When we asked more than a dozen bartenders, sommeliers and drinks writers what the bar industry will look like this fall, their responses formed a landscape that felt oddly familiar: blue drinks, flavored spirits and… disco? The future, it seems, looks a lot like the past. Midori and Malibu are poised for a comeback while vinyl-spinning DJs are must-haves for any new bar. But alongside these throwbacks, this fall will see an array of exciting new developments. Among them are the long overdue breakout moment for eau de vie, a new era for rosé and, apparently, caviar bumps with everything.
Here are the 10 trends that will shape how we drink this fall.
’90s Redux, Cont.
Just as the Espresso Martini went from infamy to ubiquity, the coming months will see nostalgia for the 1990s inform countless cocktail menus. According to Austin, Texas–based Punch contributor Laurel Miller, Cosmopolitans and White Russians will be getting their due, “the latter being an ideal place for bars to experiment with housemade alt-milks.” Kitschy ingredients will also make a comeback. “Basically every bar I’ve been to recently has something blue on the menu,” says Eater correspondent and Punch contributor Jaya Saxena. Likewise, Brooklyn bartender and Solid Wiggles co-owner Jack Schramm says more-serious cocktail bars will be utilizing “ingredients that were previously thought of as untouchable,” such as Malibu, Midori and Alizé. “We’re in the post-ironic era, and I can’t wait to see these formerly maligned modifiers take center stage in well-balanced cocktails,” he says.
Everything in a Can
Ready-to-drink (RTD) cans—whether filled with wine, sake or cocktails—show no signs of stopping. Cocktails, in particular, have a bright future: Portland, Oregon’s Lydia McLuen, Takibi bar manager and Punch Bartender in Residence, notes that although many of the current options leave much to be desired, the category will see growth and improvement thanks to talented bartenders getting in the game. She points to Rocket Queen, a LiveWire canned cocktail developed with bartender Erin Hayes, as an exemplary version. The category’s growth also presents new opportunities for bars, says Gin & Luck beverage director Tyson Buhler, who sees RTD cocktails moving on-premise. “As the quality rises, the decision to pay for labor needed to prep cocktails [versus] purchase a few cases of canned cocktails presents an interesting dilemma for owners that are looking to squeeze every penny out of the increasingly tight margins,” he says.
Dessertification of American Whiskey
Following a similar trajectory as craft beer, which saw the flavor spectrum skew increasingly sweet with the rise of adjuncts like coffee or fruit, American whiskey is entering its candied era. “The dessertification of American whiskey has arrived,” declares author Aaron Goldfarb. Joining the ranks of cinnamon-flavored Fireball and peanut butter–flavored Skrewball, a new crop of bourbons—finished in everything from fig nectar to strawberry brandy barrels—is adding a sweet note to the category in the coming months.
N/A Ups the Ante
The most cited trend among those surveyed was the evolution and expansion of nonalcoholic spirits and cocktails. “We’re seeing an explosion of sophisticated nonalcoholic options that go way beyond N/A beer, seltzer and (frequently mediocre) mocktails that verge on lemonade,” says Brooklyn sommelier Jim Sligh. It’s a move that’s making beverages more accessible and inclusive, he says, and will soon become the norm. Alex Jump, of Focus on Health (a wellness training organization for people in the hospitality industry), says more versatile nonalcoholic products for mixing will help with the transition, and hopes to see more ambitious zero-proof cocktails from bartenders in the coming months.
Peak Orange Wine
Writer and editor Jon Bonné says, simply: “Orange wine > rosé.” Sligh also sees us approaching Peak Orange, with “the same fever pitch of demand that Rosé All Day was at back in 2016.” Ideally, the growth means more education around the wine style and what he calls “the rainbow of nuance in the category,” leading to more conversation around skin-macerated wines.
Eau de Vie Steps Out
“I keep waiting and waiting for eau de vie to take off every year,” says Matthew Belanger, general manager at Death & Co. Los Angeles. Despite being one of the last remaining spirit categories to gain widespread popularity, and despite the exciting number of expressions on the market—like Reisetbauer, Rochelt, Clear Creek, Rhine Hall and Matchbook Distilling, to name a few—the category of unaged fruit brandies has yet to experience its moment in the limelight. The rise of Martini Madness, however, may be just what the spirit needs. “In the meantime,” says Belanger, “I will continue shouting about it in the hopes that someone will finally listen.”
The Martini Goes Maritime
As reported earlier this year, there’s something fishy about the Martini. But expect to see the trend reach new depths as the extra-dirty Martini takes an ultra-umami turn. As Bonné predicts, “Bonnie’s MSG Martini and Bar Moruno’s Salmon Martini will be ripped off widely and with mixed results.” Punch contributor and author Kara Newman notes that sea-inspired flavors are creeping into Martini base spirits, as well, from oyster vodkas to sea kelp gins. And in garnishes too, says Newman, expect to see “caviar bumps with everything.”
Party On, Party Bar
Whether it’s disco aperitivo or the natural wine party bar, a pervasive laid-back, celebratory atmosphere has infiltrated new bars across the country. At these establishments, good drinks are a given, and what sets them apart is their focus on music and mood. “I love seeing bars serving quality drinks with a dance club vibe,” says Jenny Eagleton, beverage director at Oakland's DAYTRIP, which dubs itself a "party restaurant and bottle shop." She points to Slug Bar as another example, noting, “I think we’ll start to see it more.”
Actually Good Rosé
Just because orange wine is gunning for the spotlight, don’t assume rosé is going away. “I’m hoping the inevitable collapse of bullshit cheap pink wine with bullshit cheap orange wine will spur winemakers to experiment with higher-quality rosé bottlings,” says John McCarroll, co-host of the wine podcast “Disgorgeous.” Hopefully, he says, wine lists will reevaluate their one-page rosé lists, where all pink wines are typically lumped together, to offer more “*good rosé *”.
West Coast Gin Hits Its Stride
“I’m excited about the recent influx of domestic and collab gins made with indigenous juniper and foraged native botanicals,” says Miller. As new brands enter the market seemingly every week and from every corner of the globe, the gin map continues to expand. And with this rapid expansion comes the emergence of discernable regional differences in flavor and style. Nowhere is this more apparent than in the growing crop of West Coast American gins. Joining the Bay Area’s St. George Spirits, which spearheaded the notion of terroir in gin with their aptly named Terroir bottling, and Elk Rider Gin from Gig Harbor, Washington, are brands like Las Californias (one of our recommended products to seek out this fall) and Ventura Spirits. The former makes a duo of gins centered around botanicals from Southern California and Mexico, while the latter’s Wilder Gin is built around wild-harvested sagebrush, yerba santa and chuchupate.