Top Cocktail and Wine Trends

Southern Glazer's Wine & Spirits unveiled the results of its 2022 Liquid Insights Tour, a coast-to-coast educational initiative designed to explore and identify the latest trends in cocktails and wine. 

The tour kicked off in Houston in February, and included stops in Kansas City, New York, Las Vegas, Chicago and Los Angeles. Over the course of 111 days, Brian Masilionis, Director, On-Premise Commercial Strategy & National Accounts for Southern Glazer’s, led a team of its industry-leading mixologists to sample more than 400 drinks in 83 restaurants, bars and hotels, compiling their insights to discover emerging cocktail and wine trends across the U.S. 

Top Cocktail Insights

Uncommon Combinations: Bartenders were mixing spirits not commonly used together to create new and interesting cocktail flavor profiles such as Scotch and corn liqueur, rum and cognac, and gin and mezcal.

Beyond Basic Balancers: The team found many cocktails that were made using an innovative variety of methods or modifiers to balance the drink or add layers of flavor. These included the use of acids; sugars and syrups; salt; herbs and spices; coffee and tea; and the use of fats beyond animal fats. Adding ice or heat, like with stamped ice or smoked ice, was also common.

Caffeinated Comeback: Once the darling of the 90s bar scene, the Espresso Martini took center stage as the standout cocktail of the tour. Around the country, mixologists are giving new life into this classic, incorporating a variety of creative ingredients such as amaro and coffee liqueurs or brandy with espresso or cold brew. 

Sophisticated and Spirit-Free: Non-alcoholic offerings at the country’s top bars, restaurants and hotels are now just as elevated, delicious, and pricey as their alcoholic counterparts, featuring similar ingredients, flavors and presentations just without alcohol.

Top Wine Insights

Bubbly Is Popping: Champagne and sparkling wines continue to climb in popularity on drink menus. Throughout the tour, more sparkling options were available by-the-glass and had a more prominent presence on top wine lists. In addition, bartenders are mixing sparkling wine of all styles and prices into their cocktails to add effervescence, crispness or sweetness to the experience.

Wines Chill Out: Chilled selections of red and sweet wines appeared on menus across the U.S. Orange wines also appeared more frequently than ever before, often presented on menus in a combined rosé and orange section. 

Tempting Trial With By-The-Glass & Premium Half-Bottles: Curated by-the-glass (BTG) options are becoming more diverse and more balanced between domestic and international offerings than in the past. There is also a growing trend in wines priced to sell with good value in either BTG or by-the-bottle formats to drive more orders and not just high margins.

Top Execution and Presentation Insights

Batching for Speed and Service: Top bartenders continue to innovate around batching their cocktails, including both partial (batching only non-perishable items) and full batching, driven by the need for speed and to improve quality and consistency in cocktail preparation, which allows for more time to connect with guests.

Entertaining Experience Enhancements: Adding “flair” to the cocktail experience with the use of vapors, “air,” smoke or torch; the use of unique glassware; or the return of communal drinks to be shared; all are creating memorable moments for consumers.

Meaningful Menu Innovations: Restaurants and bars are evolving their menus beyond being a functional tool to improve the consumer experience. The team saw great storytelling, unique categorizations and humorous names paired with detailed drink descriptions. QR codes, which rose in popularity due to COVID-19, are now being used to deliver broader offerings and information – from curated, account-specific Spotify playlists to ever-changing allocated spirit offerings, all of which can be updated easily without needing to reprint menus.

Backed by industry data and Southern Glazer’s internal insights, Masilionis and his team identified several key factors that are influencing these trends. These include an aging population, demographic and ethnic diversification of the U.S., a preference for health and wellness among consumers, and ongoing ramifications of the COVID-19 pandemic still affecting the hospitality industry.

“These unique insights can be incorporated into any on-premise business to build greater success through strategic and innovative beverage programs,” said Masilionis. “Identifying which insights are relevant to your business and how to incorporate them using creative themes, highlighting seasonal ingredients, and tailoring cocktail and wine offerings to the demographics of your guests are all strong strategies. We continue to see the ramifications of the COVID-19 pandemic throughout this industry segment, in terms of effects on the work force and on the consumers returning for the on-premise experience. We’re excited to offer these insights to help speed the recovery from the pandemic and make this segment stronger and more consumer-focused than ever.” 

A new research report by me&u revealed new feedback addressing consumer expectations across demographics for hospitality venues of the future. In partnership with YouGov, Red Havas and Havas Labs, this report provides an in-depth look into the changes from the customer perspective and explores new predictions that operators within the hospitality industry will adopt throughout the next decade. 

Will non-alcoholic beverages be the hot new drink on tap? 

Many Americans may be redefining their relationship with alcohol, thus rethinking how they view bars and hospitality venues. 33 percent of customers expect bars and restaurants to offer a good range of alcohol-free beverage options, and more than a third (35 percent) of Americans say they're happy to visit completely alcohol-free bars or restaurants, a similar number expecting all bars to have a good range of alcohol-free beverage options (33 percent).

Customers will be looking for the same care and attention from staff as before; for staff to have a level of knowledge, a recommendation and a point of view on the alcohol-free beer, wine or cocktail they're drinking.

During the height of the pandemic when many could not leave their home, travelers learned how to create and even perfect their favorite cocktails. As travel continues to ramp up, guests are looking for a more memorable, elevated experience when visiting a bar, and bartenders have a higher expectation to deliver on quality craftsmanship and create drinks for guests that they can’t replicate at home. 

According to Richard Garcia —Senior Vice President of Food & Beverage at Remington Hotels — some of the cocktail experiences travelers can expect to see at hotels now increasingly include:

Nostalgic Creations: Many bars are paying homage to drinks guests once enjoyed as children. Now instead of Capri Sun, travelers are enjoying cocktails in pouches, as well as alcohol-infused freeze pops, and boozy ice cream.

Seasonal Beverages: Bars are increasingly leaning into specialty drinks that cater to each season. In the summer guests, can try fruity watermelon flavored cocktails, while for fall seasonal guests can order BBQ and bourbon flavored beverages. 

Low-ABV Cocktails: These drinks cater to the wellness and alcohol-free traveler while still providing them with an exciting experience. Previously, if a guest wanted a mocktail, they had to order a juice or a soda, but now hotels are offering guests beautifully concocted mocktails.