Cocktails are raising the bar with texture, function, and nature

By Katie Belflower

How are cocktails faring, as inflation continues, and what trends are hitting menus this year? Although alcoholic beverage item counts are still not back to pre-pandemic levels, with an 8.3 per cent decline on menus since Q1 of 2020, mentions are up 5.2 per cent on menus in the past year, revealing that the category is on the road to recovery. Cocktails especially are showing momentum, with specialty cocktails and mixed drinks up 19.4 per cent in the last year.

Looking at the most popular flavours in adult beverages on Canadian menus over the last year sheds light on some interesting trends as well. Grenadine (+57.1 per cent) claims the spot as the fastest-growing flavour within alcoholic drinks, often appearing alongside fruity ingredients in sweeter cocktails. Amaretto (+32 per cent) is also on the rise, lending a nutty flavour to coffees, sours, and old-fashioned cocktails. Additionally, spicy flavours have grown 15 per cent within this category in the past year, giving a new twist to classic cocktails such as Caesars, margaritas, and Palomas. Cocktail innovation will continue this next year as operators look for ways to continue to excite and entice consumers.

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From kitchen to cocktail

One trend we’re seeing that will continue to expand throughout the year is ‘kitchen to cocktail,’ meaning ingredients more commonly found on the food side of menus are now appearing in drinks. Often, these are ingredients that kitchens already have on hand, making them easy to utilize for creative cocktails. This allows for innovation on the bar menu without having to take on new SKUs, something especially important amid supply chain and labour struggles.

For example, meat-infused cocktails are trending at various independent operators. One such example is Vancouver’s Straight & Marrow cocktail (named after the operation itself), featuring marrow-infused brandy, Benedictine, beef stock, red wine, lemon, orange, and black pepper-cardamon bitters. Other examples of this kitchen-to-cocktail trend include the Ode to Chios cocktail with feta foam (from Bar Koukla in Toronto), and the Harvest Room Truffle Martini with white truffle (from The Harvest Room in Edmonton). While this trend is currently popping up at independent restaurants, it has the potential to become more mainstream, especially as operators work to find creative solutions to supply chain challenges.

New textures

As new ingredients make their way into cocktails, new textures are appearing as well, offering another way for operators to serve innovative cocktails without the burden of taking on many new SKUs. One such example is the emerging use of fluffy orange juice in drinks. Fluffy orange juice is created by blending the juice at high speeds, resulting in an extra-aerated juice with a light, fluffy texture. Marcus in Montreal featured the ingredient in its Who Rum the World cocktail with a house-made mix of Bacardi rums, Martini Fiero aperitif, coconut, vanilla, and fresh fluffy orange juice.

Another texture transformer is gomme syrup. Bartenders can use gomme syrup in place of simple syrup as a delicious drink sweetener. While the two are similar, gomme syrup contains an emulsifier known as gum arabic, which gives cocktails a silky texture and mouthfeel. Union 613 in Ottawa got in on the trend, featuring gomme in its Rum Ham cocktail.

Look for operators to continue getting creative with textures to add extra excitement to cocktail menus, even offering up frozen versions of traditionally nonfrozen cocktails, like sangrias.

Functional fare

Using functional ingredients in cocktails has become trendy and will continue to grow over the next year. We’ve seen these ingredients with benefits in non-alcoholic beverages for some time, and now they’re making their way onto adult beverage menus.

While cocktails may not always look like a healthy option, functional ingredients can appeal to consumers considering better-for-you choices. For example, ingredients like kombucha, a fermented drink full of probiotics, help to support the growth of good gut bacteria. La Cage Brasserie Sportive, offering a Gin Kombucha with Portage gin and kombucha with black currant, is the perfect example of this trend in action.

Other functional ingredients gaining momentum include pineapple weed and palo santo, both boasting stress-relieving properties. One more on the trendy list is the chaga mushroom, rich in antioxidants and can help support immune function. Be Love in Victoria, British Columbia, spotlighted the mushroom in its Chaga Bourbon Sour featuring decocted chaga, maple, lemon, herbal bitters, and chocolate. With the ever-expanding definition of health and consumers increasingly looking for food and drink with health benefits, cocktails featuring these types of ingredients will continue to appear on menus throughout the coming year.

Exploring in nature

Ingredients derived from trees and plants are also increasingly making their way into cocktails. Mugolio, or pinecone syrup, is lending a woodsy, honeyed flavour to cocktails. Botanist in Vancouver, went all-in on nature with its Council of the Trees cocktail, featuring blended Scotch, fino sherry, cedar, oak moss, birch sap, alder, and cherrywood-smoked tea. Legende in Quebec City also gave a nod to nature with its Espresso Martini, featuring Pur vodka, fortified birch wine, and short espresso. Options such as mugolio and birch sap are natural sweeteners, which may entice consumers looking for an alternative to traditional sweeteners in cocktails.

Overall, we can look forward to seeing continual creative innovation in the cocktail sphere! This is attributed to a changing on-premise landscape challenged by supply chain and inflation issues, and changing consumer preferences. More functional or natural ingredients will increasingly appear on cocktail menus as consumers seek a balance between indulgence and health. And while classic sweet or fruity flavours will continue to dominate adult beverages, an exploration into spicy and savoury flavours will create interest and excitement for consumers looking to mix it up this year.

Katie Belflower is Associate Editor for Technomic, a Chicago-based foodservice research and consulting firm. Technomic provides clients with the facts, insights, and consulting support they need to enhance their business strategies, decisions, and results. The company’s services include publications and digital products as well as proprietary studies and ongoing research on all aspects of the food industry, including menu trends.

Source: Technomic Ignite Menu data, Q4 2021-Q4 2022