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The Cocktail and Spirits Stories That Will Shape 2020

From bartender-branded liqueurs to New York’s newest rising drinks destination, the cocktail and spirits trends that will make a difference in 2020.

When something works in the bar world, bars run with it. Do customers guzzle down the two nonalcoholic options you have on the menu? Add 10 more. If consumers’ thirst for gin never abates, make more gin. If your cocktail bar is a smashing success in one town, open the same bar in another town. If a cocktail convention worked wonders a few area codes over, filling that district’s coffers with cash, it’s time you launched your own convention. These trends, as well as quite a few that carried over from the previous couple years, are what will dominate the scene in 2020. Here are our annual predictions for the coming year.

No-ABV Cocktails Come Home

There’s been no escaping the nonalcoholic cocktail juggernaut lately. What was a blip on the screen a few years ago is now one of the major forces in bars and drinking (or not drinking). Menus don’t just offer a token mocktail or two; they devote whole pages to their N/A refreshments. Entire bars dedicated to the genre have opened, including Getaway in Brooklyn and Redemption in London, and there is now a cottage industry of ready-to-drink N/A cocktails in cans and bottles. In 2020, the publishing world will catch up. While a few mocktail compendiums have already been flung into the market, several heavyweight authors are poised to weigh in. Julia Bainbridge’s long-anticipated book about nonalcoholic cocktails, Good Drinks, will be published by Ten Speed Press in fall 2020. And Jim Meehan is working on a new cocktail book that will devote more than a third of its pages to N/A drinks. Called The Bartender’s Pantry, it will be published by Ten Speed Press in spring 2022.

Meet You in Times Square (No, Really)

In the past, if you wanted quality cocktails in New York, you headed to where the tourists weren’t. That is changing quickly—and the most touristy of all neighborhoods, Times Square, is changing the most rapidly. In the past year, the area has become home to several top-notch cocktail dens, most of them nestled inside hotels. There’s Dear Irving on Hudson in the Aliz Hotel; Lost Hours in Hotel 3232, run by the Death & Co. team; 701West in the Times Square Edition; and the bar at Empellón on Madison Avenue and 53rd Street. They join the area’s relative old-timers Raines Law Room at The William Hotel; Bar 54 in the Hyatt Centric; and The Polynesian at the Pod Times Square Hotel. Drink for drink, the Crossroads of the World may soon be as craft-y as the East Village or Williamsburg.

Bartender-Branded Liqueurs

Bartenders have been dabbling in spirits production for a decade or more, but it’s difficult to make an impression in crowded spirit categories like gin and whiskey. As such, they’ve increasingly turned to the undersung and neglected liqueur category as their best chance to forge something unique. This year was a big year for these projects. Bartenders Monica BergAlex Kratena and Simone Caporale launched Muyu, a line of modern liqueurs, each more curious and unusual than the next. English bartending star Salvatore Calabrese collaborated with De Kuyper Royal Distillers to create Acqua Bianca, a unique distillate which uses three types of citrus from Italy. (Calabrese has said he wanted to create something that doesn’t exist on the market, and hopes it will inspire new cocktails). Jörg Meyer of Germany also worked with De Kuyper to make Dutch Cacao, a white crème de cacao that blends cacao beans from Indonesia with vanilla, cinnamon and Indonesian arrack. Expect more such potions in the future.

A Bar in Every Port

As in any line of business, one of the fortifications against extinction is expansion. Employees Only, PDT and Attaboy were early adopters of this approach, opening bars in Singapore, Hong Kong and Nashville. That trend shows no sign of abating: Death & Co., which has bars in New York and Denver, is poised to open a third in Los Angeles on December 31; Mother’s Ruin, the casual Manhattan cocktail bar, will unveil a version in Chicago in February; Amor y Amargo, the diminutive bitters haven in Manhattan’s East Village, opened a Brooklyn sister bar this fall; Cure, an anchor of the New Orleans cocktail scene, opened a second Cure in the city’s airport; Dante, the New York aperitivo bar, will open a second location in Greenwich Village; Dead Rabbit, the Irish bar juggernaut in New York, announced in October its plans to open in New Orleans; and so on. Today, if you have a bar that’s garnered some national press, it’s basically assumed it will sprout duplicates at some point.

Cocktail Convention Congestion

It’s finally happened. There are so many cocktail conventions and bar shows across the globe that, if they wished, spirit purveyors and celebrity bartenders could spend the year on the road, hopping from one destination to the next, without ever needing to touch home base. The coming year could well prove the peak of this movement. The fall alone will feature the London Cocktail Week, Athens Bar Show, Roma Bar Show, Barometer in Kyiv, Edinburgh Cocktail Week, Prague Bar Show and Bar Convent in Berlin. Here in the U.S., we have conventions in Brooklyn, San Antonio, Chicago, Phoenix, Rochester, Boston, Kansas City, Portland and, of course, New Orleans, where Tales of the Cocktail started the trend back in 2002.

Every Country Is Gin Country (Almost)

Scotland, land of Scotch, is now home to nearly 200 different gins. Germany has as many. Spain has been guzzling gin at a record rate for years. Halfway around the world, Australia is awash in new gins. Japan makes gin, Italy makes gin, everyone makes gin. The United States continues to be somewhat less than excited about the spirit, despite the advent of hundreds of craft gins over the past couple decades, many of them first rate. However, the rest of the world can’t seem to get enough of the stuff. Globally, sales of gin are expected to exceed 82 million 9-liter cases in 2019. A lot of this growth has been spurred by the rise of pink gins, it’s true. But it’s still basically gin. Don’t expect that thirst to slack. The juniper sunrise only looks to grow rosier with each morning.

More of the Same

Last year in this space, I predicted that we’d see more low-alcohol drinks, no-alcohol drinks and highballs in 2020, as well as a growing number of Japanese-style bars, tiki bars and holiday pop-up bars. All those predictions came true, and, like it or not, they’ll still be true in 2020 and probably beyond. Fact is, the cocktail world is in a bit of a trend rut, with the same forces growing in popularity year after year. And there’s no end in sight. If you like spritzes and Toki highballs and mocktails and bartenders dressed like elves, you’re probably in heaven right now. If you don’t, you might be feeling a little restless. Here’s hoping 2020 has at least one surprise in store for us barflies.

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