Why the on-premise is failing to tempt consumers away from classic cocktails - Consumer Trends

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Anyone working in the on-premise channel will, no doubt, be aware that Diageo's Reserve World Class cocktail competition is rumbling slowly towards the final, in Berlin later this summer. National heats are taking place around the world, with competitors jumping through numerous bibulous hoops to win a golden ticket.

The chart of most popular cocktails in the on-premise is dominated by the classics

The chart of most popular cocktails in the on-premise is dominated by the classics

Amongst the usual noise that emanates from what has become a huge event in the cocktail calendar, was a chart - compiled with the help of national winners from the contest - listing the ten most popular cocktails in the world's bars. The results, based on what cocktails their customers have been ordering, surprised me in their obviousness.

Topping the list was The Old Fashioned. Ten years after Mad Men first aired and catapulted the serve to worldwide fame, the daddy of all cocktails is still basking in the golden afterglow of the show's notoriety. This was followed by the Negroni, Whisky Sour, Margarita, Moscow Mule, Espresso Martini, Daiquiri, Dry Martini, Tom Collins and Manhattan.

While they are all drinks I love to order, as someone who's immersed in the industry, I'm always searching for the new, 'The Next Big Thing'.

The list serves as a timely reminder that it takes an inordinate amount of time for consumers to catch up with the trends that bartenders and marketers have been talking about for years already. With the resurgence of cocktail culture this Millennium, consumers are only just getting to
grips with the classics - the most modern drink on this list is the Espresso Martini, a creation from the 1980s.

Classic for a reason

"It is no surprise classic came out on top," Diageo's global 'cocktailian', Lauren Mote told me when we caught up about the results. "There's a reason these drinks have stood the test of time: They are simple and delicious.

"In order to develop modern twists on cocktails, it's important to understand the history of the cocktail itself"

"Similar to the chef's necessity to learn the mother recipes before developing innovative dishes, the same is true in the cocktail world. In order to develop new, contemporary and modern twists on drink serves and cocktails, it's important to understand the 212-year history of the cocktail itself.

"The origins of many of our favourite classic cocktail categories – like the sling, the julep, the daisy and the fizz – give some great insights and the direction necessary to develop new serves," Mote adds. "The mother sauces and recipes in the cocktail world are super important from not just a bartender and menu development perspective, but also as an educated drinker consumer in this moment."

Bartender Joe Schofield of the Tippling Club in Singapore believes there is more movement than the list suggests, and points to customers' maturing palates: "On-trend cocktails change every year," he says. "When I started bartending, the Mojito was the most popular classic cocktail I made, accounting for roughly 75% of the classics I was asked for. Now, it's crazy to think that the Negroni could be the new Mojito."

There's also comfort in familiarity, as Max Venning of Three Sheets and Bar Three in London points out: "With these classics, you're going to get something different in every sort of place, which is why someone who orders an Old Fashioned is happy to order in different bars. They're a variation on a theme and they know that they like the theme. Maybe people are ordering the classics because they're simple and easy to drink; they can relax and unwind."

Could it be that, in these uncertain social and political times, consumers are returning to their old favourites for comfort?

The future of classics

So, what of the future? I can see the Negroni taking the top spot in a couple of years' time. Expect the Espresso Martini to have moved up a few places, too. Both are reflections of two huge trends - aperitivos and amaros, and the boom in coffee culture - that have dominated the drinks world in recent years. While those of us who have worked in the drinks industry for a number of years may feel as if we've talked about them until we're blue in the face, these serves are still novel in many consumers' eyes.

As for downwards trends, I imagine the Old Fashioned will have hit saturation point and will start to see a marked drop-off, in the same way that the Mojito did.

Is there space for more modern creations to enter the fray in future? Are any marketable from a brand perspective? The bartenders I spoke to weren't so sure.

"If you look at the last ten years," Venning says, "the drinks that people are making have been more bespoke drinks with homemade ingredients, which makes things much less replicable. One drink that has come close is the Penicillin, but this includes a homemade ginger syrup.

"I can't think of something that will have its own personality enough to stand up to those drinks"

"The top ten list covers all the key spirits categories and all the styles of drinks. There's short and boozy, fresh and citrus… . I can't think of something that will drift into that and have its own personality enough to stand up to those drinks."

Ivy Mix of Leyenda in New York also voices surprise at the absence of the Penicillin from the list, but suggests the problem stems from too many voices muddying the waters. "I think it's very hard to make a modern classic right now because everyone and their brother are making cocktails," she says. "It's hard to stand out."

If brands are looking for the opportunity to champion new cocktails, it might be worth investing some time and effort into teaching consumers how to make basic ingredients such as ginger syrups. As consumers are finally getting to grips with their mother sauces, maybe now is the time to try to help them branch out.

Sectors: Spirits, The on-trade

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