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01 August, 2016

Given the nature and spread of cocktail bars, it’s tough to pinpoint global trends. but Hamish Smith gets some insights from the experts


IT’S THE INDUSTRY’S great poser: What are the new global cocktail trends? Well, as journalists, research and trend agencies may not readily admit, there is no easy answer – and certainly not just a handful of trends you can easily point to. Finding connections between what bartenders put in glasses globally is like a game of Snap with hundreds of thousands of players. That’s not helpful, given the topic of this feature, so let’s at least make some tentative observations.

First to the obvious statement: there is a big difference between the practices of high-end and mainstream bars – though the gap is starting to narrow. Of course, in the high end a bartender would rather commit hara-kiri with a bar spoon than admit to being part of a trend. Here, creativity is the ideology and copying others is virtual heresy. But there are some similarities in what these independent thinkers are up to.

Batched cocktails are undoubtedly back in business as we see craft bars moving towards higher volumes. Redistilling using rotovaps is now commonplace, as are borrowed-from-the-kitchen techniques such as sous vide machines. Flavour-enhancing ageing – be it in barrels or bottle – is popular, there’s clarification and fermentation, while a relatively adolescent art, has opened a new flavour dimension to drinking.

Ingredients-wise, there seems to be a move towards simple four to five-component drinks, but not necessarily simpler ingredients. A bar tour of London requires constant access to Google just to know what you are ingesting.

The move to local ingredients may be less evident in London but it is certainly a trend in markets wanting to put their own cultural stamp on their menu. Lighter drinks, perhaps as a reaction to the boozy, stirred-classics revival, seem to be on the rise too – bringing more health-conscious consumers into the fold. House creations remain the yardstick of any high-end bar, but innovative twists – be it techniques or ingredients – on classics are still frequent.

Down the food chain to mainstream bars, classics are very much establishing themselves, but you can find the likes of the Negroni or Old Fashioned in far more modest environments than ever.

Looking into the future, classics might well be the preserve of more mainstream or volume bars, while the higher-end venues – which have the trust of their clientele – will continue to offer their own creations. Spirits-wise, rum, gin, agave spirits and bourbon are trendy, vodka remains on nearly every menu and scotch and cognac get their share of the action.

That’s the view of this particular observer, but let’s widen the net to take in those of the most travelled of our industry. If anyone can spot a global cocktail trend, it is they.

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