Whether this year found you behind your home bar just as a way to be social, to stay sane, or simple ‘cause everyone needs a hobby, you will have noticed that this year brought some unexpected trends as well as some long-awaited ones.
Whether you’ve viewed what has happened from behind your home bar or from the other side at your favourite watering hole, the rise of low-abv (as well as No-ABV), Japanese distilling (across the spirit spectrum) and the continued rise of craft Gin, has ensured that it hasn’t been without its moments.
But what will happen next year, you ask? Well, we asked some of the best and highly spirited clairvoyants we could find, to pull out their crystal balls (or brass ones, in some cases) and tell us what they saw for the year ahead.
Well, once the mists had cleared, what become unquestionably clear is that the continued push towards sustainability, both in the home and in commercial bars will continue into the new year, but as Daniel Hilton, from Sydney bar, Lobo Plantation believes it could take a slightly different slant.
“I believe what we’ll see is more creative resourcefulness rather than just basic sustainability,” he said.
“Rather than buying in product and using it in as many ways as possible, bartenders are now looking at how to reuse coffee grinds from cafes or make reductions with leftover juices – they are looking around them to other businesses, not just themselves.”
Kathleen Davies from Australian spirits distributor, Nip Of Courage agrees, saying that to achieve zero waste the bar industry is getting more and more inventive.
“Bars like Bulletin Place in Sydney are collecting their waste ingredients and exploring solutions to reuse it in other ways. At present, they are working on a project with Stone Pines Distillery, to explore the options of creating a product by distilling the waste ingredients they collect.”
But waste isn’t the only thing that will come to the fore as far as distillation. Davies says she believes consumers are more interested than ever in sustainably sourced local ingredients and products that can be easily regenerated.
More and more producers are looking to create a sense of place with the Spirits and Liqueurs that they distil by harnessing the flavours from the soil and climate where the grains or fruits are grown and their product is ultimately made.
“There’s increased interest in Australian distillers that are growing their own ingredients onsite, either at the distillery or at specific nearby locations, that give the spirit a sense of terroir.”
Christopher Thomas, one of the founders of mobile bar company, Trolley’d, agrees, saying that the sustainability bow will be drawn further as bartenders and consumers alike think more about the location and the increasing integration of natural botanicals.
“Natural botanicals will take centre stage, and there will be an increased connection and symbiosis with them,” he said. “People are also starting to explore the integration of extra botanicals into distillations and drinks; those local plants and herbs that have mood-enhancing properties”.
That same sense of complexity in flavour that has encouraged everyone to explore natural botanicals is also leading to an exploration of formally harder to source flavours. Sean Baxter, from Never Never Distilling Co points out that as people’s palettes are changing, so are the products being produced and subsequently the cocktails being made.
“Everyone is becoming more aware of the complexity that can be found in bitters,” he says. “We are seeing a huge explosion in products such as Amaro here in Australia, which will have a knock-on effect in the way that a lot of consumers start drinking them.
“Over the last five years or so, there has been much more of an exploration onto simpler and more classic flavours that can be found in old recipes. Those classics are being twisted and rewoven as more obscure ingredients are becoming easier to find.
Already Applewood Distillery has released their Økar Amaro, Poor Toms Gin have released Imbroglio, their bitter/sweet Amaro Australiano, and Marionette Liqueurs are due to release their Amaro in the new year.
Doug Laming, head bartender at Brix Distillers has also been watching with interest as the number of Australian distilleries that are making their own versions of Amaro increases. But he believes flavour will also come through a new simplicity and a honing of the craft.
“You’ll see Amaro pop up more and more on cocktail menus and being used more frequently, but it really goes beyond that. I think my take on what this next year will bring, is all about construction; it will be about well-constructed drinks.
“We’ve had the influx of people trying to get as creative as they can,” he continued, “but more and more people, as they are writing cocktails lists, are restraining themselves and using variations that are a lot closer to the classics.”
It’s not surprising that there is a return to the classics, as more and more distillers are communicating unique artisanal narratives through the spirits they produce. Whether it is to ensure their products intrigue consumers or are simply more complex, the desire to experience and understand natural flavours and where they are from has heightened experimentation and as a result, personalisation and premiumisation.
Jason Crawley, Creative Director at The Simple Syrup Co points to the continued personalisation of the classic G&T but goes further to point out the rise of the Gin & Min (Gin & Mineral Water) as a sign that seeking that flavour is now more important than ever.
“As craft distillers concentrate more on unique flavours, consumers are looking to simplify what they drink. With Gin & Min, for example, you just get all the flavours of the Gin without adding any sugar, as you get in Tonic. It’s about really getting the taste of the Gin, as it was meant to be drunk.
“There are so many different takes on things now. It’s almost like a breakaway culture, where it’s less about the drink then the interpretation,” he continued.
The elevation of flavour and terroir are the reasons that both Davies and Laming believe that Rum will also start to make headway with consumers in the coming year. Both agree that with the rise of smaller rum distilleries, consumers will start to see Rum as a premium product on par with Whisky.
If our glimpses into the crystal ball have shown us anything, them doing things small and doing them better, appears to be the way of the future. There is a consensus that ultimately the consumer will be the beneficiary as experimentations in provenance, native botanicals and flavour interact and become intrinsically linked.
Hilton sums it up when talking about the rise of fruit wines, he says “We’re seeing Mandarin wine, Lime wine, all these different fermentations … again it’s about repurposing things or exploring other techniques to make products with completely different flavours, textures and mouthfeel, but ensuring they are still quite approachable.”