predicts.
“Brown spirits are where it’s at,” adds Henkes. Anecdotally, we’re starting to see restaurants featuring more extensive whisky selections and offering sampling flights.” That could translate into whiskey bar concepts, says the VP, especially in larger markets such as New York, San Francisco, Los Angeles and Chicago.
Now that many restaurants are crafting cocktails with fresh fruit juices, purees and simple syrup infusions, it’s easy enough to drop the alcohol from the formula, squirt in some seltzer, and voila! House-made soda. It’s a flavorful way to extend nonalcoholic selections and appeal to adults as well.
“Consumers want more options,” says Henkes. “With house-made sodas, operators can customize the drinks on the spot for guests. That personal touch gets results. The artisan twist creates a point of difference, and it’s a way to get a premium price point for the drink,” he concludes.