Every year, the National Restaurant Association polls nearly 1,300 chefs from the American Culinary Federation and asks them what they think will trend for the following year. They are presented with dozens of items in a number of subcategories such as appetizers, produce and prep methods. They have three options on which to answer a particular food item: “hot trend,” “yesterday’s news,” or “perennial favorite.” In the alcohol category, the ACF members were provided with 49 items to rank according to trendiness.
The answers may be a little surprising, but one common thread seen throughout the forecast is that people are searching locally for their food and drink indulgences. Here are some of the more notable items and their ranks. It may be a good idea for your establishment to take a look at these rankings and stay ahead of the curve with trends that could impact one of your most profitable categories: alcoholic beverage service. Look for more 2014 Culinary Forecast blogs in the future where we’ll discuss items such as ethnic cuisines, main dishes and other key topics.
Trend No. 1
Micro-distilled/Artisan Spirits: 77% Hot Trend, 13% Yesterday’s News, 10% Perennial Favorite
Micro-distilling and the crafting of artisan spirits is an up and coming trend that restaurateurs and liquor aficionados across the country are cashing in on. There were just 24 craft distilleries in 2000, according to the Beverage Trade Network. At the end of 2011, there were nearly 300. In 2014, that number will continue to rise. In 2013, eight opened in Illinois alone. So what’s the trend all about? Well, as we’ve seen with the micro-brew explosion that started in the 1990s that is continuing today, consumers want their beverage crafted with the care that is associated with small scale businesses. And much like the locally sourcing of produce, meat and seafood trend that is apparent all over the 2014 forecast, people want something made in their neighborhood (Locally produced beer/wine/spirits are the #2 trend on the alcohol list).
Moonshine making has become a favorite for craft distilleries in recent years, but gin, vodka, and other forms of whiskeys are being produced in high numbers as well, and bar patrons everywhere are asking for them. If you’re looking to incorporate some local distillery products to your bar or restaurant, check out BottleSociety.com and take a look at the distillery listings for your state. There are probably more micro-distilleries in your area than you expected.
Trend No. 5
Regional Signature Cocktails: 64% Hot Trend, 16% Yesterday’s News, 20% Perennial Favorite
Ever heard of a Sazerac? If you’ve never been to New Orleans, then you probably haven’t. The sweet and citrusy whiskey drink was named the official cocktail of the Big Easy in 2008. Elsewhere in the United States, local bars and restaurants are incorporating local cocktail recipes in their menu to lure in tourists and retain the neighborhood crowd. So what should you do to get some local flair in your cocktails? Do a little research. While you may not operate a bar or restaurant in a major metropolitan area, there are quite possibly many local ingredients, signature menu items or ethnic population pockets that can lend flavors profiles to your concoction. You can also check out this list or look for “The American Cocktail” book from Imbibe magazine that features 50 regional cocktail recipes from throughout the United States. Local allure is huge in bars and restaurants nowadays. Take on a tradition from your area or create something using local ingredients that could become a regional mainstay.
Trend No. 10
Food-beer pairings: 60% Hot Trend, 16% Yesterday’s News, 24% Perennial Favorite
The pairing of a fine wine with an aged cheese is a longstanding combination, but nowadays, the millennial craft-brew generation is looking for entrees, appetizers and desserts to go along with their hoppy IPAs or smoky porters. As the craft-brew industry has expanded, so has the perception of beer drinking in general. While lighter domestic beers are still widely popular, there is also a strong increase in the sophistication involved with the crafting and drinking experience of beers of all varieties. America has imported the gastropub craze from the U.K. to much fanfare and profitability. Many restaurants are looking to foray into beer making, and many breweries look to feature more substantial entrée oriented food items, beyond their common peanuts or chips.
Customers want to know what will pair well with their steak or what might bring out the flavor of their ale. Often times, the corresponding choice is made solely because of the entrée or brew ordered first. CraftBeer.com has a chart to help your restaurant assist customers in their pairing of beer and food. People are looking for the ultimate indulgent combination of beer and food. By making pairing suggestions for your patronage, you make yourself a trusted source of craft beer knowledge. The up and coming millennial crowd is increasingly seeking bars or restaurants with staff that are familiar with these trends and flavors.
Other Notable Trends:
Trend No. 3
Onsite barrel-aged drinks: 69% Hot Trend, 19% Yesterday’s News, 12% Perennial Favorite
This unique trend takes pre-mixed drinks and sets them in a barrel for a few weeks to age and alter the feel and flavor.
Trend No. 8
Edible cocktails: 61 % Hot Trend, 30% Yesterday’s News, 9% Perennial Favorite
Now, you can have your drink and eat it, too. Edible cocktails are gelatinous forms of fine wines and spirits. The Los Angeles Times has a few examples here.
Trend No. 16
Craft beer/microbrew: 54% Hot Trend, 15% Yesterday’s News, 31% Perennial Favorite
Craft distilling has taken over the bar scene countrywide, but beer fans still flock to their local watering holes in high numbers for their microbrews.
Trend No. 17
Skinny/lower-calorie cocktails: 53% Hot Trend, 33% Yesterday’s News, 13% Perennial Favorite
Dieting and drinking alcohol may seem like an enigma, but the health conscious have indulged with skinny cocktails and margaritas for a few years now.
Trend No. 34
Beer flights/samplers: 44% Hot Trend, 26% Yesterday’s News, 30% Perennial Favorite
A byproduct of the craft brew movement, beer flights showcase a microbrewery’s craft with four or five samples of their product. They are popular in gastropubs, bars, and smaller scale establishments.
Trend No. 48
Tequila/premium tequila: 30% Hot Trend, 28% Yesterday’s News, 42% Perennial Favorite
Have you noticed more tequila commercials on TV in the past few years than you ever did before? That’s because tequila took on a different role than just being that party starting alcohol. It appeared in finely crafted cocktails and artisan margaritas. Though it’s near the bottom of the trending list now, it most certainly is a perennial favorite, and a lot of it has to do with its newer place in the industry.