What’s trending in the beverage world? Kathy Casey, founder of Seattle-based beverage/food/hospitality consulting firm Kathy Casey Food Studios—Liquid Kitchen and owner of Dish D’Lish branded products and cafes, has been gathering intelligence on beverage trends organically via social media outlets.
Casey shared some of her findings in a session May 17 at the National Restaurant Association show’s BAR event in Chicago, where she kicked things off with a Honey Carrot Collins cocktail (shown above, recipe at bottom). The drink, made with Koval gin, fresh-pressed carrot juice, wildflower honey syrup, Meyer lemon juice and sparkling water, illustrates several of the trends she discussed. Here are some of the highlights.
All Things Ginger. The classic Moscow Mule cocktail started the whole copper mug craze and is fueling the interest in ginger flavors, Casey said. In fact, “The Mule is more about the ginger beer than the spirit,” since a lot of bartenders are using spirits other than vodka for their takes on the drink.
Many mixologists are using fresh-pressed ginger juice, ginger syrups and candied ginger garnishes in cocktails as well, she noted.
Apple and Cider Craze. “The Apple Martini has grown up,” Casey declared, and the venerable spirit Applejack is back. The trend to “real” apple cocktails plays into the current popularity of whiskey, she said. And hard cider is getting a boost because of the apple trend, plus it’s gluten-free, she added.
Friendly Whiskey. Fresh and approachable cocktails have been cropping up to appeal to new brown-spirit drinkers, Casey said. She cited the Honey Peach Smash at TGI Fridays and the Whiskey Berry Smash at Applebee’s as examples, as well as the new flavored whiskey expressions.
Grilled, Roasted and Charred. In particular, Casey said, “Grilled pineapple is hot, hot, hot! Grilled Pineapple Margaritas are flying off shelves.” Descriptions such as charred, grilled, torched and roasted are menu hot buttons, she said.
Why? Grilling fruits such as peaches and citrus adds another dimension, “a layer of flavor that’s smoky and almost umami,” she said. Oven roasted IQF fruit done in-house is a great and easy way for chain operators to incorporate grilled and roasted flavors into the bar menu.
Exotic and Varietal Citrus. These include blood oranges and Meyer lemons as well as pumelos, calamansi/calamondin, Cara Cara oranges and finger limes.
You should also look for zebra limes, Casey said, which are green and yellow striped on the outside and pink on the inside. “Sunkist is now starting to grow them,” she added.
Salt/Saline. The salted caramel trend got the whole sweet/salty flavor thing started, Casey said. “Salt pops flavors, and it’s really interesting in cocktails.”
Plus there are so many different types of exotic salts now, from black, pink and smoked to insect-infused varieties, she noted. Salted and spicy watermelon flavor combinations on a drink menu “really drives interest,” she added.
Bitters and Vermouth. These are “the salt and pepper of cocktails,” Casey said. You can infuse vermouth with such flavors as rhubarb, lemon and black pepper corn and created garnishes such as an Angostura bitters foam.
Whether a brand name or house made, “different and unique bitters are an easy way to add cool—and they last forever,” she said. Infused vermouth will be the next “Speed Scratch” cocktail ingredient, Casey predicted.
Herbs, Flowers and Botanicals. “I’m seeing lots of chamomile,” Casey said, “and herbs other than mint are being mainstream.” In particular, “basil makes drinks sell now,” while rosemary, thyme and sage are very sturdy to work with behind the bar, which is important.
Lavender is also popular for infusions and bitters, along with botanical teas and floral concentrates, she added.
Preserved-Shrubs, Marmalades, Pickles. Shrubs, the fresh-brewed flavored drinking vinegars, are hot in beverages with and without alcohol, Casey said.
Jams and marmalades can be shaken into a cocktail (or mocktail) to add a little bit of local flavor. For stance, Casey recently developed a specialty Collins cocktail for a Bermuda hotel using the island’s signature hot pepper jam.
Drink Your Veggies. Cucumber is now mainstream, and carrots, beets, celery, avocado and kale ”are starting to show up in cocktails,” Casey said.
California Pizza Kitchen, for instance, has a vodka cocktail that incorporates avocado. Casey has used celery in Gin and Tonics: “Celery has a lot of salt, which adds a unique layer.”
Honey and Sweetness. Honey comes in many different varieties, Casey noted, and local honey adds a unique flavor to drinks. The honey and whiskey combination is also popular.
“Agave is everywhere, and maple is getting menu play,” Casey said, while sweeteners such as palm sugar and birch syrup are starting to trend. If you use pure cane sugar, she noted, “it’s important to call it out on your menu, because people don’t want corn syrup.”
Frozen and Icy. “The slushy is back,” Casey said, in the form of upscale frozen drinks. Flash blending high-quality drinks is popular; you can also get creative and, for instance, top a Gin and Tonic with citrus slush, she noted.
Bottled Cocktails and Flasks. Operators are using vessels such as oil cans, apothecary bottles and flasks to serve cocktails, particularly premade drinks.
Some operators are doing carts with these bottled drinks. “It’s great for room and bottle service,” Casey noted. “Millennials love it.”
Honey Mint Carrot Collins
1 ½ oz. Koval dry gin
¾ oz. Honey mint syrup (recipe follows)
¾ oz. Fresh-pressed carrot juice
¾ oz. Fresh-squeezed lemon juice
1 oz. chilled Perrier
Measure gin, syrup and juices into a mixing glass. Fill with ice, cap and shake vigorously. Pour drink into a Collins glass and top with soda. Garnish with baby carrot and mint sprig.
For Honey mint syrup
(Makes about 10 oz.)
8 Sprigs fresh mint
¾ cup Clover honey
¾ cup Water
Combine ingredients in small saucepan. On medium-high heat, bring liquid to a boil while siring to combine well. Immediately reduce heat to low, and simmer for 1 minute. Remove from heat and let steep for 45 minutes. Strain and store refrigerated for up to two weeks.
Recipe by Kathy Casey Liquid Kitchen