Round-Up - NPD: Craft Cocktail Revolution Spurs At-Home Innovation

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The craft cocktail trend that has been percolating in pubs, bars and restaurants worldwide is finally coming home. Craft cocktails are making house calls today, thanks to a fresh generation of innovative mixers that help consumers create new mixed drinks at home.

Given the stellar reception for craft beer and craft spirits, maybe we should have seen this one coming.

Cocktails are now getting crafty, with consumers angling to produce trendy bar creations at home. According to Google Trends, global searches on the term “craft cocktail” between July 2011 and July 2014 grew over 230%. The same dynamic is happening at YouTube, as uploads of cocktail recipe videos jumped 70% over the past year, according to a recent Mashable report. And, in the UK, the New Inventive Bar Co reports that attendance at its cocktail master classes recently posted a year-on-year increase of 16%. These classes educate consumers on the history and skills of cocktail making, offer hands-on support, and include a food and cocktail pairing session.

These developments mirror the growing popularity of craft cocktails in the on-trade. Craft cocktails have become so popular that they are starting to stress out time-challenged bartenders, leading to new innovations to serve consumers faster. It is hard to make a custom cocktail in a hurry, but one answer to the problem is to create large batches of cocktails in advance, and serve them as needed. So-called “tap cocktails” are dispensed like draft beer and are beginning to appear at some establishments. This sort of approach has its limits as cocktails made from perishable ingredients, such as fresh fruit or egg whites, are not seen as appropriate for cocktail kegs.

If all of this seems a little intimidating to the average consumer, there are some new ways to make home cocktail preparation simpler. The “subscription retail” concept that produced the Birchbox for personal care and beauty products now gives us craft cocktails delivered straight to your door. Crafted Taste is a new monthly subscription service that sends consumers recipes, hard-to-find and custom-made mixers, along with all the fresh ingredients needed each month for US$65. The recipes come from top bartenders from around the world, while the selection of mixers includes artisanal products, organic syrups and other premium ingredients.

Ad-hoc type options for consumers that want to create craft cocktails at home include “small batch” mixers and unique flavorus to complement small batch spirits. Jack Rudy Cocktail Co, a US company that prides itself on taking “long-forgotten staples of the American bar and reinvent(ing) them”, recently added Small Batch Grenadine and Aromatic Bitters to its line-up. The latter starts with burnt cane sugar syrup as a base, adding notes of citrus, winter spices and bittering agents to help perk up classic cocktails like the Manhattan or the Old Fashioned. New mixers are even targeting relatively obscure bar drinks for home consumption. In the UK, The Pickle House recently introduced Original Pickle Juice, a hand-bottled mixer to be consumed as a chaser to a shot of whisk(e)y – a pairing known as a Pickleback. The mixer also gives a Bloody Mary an extra kick.

Clean, natural, fresh, and botanical ingredients are major components of the craft cocktail trend. Fruitations Craft Soda & Cocktail Mixer is hand-crafted in New England in flavours like Cranberry and Grapefruit with just three ingredients (fruit, water and pure cane sugar) and no artificial ingredients, preservatives or GMOs. UK-based Sassy Drinks Co offers Sass It Up Fruit Drink, a combination of apple, passion fruit, grape, and blood orange juice with seven botanicals including cardamom, chili, garlic, and juniper. Made with natural ingredients, it mixes well with gin, white rum, vodka and more. Coconut water, meanwhile, is viewed by many as a natural refresher, an association leveraged by new Belvoir Fruit Farms Coconut & Lime Presse, a canned “refreshing summer drink” in the UK suitable as a mixer with gin, vodka or rum.

A pair of other “better for you” on-premise drink trends can now be tapped by home mixologists. Tea-infused cocktails come home with Owl’s Brew, an artisanal and fresh-brewed “tea crafted for cocktails” mixer that pairs nicely with vodka, Tequila, rum, gin, or Champagne. Vinegar-flavored cocktails are enjoying a comeback as shrubs (drinks made with fruit, sugar, herbs, spices, and drinking vinegar) and drinking vinegar itself – both harking back to the days before refrigeration – are rediscovered. Drinking vinegar in particular is lauded for its health properties, and its ability to provide bold flavour without an overdose of sugar or calories. That adds up to more launches like Pok Pok Som Full Strength Drinking Vinegar, a new US mixer in ginger and Thai basil flavours that give speciality cocktails a zesty and peppery finish.

The future of the craft cocktail trend may be determined by younger consumers that are generally more open to flavour experimentation than older consumers, but also tend to be on the lookout for more affordable options for home enjoyment. According to Datamonitor Consumer’s 2013 global survey, consumers in the 'legal drinking age to age 24' group were more than twice as likely as 55- to 64-year-olds to say they “tend to agree” or “strongly agree” that they enjoy experimenting with different alcoholic beverage flavours.

This group may be perfect for recent mixer innovations like Boost Drinks’ new Gloworm Stimulating Mixer Drink, a UK launch pitched as a more fun and healthful mixer than Red Bull energy drink. Sugar-free and taurine-free, Gloworm contains 32 milligrams of caffeine per 10cl serving which is about 30% less than a similar sized serving of Red Bull energy drink. What’s more, the mixer is packaged in single-serving cans and comes in novel flavours like Cucumber & Apple, Pear Spice Lime, and Raspberry & Orris, the latter a fragrance from the iris flower.

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