What’s new in the spirits world

By Rob Berry and Diana Roberts

At the many tasting events we attended over the past year, it was evident that today’s consumers are increasingly well-versed on spirits and cocktails, and definitely know what they want. Based on our observations and conversations, consumers are looking for many qualities in their next adult beverage, from premium spirits to fresh ingredients such as bitters, syrups and even vegetables. Read on to find out what people are talking about when it comes to their favourite liqueurs, spirits and cocktails.

Know your spirits

We have always referred to Canadian whiskey as the “silent alcohol.” Bartenders sold it without paying much attention to it. Being guilty of this myself, all I can say today is that whiskey continues to grow in popularity and Canadian whiskies in particular are doing their part by adding flavours such as maple, apple and caramel. In a similar revelation, more consumers are discovering that rum is more than just something to be served with cola. Rum cocktails and sipping rums will be the next alcohol trend hitting the market. Rum is a most diverse spirit; each one has its complex and distinct flavours – from Navy strength to dessert rums. Rum can also take traditional cocktails to new heights. How about changing the whiskey in an old fashioned to sipping rum or trying sipping dark rums like a scotch? Have you tasted a Canadian Maple Sour? Delicious and very patriotic!

New global flavours

Meanwhile, some newer spirits are becoming more easily available in the Canadian market — pisco, for example, from Peru and Chile, as well as brandies such as cachaça from Brazil or Mezcal from Mexico, with its many flavour differences from its cousin tequila.

Creative collaboration

We are seeing more examples of the front-of-house getting together with back-of-house to build the ultimate evening for consumers. Bartenders and chefs are collaborating to reinvent cocktails, not in the so-called “molecular” style, but with the quality and variety of the ingredients as a whole. Spices, herbs and infusions of syrups made from shrubs, beets or carrots are creating a whole new spirit world. Serving “cocktail flights” with drinks of similar types or background can entice customers to try something new and is a fantastic way to promote your cocktail list. For example, take a Manhattan made the traditional way, add smoke to the next and spices to another.

iPad invasion

What technology is doing for restaurants, it can also do for bars and cocktail lounges; iPads have started to replace drink menus and Excel spreadsheets, making inventory control and ordering easy. However, if you are not tech savvy, this can be intimidating to some bar and restaurant owners or managers. With iPads and other tablets, you need to ask yourself questions such as:

  • What is the cost per unit?
  • How many does each restaurant need?
  • What if we lose the Internet connection?
  • How much are upgrades and can I program my own menu without tech support?

The idea is wonderful but, like self-serve checkouts in grocery stores, a staff member often has to be there to help customers with their order. The plus side of digital menus is that once they are programmed for your needs, they are very efficient. When items are no longer in stock, they are automatically removed from the menu. You are able to share more information about each item than you can on a paper menu. The more you educate consumers on menu items, the more likely they are to purchase, and send your spirits soaring.

About the authors

Rob Berry and Diana Roberts are co-owners of The Bartending School of Ontario, dedicated to providing bar owners, managers and students with the skills and expertise necessary to succeed in the hospitality industry. For more information, call 416-466-7847 or visit www.bartendingcanada.ca.

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