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Top ten future cocktail trends

Published:  30 September, 2016

Cocktail culture is becoming an increasingly global phenomenon, with forecasts showing that by 2020, there will be 400 million new consumers drinking luxury spirits (Future Labs Luxury Report 2015).

In the past five years, consumption of spirits has grown beyond the traditional hubs of London and New York and has risen by 26% in Africa and the Middle East, 15% across Asia and 22% in China.

With London Cocktail Week just around the corner and Diageo wrapping up its World Class Bartender of the Year Global competition in Miami, we spoke to the Smirnoff producer about the cocktail trends dominating to 2020 and beyond.

1. Bartenders speaking up

Once upon a time, the customer was always right, but the next generation of bartenders are more willing to voice their opinions and are giving up on trying to please all of the people, all of the time.

Benjamin Padrón Novo, owner of Mexico's Licoreria Limantour, explained: "I always get customers asking me to sweeten the drinks we serve, even though by doing so it'll dilute the taste of the spirit or the fruit. So, now, we just say no - and explain our reason to the guest. It's all part of the education process."

2. Performance art and theatre

More and more, bars are going for the wow factor in their venues, by adding theatre and spectacle.

At Operation Dagger in Singapore, a cloud of lightbulbs on the ceiling greets drinkers, while an installation of fake CCTV cameras in the toilets adds a provocative dynamic.

The bar's cocktails carry on the trend: vodka infused with pH-sensitive blue pea flower and bright lemongrass, which when mixed with champagne, the bubbles transform the cobalt liquor into fluorescent pink.

3. The next generation menu

Cocktails have evolved significantly over the years and menus are beginning catching up. Innovative bartenders are now going against the grain and are coming up with new and creative ways for customers to navigate the menu.

Trick Dog in San Francisco for example, has replaced all cocktail names with astrological signs and Pantone colours, while Fragrances at The Ritz-Carlton in Berlin is the first bar where you can order drinks based on perfumes and aromas.

4. Cocktails with feelings

Not only are bars ditching their traditional menus, they are listing their cocktails by mood instead.

According to Diageo's World Class Future of Cocktails Report 2016, over the next decade, drinks will be tailored to conjure specific emotions - a red cocktail to stimulate confidence, a yellow one for friendship or a black drink for discipline.

Seymour's Parlour in London uses sense of sight and smell to direct cocktail drinkers' emotions.

Kat Rudberg, founder of subscription cocktail box service Crafted Taste, said bartenders have been sticking with happy thoughts.

"I haven't seen anybody try to toy with negative emotion, but it'd be really interesting to see if a bartender could."

5. Story in a glass

Cocktails are now being used to tell a story and transport drinkers to exotic places.

Local spirits such as Baijiu (distilled from wheat or glutinous rice from a 5,000-year-old recipe) are being used to introduce people to Chinese traditions.

Forward thinking bar Artesian in London taps into the personal experiences of customers asking about recent holidays and creating a cocktail that captures that mood and essence in a glass.

6. The 'Micro-friend'

Food and drink have always had strong and complex emotional charges for consumers, and bartenders are taking with one step further by focusing on building relationships with customers in the short time that they have with them.

According to Australian Tim Philips, former World Class Bartender of the Year, some of these friendships are built in as little as 30-45 minutes - equivalent to the time it takes to drink one cocktail.

"Making a micro-friend is all about getting that emotional connection with someone quickly and definitely has an effect on how much people like your bar," he explained.

7. Disregarding conformity

According to the UN, a record 232m people are living outside the country in which they were born. 

As people increasingly consider themselves 'borderless', customers define themselves more by their lifestyles or musical tastes than they do by our country of origin and bar owners are reflecting this by catering for drinkers who have a healthy disregard for conformity - and are often challenging what constitutes a cocktail.

"Cocktails have evolved far beyond their classic form of a mixed liquid in a glass," Tom Savigar, senior partner at The Future Laboratory, said.

"Creative bar staff equipped with the latest ingredients, technologies and ideas are changing the whole concept of the cocktail - and leaving us all thirsty for what comes next."

8. Leaving gender at the door

The days of drinks being considered 'manly' or 'girly' are over.

Boundaries are blurring and as society evolves beyond traditional gender norms, people are feeling liberated with their choice drinks.

Bartenders are now using 'gender neutral' language to describe, name and serve cocktails.

The 'Brosé' - men unapologetically enjoying Rosé wine - is just one example.

9. It's a career, not a job

As consumers become more clued up and demand more at the bar, the role of the bartender is evolving too.

Global competitions are demonstrating how professional bartending relies on sharp skills, creative vision and an ability to impress the customer.

Alex Kratena, founder of global drinks collective P(OUR), explained: "The best bartenders now have to keep up with the assertive, knowledgeable and worldly cocktail drinker - so they have to be at the top of their game and offer that extra something."

Bars are now investing in their staff more than ever, sending them around the world to develop local heroes that will further grow the cocktail scene.

Licoreria Limantour supports its bartenders who save up to train abroad in order to hone their skills, while Outrage in South Africa equips staff with the skills they need - from sourcing key ingredients and tools to running a full service bar.

10. Multi-skilled bartenders

Perhaps as a result of becoming more skilled and creative, bartenders' skills are also becoming more diverse.

Part chef, part barista, part patissier, bartenders' remits now often extends beyond the bar.

Former World Class Bartender of the Year Charles Joly is known for sourcing ingredients and spirits in the mould of a chef, and presenting drinks just like a cleverly crafted dish at his Crafthouse bar.

"The most memorable course I had at The Clove Club, was this hundred-year-old Madeira," Mike Knowlden, co-director of Blanch & Shock, said.

"They pour you a tiny bit, which you get to taste, and then they pour a duck consommé over the top, and it becomes a duck soup effectively. It left me with a fascinating thought: why can't a consommé be a cocktail?"