Nick Wykes, events and training manager at IPBartenders, discusses mixers, cocktail culture and the emergence of pomegranate.
As a bar tender, which mixers do you see as up and coming?
Nick Wykes: Mixers, as categories, will stay pretty much as they are. The emergence of the likes of Red Bull are anomalies and rare. What will tend to happen is that manufacturers will begin to address quality issues, or points of difference, and bars and bartenders will start to look within categories for ways of differentiating and elevating service.
The likes of Fever-Tree, Fentimans and other such artisan offerings will become more widely available, and bars and bartenders are already investigating how to use mixers with different or unique flavour profiles with their spirit portfolios – to the point where top-end bars have already recommended tonic brands to match with their gin portfolio. Having said that, ginger beer is probably the big ‘grower’.
On the juice front, how are things changing?
Wykes: Pomegranate’s huge, and growing. The more niche juices – açaí, acerola – can and do develop areas of strength within the market, but are difficult to grasp by the wider audience and tend to remain niche. From a bar perspective, it’s really all about the quality and freshness. More and more bars will source freshly squeezed juices from suppliers, or have a system where they will juice their own fruits. Guests will be attracted to the individual bar’s juice policy as opposed to a specific range. The days of a fridge full of different-flavoured cartons are fading fast.
What about individual, single-serve, non-alcoholic beverages?
Wykes: Lots of brands are throwing all sorts of money at this – witness SuSo, One and any number of energy drinks. It’s largely following the Red Bull model and just throwing new ‘life affirming’ properties at it. SuSo is probably the most coherent, being a fresh juice, carbonated as opposed to the latest miracle ingredient, but it’s a market that now lacks any clear definition.
The real development for the on-trade has to be a respect for the category. Bars and bartenders are generally dismissive of soft drinks, lacking as they do any inherent bar kudos. But as it’s such a massive part of what all bars offer, most are taking the delivery much more seriously. Perfect-serve initiatives, an understanding of how the flavours work in different environments; better quality juices and soft drinks will lead to a better standard of serve; better ice, more logical and well-presented garnishes etc.
In cocktails, is the trend towards boozy shakes, rum’n’raw, vodka smoothies or something else?
Wykes: Cocktail culture follows divergent paths. In top-end bars, the cocktailians are experimenting with artisan liqueurs and mixers, fresh herbs, homemade bitters and an investigation of cocktail history. Further afield, in the high streets, the Mojito is where it’s at. Tiki culture will supplant the single cocktail as a populist movement soon, and bring a range of Polynesian-style cocktails to the fore: the Mai Tai, rum punches etc.
The problem here is that these types of drink are open to interpretation. Top-end bars can go with historically accurate recipes, expensive ingredients, fresh juices etc. The high street can adapt the recipes to fit a profit model, use more cost-effective products and essentially dumb down the drinks to the point where they lose credibility. Not too different to the cocktail boom of the early 90s, which saw great cocktail bars springing up, followed by the high street popularising ‘disco drinks’, which are now so derided. It’s a bit of a circular creative process.
Who knows – maybe in a few years, the ‘sex on the beach’ will be back, only this time made with a pot-distilled, single-grain vodka, peach eau de vie, fresh Persian pomegranate juice and topped with a hand-squeezed Valencia orange juice, all served over double-frozen Hoshizaki ice cubes.
Concepts like rum‘n’raw (which IPB was responsible for creating for Pepsi, so I’m a little biased) focused less on the ‘new trend’ angle and more on the well thought out delivery; well-considered spirit/mixer partnerships, well-presented serves, interesting and useful garnishes and a more guest-inclusive style.
Nick Wykes is events and training manager at IPBartenders. He organises global cocktail events and parties, and delivers professional training with cocktail classes.
This article was first published
in Beverage Innovation.