Last year was one in which drinkers around the world broadened their palates and outlooks, and tired old certainties were cast aside in favour of exploration and reconsideration. This year looks set to be even better. Here are four trends that I predict will shape what we will drink over the course of 2018.
1. Happy hour gets happier
Last year, Australian expat bartender Sam Ross threw a large batch of his Penicillin cocktail – possibly the most successful modern classic cocktail to emerge since the Cosmopolitan – into a slushie machine to create the “Penichillin” for his bar, Diamond Reef. No moment could better exemplify the recent turn towards fun in the drinks world – a very serious drink, born in the fussy, genteel, and rule-loving bar Milk and Honey, had suddenly been reborn as a party animal, ready to be dispensed with the flick of a plastic tap.
One of the easiest ways to signal your bar’s fun-loving nature is to offer a series of goofy disco drinks rehabilitated with craft cocktail techniques. Already a number of high-profile bartenders have set out to revive drinks such as the grasshopper, the amaretto sour, the piña colada and the stinger by rejigging proportions and focusing on quality ingredients. My money’s on the Japanese slipper and the Long Island iced tea to be next. Similarly, once-derided ingredients will likely have a moment in the sun this year: Jägermeister, Goldschläger, Southern Comfort (especially now it is once again made with whiskey) and even crème de menthe will stage modest comebacks.
If you want to take a little slice of drinking fun and bring it home, consider whipping up a planter’s punch (a cocktail I had high hopes for in last year’s drinks predictions). This charmingly unfussy concoction has always been more of a loose family of related drinks rather than a rigidly-defined classic. Use the recipe below as a template and switch it up: replace the water with chilled black tea or soda water, the lime with a mixture of lime and pineapple, the simple syrup with grenadine, etc. As Wayne Curtis writes of this drink in his book And a Bottle of Rum: “Planter’s punch can be constantly reinvented. It’s owned by whoever wants to claim it.”
Make it at home: planter’s punch
60 ml rum (traditionally a dark and Jamaican one)
45 ml chilled water
30 ml lime juice
22.5 ml simple syrup
Build all ingredients in a collins glass. Add crushed ice and swizzle to chill with a bois lélé or bar spoon. Top with further crushed ice to fill the glass and serve with a straw. Garnish as you see fit.
Pair with a song: Dial up the camp with the rubbery funk of Grace Jones’s My Jamaican Guy.
2. Climate changes the wine map
No image from last year underscores the threat of climate change to good drinking more than the wildfires that devastated California’s wine country. Wine is, of course, an agricultural product first and foremost – to make wine, grapes have to be grown, and some parts of the world are better suited to that than others. But the planet’s changing climate is rapidly redrawing the map of what grows well where, with troubling consequences for wine lovers.
There is a very small silver lining to climate change, at least as far as wines are concerned: it opens up new areas to grape growing. The recent surge of interest in English sparkling wine has been driven by rapidly growing quality – and climate change has had a role to play there by bringing warmer weather and increased ripeness and yields. Similarly, grapes are now being grown as far north as Sweden, and things are looking pretty rosy in the immediate future for places such as Nova Scotia.
Wine lovers can’t become complacent, though. While winemakers are looking to technological and scientific advances to help mitigate the negative effects of increased ripeness levels in their wines, as well as planting grape varieties that better suit hotter and drier growing regions, a crisis still looms. Climate change doesn’t wreaks havoc on established weather patterns, bringing rain and cold at unexpected times and heat and drought at others. This is disastrous for grapes, which means there’s no happy ending for wine in a warming world.
3. Bartenders embrace the need for speed
The days of having to wait 12 minutes for a meticulously prepared cocktail made by a dude in suspenders and a waxed moustache are, mercifully, over. We can chalk this one up to the continuing success of the craft cocktail movement – where once a certain amount of nerdy rigamarole behind the bar was required to justify the comparatively steep price of mixed drinks made with care and attention, now bar-goers are aware it’s perfectly possible to get a great drink within a few moments of ordering it and are willing to pay for the privilege.
We can therefore expect to see more drinks that have been extensively prepared before the customer arrives – whether through interesting techniques such as milk-washing a punch to clarify it, or through the more mundane practice of pre-mixing the non-volatile components of a cocktail. This will hopefully have the added benefit of allowing bartenders to focus less on nailing their eighth-ounce pours and more on the guest’s experience.
This can translate to home cocktails too. If you like a stirred cocktail, such as a Manhattan or martini, but find it a little onerous to prepare from scratch whenever the mood strikes, consider batching it up in advance and keeping it in the freezer. I’ve used the perpetually fashionable Negroni in this example, but you can use any stirred cocktail: simply scale up the recipe and add a quarter of the drink’s volume in water (to make up for the dilution normally added by ice). Just remember: this trick only works for cocktails that don’t contain fresh ingredients such as citrus, dairy, or eggs – anything you would stir rather than shake.
Make it at home: pre-batched Negroni
Makes eight 125 ml serves
250 ml dry gin
250 ml sweet vermouth
250 ml Campari
250 ml water (the purest that you can get your hands on)
Combine ingredients in a clean and empty one litre bottle. Shake bottle briefly to mix. Place in freezer overnight to chill. Shake bottle again before serving over ice with a twist of orange. Store in freezer.
4. Money won’t buy you style
One of the most obnoxious bar trends of the last few years has been the unfortunate intersection of rarity, hype and money. It’s fine to leave prestige wines such as de la Romanée-Conti as the playthings of the obscenely rich – everyone needs a hobby – but the bloodsport has spilled over into areas of the booze world that were, until recently, thoroughly demotic. Consider the histrionics accompanying Cantillon, currently the most sought-after beer in the world. Or the dramatic inflation in prices for American rye whiskey over the past decade, despite the fact that much of it is made by one company, or is secretly Canadian. Or that young Wall Street types now pay freelancers to stand in line to buy limited-release beers from Brooklyn’s The Other Half brewers. Or, God help us, the madness that has engulfed Old Pappy Van Winkle.
Simple economies of scale dictate that, say, a bottle of rare Jacques Selosse Champagne, with its low yields and incredibly small-scale production, will always cost more than a bottle of Moët et Chandon, which is produced in oceanic quantities. Yet money, fashion and rarity has rendered formerly approachable categories, such as Bordeaux and Burgundy, off-limits for all except the extremely well-heeled. Wine writer Jon Bonné has even gone so far as to argue the natural wine movement in part owes its existence to this dynamic – that young wine drinkers took to valorising unsung regions such as the Loire and Georgia, and acquiring a taste for varietals such as chenin blanc and saperavi, because the wines that had previously functioned as benchmarks of taste were almost completely inaccessible. Similarly, the recent boost in sherry’s fortunes has a lot to do with it being historically under-priced. And the explosion of new brands of gin over the past decade could only have happened because gin is one of the cheapest and quickest spirits to distill.
So here’s a prediction: wherever interest from the super-wealthy begins to distort prices and restrict availability, broader interest will not follow – at least in the long run. There is probably a lot more ink to be spilled about Cantillon this year, but the average beer drinker can only read so many articles about a product they’ll never get to taste before deciding to call time on that interest. If you want to get ahead of the trends, start looking to categories currently undervalued or misunderstood – such as cachaça or madeira or Vienna lagers. As prices for sought-after drinks skyrocket, these will start to look very appealing.
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