Bar trends for 2018: locality, higher wages and…cognac?

Other: Opinion, People

Three drinks experts gaze into their crystal mixing glasses to see what’s in store for the spirits and bar world over the next 12 months 

Jake F BurgerSpirit Trends by Jake Burger, gin instructor, Portobello Road gin

Complete disclosure: Obviously I do have an interest in the gin world. I think it will be a few years yet before we see gin start to shrink as a category, and if you look at it from a historical standpoint rather than a recent one then perhaps it won’t shrink at all.

Undoubtedly we’ll see growth in the category of gins which are not really gins, gins that call themselves gin but where juniper is not the predominant flavour. You know who I’m talking about.

Someone, in fact probably lots of people, will try and gatecrash Seedlip’s party. Same with cocktail menus, an apple juice Mojito doesn’t cut it anymore. By July we’ll be fed up of new non-alcoholic ‘spirits.’ There will surely be one in Waitrose for about a third of the price by summer. Seedlip will launch numerous new variants in an attempt to dominate the category, they might even win! Who knows? It’s probably a good thing.

Did anyone mention sherry yet? Manzanilla is the new mezcal right? But what about Dubonnet, Lillet, Byrrh, Madeira, Pineau de Charentes, Rivesaltes or any other of things I can’t think of right now? They have been made for decades for a good reason – they’re all great, and they’re all coming to a cocktail list near you.

Dare I say it? I’ve been hoping for a cognac renaissance for years. Before the cocktail, before the Sherry Cobbler, before the John Collins, before most things, Englishmen drank cognac. Perhaps with water on the side, but probably on its own. It is somewhat short of being a trend yet, I’m drinking it with a soda on the side, but then it’s been a few years since I was cool.

Julian de Feral Magical Bar Trends by Julian de Féral, Gorgeous Group drinks consultant 

In a way, the ‘speakeasy trend’ never really existed: it is a misnomer appropriated by the media, then adopted by the bar world to describe a new wave of influential bars that opened at the start of the noughties inspired by a by-gone era. It is important to note that these bars (notably Milk & Honey) always remained adamant they were not ‘speakeasies’, and the hidden entrance was simply a practicality needed to open bars in residential areas without disturbing residents. A true replication of a speakeasy would be unlicensed, unadvertised and selling cheap counterfeit booze.

Globally this type of bar might still have some resonance with emerging markets catching up with trends, but the forward-thinking bars of tomorrowland are giving this sated style wide berth.

Instead the forward-thinking bars of tomorrowland are taking a different tack entirely. Stripping back overblown concepts, opting out of the award rat-race and contenting themselves with just being all-encompassing great bars focused on their local day-to-day trade. These bars maintain a high attention to detail and the sort of premium service one would be accustomed to at world-beating bars, and don’t compromise on quality, but manage to be swift and consistent by keeping things simple and utilising more ‘modernist’ methods such as batching and sous-viding.

Whereas a growing awareness of sustainability and environmental issues are undoubtedly a positive, simply doing away with straws and using offcuts whilst hash-tagging away is merely scratching the surface of much wider issues. A true commitment to sustainability requires a lot more work than just jumping on a bandwagon, which is a realisation I see dawning on bartenders. You might be using paper straws, but where are they manufactured, how far have they travelled and how much packaging are they sent in? Buying in block ice? From where exactly, and how much energy did it take to make it crystal-clear?…and so forth.

Michael ButtBusiness Crystal Ball by Michael Butt, drinks consultant 

Although the predicted exodus of European staff has only just started, the lack of keen replacements that has already forced event staff employers to raise wages will continue. Hopefully this increase in remuneration, allied to the fact that the idea of a genuine career in hospitality has been properly implanted will mean that young British people will be more willing to take their first steps to becoming bar professionals.

This influx of new talent needs mentoring, and the time is ripe for a nationally (ideally internationally) recognised standard training programme. Ideas have stalled in the past, mostly through government red tape and a lack of investment, but as businesses realise that great staff are their most important asset, these hurdles will be overcome.

Currently very few premium brands make a profit from on-trade sales. Expect fewer trips, smaller prizes and a far more careful analysis of marketing programmes. This will not happen overnight – the UK scene, as referenced by the preponderance of bars filling world’s best lists, is still the global market leader, but with Singapore, Paris and the old enemy NYC desperate to increase their influence expect the gloves to come off.

2018 will certainly bring challenges, and potentially some seismic changes, but I am confident we will adapt, and hopefully thrive. Cheers.

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