Bar staff elevating the UK drinking culture
Young adults in London are driving the country’s thirst for cocktails, according to CGA Strategy. A quarter of the UK on-trade venues now serve cocktails, many of which moved beyond the Bond-style “shaken not stirred” proposition. By 2020 up to half of all on-trade outlets are expected to offer their own crafted range, and the cocktail market will account for 10 per cent of all spirits sales, compared to 6 per cent now.
Supported by the success of the foodie movement, the mixology trend is a result of consumers' increased appetite for sophisticated flavours, unique presentation, and quality/variety of ingredients. There are now several mixology awards, specialised press and media coverage to celebrate the art of mixology and the personalisation of the “blendsetters”. Rightly so, as it’s the charismatic, imaginative and incredibly gifted bar staff that have single-handedly elevated drinking culture and captured the public’s fascination with the blending craft.
Mixologists and bartenders often engage in intimate conversations with their audience to better understand guests’ preferences, mood or occasion. They have become experts on reading their consumers' mindsets, which is essential to create memorable experiences and powerful emotional connection between the drink and the drink connoisseur. Below are some key insights on the art of mixology, consumer understanding and the key trends for 2017.
Customisable cocktails often feature drink varieties made with pre-selected non-alcoholic components, but then encourage guests to select a spirit to tailor the drink to their preference. This option appeals to discerning customers who have brand and quality preferences, allowing them to select options from any price points, premium-ise their drink and show off their connoisseurship, usually within a single spirit category like gin, vodka or whisky. Operators can reach out to a wider audience of drinkers in this way by offering wider spirit options.
Many premium bars in London are taking their guests’ drinking preferences to another level. The Meister Bar in German Gymnasium stocks and displays 20-50 types of each spirit category, categorised by region, quality and age if appropriate. Highly experienced bar staff allow guests to not only select the spirit but also the components, ingredients and flavours within their one-of-a-kind cocktail. The bartender will create your personalized, handcrafted concoction inspired by your preferences. Have it your way, whether it’s shaken, stirred, refreshing, aromatic, veggie, savoury, light, sweet, sour, spiced, light or alcohol-free. This is the message that drinkers are receiving - and it's working.
Foraging ingredients and story telling
Charlotte Race, Head mixologist at Thyme, highlights the importance of considering brands’ personality and heritage for bars and restaurants: “We research spirits and other beverages before we put them on our back-bar and ask what’s their story? What makes them better than the rest? Those stories ensure enthusiasm and passion from our bartenders. For our guests, personalised experience and story-telling is as important as the cocktails we serve. It's becoming a vital part of the evening’s entertainment.”
Mixologists are also taking a cue from other Nature rather than the grocery aisle. Thyme, along a few other dining establishments, also started foraging for wild ingredients to communicate a strong message of placing quality way above convenience. The ability to trace food right back to its source has gained popularity, with ‘organic’ becoming the new buzzword in bars by which the informed consumer makes their purchasing decisions. Developments in the restaurant scene, with award-winning venues such as Noma pushing the “field to table” movement, have been a natural inspiration to bartenders and brands alike.
That into-the-wild approach finds its way into drinks such as the Next of Kin, a funky, earthy concoction made with Pu-erh tea that’s been re-fermented into kombucha and paired with aquavit, caraway and unrefined sugar. Manager Shiraz Noor, who helped create the drinks, describes it as “eating rye bread in a magic forest. Yes, a magic forest. Only it goes down like the best mojito ever.”
It’s easy to see the benefits of foraging within mixology, an ingredient’s unrivalled freshness of course being the most obvious. It creates an association between the drink and the guest, whereby they can visualise its origins. The ability for a bar to associate its surroundings with the ingredients listed within its menu creates authenticity and attention to detail, and that’s a great story!
Healthier, low calorie and non-alcoholic
As far as modern cocktails go, the thing to remember is that it’s not always the alcohol that’s public enemy number one. More problematic is the sugar content. Most of the cocktails served in bars are just too sweet and too fruity for our tastes; now combine this with the health conscious among us becoming more aware of what we're putting into our bodies and it's clear why healthy is becoming the new standard. Healthier cocktails, low in fat and low sugar, are becoming more and more common, with exciting alternatives growing in popularity as we aim for more complex flavours to help curb any cravings for sugar. Belvedere Vodka’s Claire Smith has created a range of low-fructose, lower alcohol cocktails. Her take on the pina colada dispenses with calorific coconut cream and opts for virtuous coconut water as well as cold-pressed kale juice.
Good bartenders know that alcohol doesn't always mean more flavour and therefore ensure that the virgin section of their menu matches the excitement of their boozy offerings. Alcohol makers are also rolling out a host of gluten-free, vegan, low-sugar, all-natural, low- and non-alcoholic drinks as they wake up to the idea that shifting consumer preferences could squeeze profits if they don’t react. “In many occasions, people are drinking less and less alcohol but they want to keep that adult moment of conviviality,” said Julian Marsili, marketing manager for non-alcoholic beer at Danish brewer Carlsberg A/S in an article by the Wall Street Journal. “You don’t want to be seen cheering with a Coke or a water, and therefore we offer the alcohol credentials: a bottle, foam, an adult-looking proposition without the alcohol.”
Theatre – molecular mixology
Want to modernise your Old Fashioned, or put a little style in your Sidecar? Try adding Jell-O. Or light it on fire. Flame and gelatin are two important components of a bartending trend that’s migrating from upscale lounges to amateur kitchens. Known as molecular mixology, the method takes scientific principles and tools and applies them to the construction of alcoholic beverages.
With molecular mixology (MM) changing the bartending world over the last few years, even the classics have been getting a molecular mixology makeover. Bartenders across the globe are leveraging this cooking science to the common household classic with very interesting and award-winning results. Shawn Soole, a modern mixologist with years of bartending experience and great advice for aspiring bartenders, says that “using the practices of molecular mixology, you can create, change and twist the classics we all know and love into a skewed Salvador Dali interpretation of the next step of cocktail evolution.”
Martin Lange and Dustin Davis of Sling Lounge in Brisbane, Australia have brought MM down under and taken it to the extreme. Their list of 350 cocktails has a section of about 30 that are completely devoted to the art of MM, and on the first Tuesday of every month they hold an intimate seating for their cocktail degustation menu. They practice all forms of MM, except for the lasers, which in Martin's opinion is too expensive for the final results. Items that stand out on their MM list are deconstructed classics such as the Deconstructed Hemmingway Daiquiri and the Bloody Mary in different temperature layers.
However, it’s worth keeping in mind Shawn Soole’s remark that Molecular Mixology is a wonderful experiment and adventure into the genetic makeup of cocktails, as long as your primary focus does not change. Your primary focus as a bartender is the customer, making them happy, making them feel comfortable and getting them a drink in a timely manner. This is where some bartenders won't experiment with MM, they think it is too time consuming and the scientific fiddling of it all scares them a little.