What do genever, aquavit, Madeira and clairin have in common? They’re all drink trends and poised to play a major role in the bar life of the German-speaking area. But there’s even more! Let’s take a look at five potentially important trends on the horizon.
One of the best aspects of the bar world is its constant sense of curiosity about interesting new things, products, ideas and drink trends. The fact that only in the rarest of cases something truly new pops up is a given – after all, there’s already such a wide range of categories and classifications. But there are still plenty of beverage families that haven’t yet enjoyed the explosive booms we’ve seen recently for gin, vodka or American whiskey.
And all the while, importers and distributers are staying very busy indeed. Bars here are spoiled for choice, with a growing bounty of new products spurring new flavors that are ever more sophisticated and complex. This is the life’s blood of the bar world, keeping it vital and alive. So let’s take a look today at FIVE! themes and product categories that may well have a lasting influence on the bar scene in Europe’s German-speaking regions and therefore be called drink trends.
1) Aquavit & Genever
One is the grandfather of gin, while the other is essentially its Nordic brother. And it does, in fact, make perfect sense to freely associate genever and aquavit together under the same heading: both are based on different grain distillates, some of which are aged while others are not, and both are rounded out with botanicals. The difference is down to their composition, with juniper dominating in genever, and dill, caraway or anise predominant in aquavit. Their common denominator is that both are distilled spirits that are highly complex, accessible and unbelievably mixable.
In the wake of the recent gin renaissance, genever has certainly come forward a step or two on the bar shelf, especially for older drink recipes. Aquavit on the other hand is more like a poorly-kept secret, but it remains a true niche product here when it comes to cocktails. That’s of course different among our Scandinavian neighbors, where aquavit is a traditional product that has now earned its permanent place in Nordic bar culture. If we look a bit further afield though, for instance to Houston, Texas, the city’s large Norwegian community has made sure that aquavit is no mere flash-in-the-pan at the local bars. The general consensus that aquavit offers an extremely diverse range of possibilities for cocktails could also catch on here in Germany. And genever might just finally manage to emerge from the shadow of its far more popular brother, gin, to establish a segment all its own.
2) New Drink Trends and Old kitchen tricks
Aging cocktails in the bottle or the barrel, cold drips, sous-vide, or even going full scientific high-tech by refining spirits and finished cocktails in rotary evaporators: these are just a few of the techniques that have become commonplace in recent years, if not quite standard.
Most recently however we’ve seen bartenders turning to Granny’s old cooking secrets. Most of these were, and still are, used for preservation, but beyond that they open up a vast new array of great taste possibilities. Canning, condensation, and fermentation of all kinds for fruits and vegetables ensure that seasonal produce can be used in a natural way all year round, and the taste and texture components they bring to the table are intriguing. At the same time, there’s a new focus on classic methods of milk filtration, practiced hundreds of years ago, for things like clarifying punches. This doesn’t mean that classic syrups or the sous-vide cooker will suddenly be exiled to the basement. But they’re likely to be joined by some of these old friends in many bars.
3) Fortified wines
This is not a wholly new topic. There’s been a steady stream of noise about fortified wines for some time now. It began a few years ago with the search for high-quality vermouth to elevate drinks like the Martinez, Manhattan, Vieux Carré, or Martini to new heights. Since then, unseasoned varieties like sherry and port, and most recently Madeira and Marsala, have also made inroads at the bar and among wine fans. And they’re being used to enhance not only classic, spirit-oriented drinks. New creations building directly on these highly aromatic wines and highlighting their flavors are also on the menu now, mostly but not exclusively as aperitifs.
The overall category of sometimes spicy, sometimes sweet, and often bitter fortified wines is perfectly positioned to meet today’s demand for “medium cocktails” featuring less alcohol but all the taste! Importers and distributers are aware of all this, and in recent years they’ve answered the call with new products or traditional brands that are now available once again. And there seems to be no end in sight. Let’s look forward to the prospect of a boom in Porto-Tonics, Sherry Cobblers and Madeira Swizzles!
4) Concepts, please!
Early last year no less commanding a figure than Jeffrey Morgenthaler proclaimed that 2016 was the year when bars and bartenders could finally stop pretending that it’s 1922. Of course, he was pleading for a retreat from the sometimes dogmatic, often uninformed and allegedly illuminating dedication to ideas, looks and recipes from the Prohibition Era or before. And while this “Golden Age” of the bar had certainly earned its revival, at some point enough’s enough. There is, after all, still much of interest to discover that happened after Prohibition, too.
And in fact if last year showed us anything, it’s that the bar world seems to be diversifying in terms of the concepts it’s adopting. Jim Meehan confirmed as much in an interview with MIXOLOGY, declaring that the bars he sees making their mark at present are the ones presenting a clear profile to guests. Just how diverse they can be depends on a number of factors and expresses itself in a variety of ways: design or furnishings, musical profile, the drinks focus, a particularly communicative approach, bonds with the neighborhood, the added appeal of a clear food concept, the promotion of a regional or national identity, innovative drive and more. However, regardless of how each bar chooses to stand out, all of these concepts show guests more clearly what they can expect from the bar. And this subsequently demonstrates something else: Each month, from one interesting new bar opening to the next, it becomes more and more evident that there’s no such thing as “the bar” in and of itself. The rise of the concept in the bar scene wonderfully illustrates just how the industry is flourishing and taking customers along for the journey. And that’s certain to continue.
5) Sugarcane-based liquors
Last summer, MIXOLOGY author Marianne Strauss conducted an extensive survey among current and former MIXOLOGY BAR AWARDS jurors, including some of the leading bartenders and bar operators in the Germany/Austria/Switzerland region. Her question was: which types of liquor are likely to stimulate the next bar and drink trends with innovative, exciting drinks? The answer proved to be very interesting, with an overwhelming number of those surveyed betting on distillates made from sugarcane or molasses.
This is surprising and particularly interesting, given that molasses-based rum is already one of the cornerstones of the classic bar. The discussions with the jurors illustrated just how much there still is to explore, not only with rhum agricole, but also other related families like Asia’s arrak, Mexico’s pox, clairin from Haiti and even Brazilian cachaça with all of its as-yet-undiscovered facets. And we can add to that list of drink trends the new German rums that are already a big hit with fans. So we can look forward to an abundance of punches, daiquiris, rum Old Fashioneds and the odd Ti’Ponche now and then, too!
Bildquelle: Photo via Tim Klöcker at Bar Convent Berlin.