Reinvented, Reconnected and Ready – The Drink Trends to Watch in 2021

Each year, the Pantone Color Institute studies global colour trends and selects the colour of the year. Their decision influences the worlds of design, fashion and home decor, among others, and it also is the reflection of a bigger picture, a touch that takes the pulse on things to come.

For 2021, the chosen hues are a duo: on one side a bright duckling yellow called Illuminating, and on the other side, a subdued cement-like shade named Ultimate Gray. What does this have to do with the drinks world?

The contrast reflects that duality with which many industries are approaching innovation and trends for the new year: a balancing act between the optimism and joy symbolised by the yellow, and the frugal, considerate reflection of the soft gray.

But let’s drop the abstraction. What are some of the drink trends we’ll be seeing more of in 2021?

Reinvented and Ready to Drink

The Ready to Drink segment, or RTD for its abbreviation, is one of the predominant trends. Stephen Cope, ​founder and MD for Grace ‘O Malley Spirits​, notes that “t​he at home drinking culture has been completely flipped on its head over the past few months so instead of new formulas the main innovations that I’ve recognised have been in product packaging and social media.” He adds that “the RTD, or ready to drink can, has boomed” beyond the festival niche and earned a growing spot in the shelves of serious retailers.

John Ralph, CEO of independent distributor Intrepid Spirits, points out that premise outlets “have needed to reinvent themselves as brand owners.” Pubs, bars and other venues “have had to start thinking about packaging and messaging, and serving consumers outside of their bar environment.”

This has meant that innovative business-owners have started to brand their cocktails for at-home consumption, and while the RTD segment is not new (think pre-made G&Ts or rum & Coke in your supermarket shelf), we’re seeing a new face of it.

Examples of this extension of a brand include a bright and cheerful RTD version of ​777’s popular Margaritas​, the glamorous sets by ​Vintage Cocktail Club​, and the ingenious ​Brown Bag Cocktails​ from Galway’s The Twelve Hotel.

Bar 1661 is a venue that has taken this to the next level, coming up with a whole new concept that embodies this trend. Their RTD range is featured on their site ​ and offers nation-wide delivery, encompassing many classics as well as innovative personalisation options you wouldn’t find from big producers.

The Rise of the Kit

Cocktail sets and boxes including all the ingredients needed and clear instructions to mix them at home are not quite ready to drink, but certainly more fool-proof than bartending from scratch.

Dave Mulligan, founder of Bar 1661 and Craft Cocktails, and Bán Poitín, points out that “at home cocktail making kits have also been something of a revelation with Catch Events leading the charge here in Ireland.”

Catch Events​ created the very popular Quarantini Box last year and has since produced several seasonal variations of it. Celtic Whiskey Shop has put together a collection of cocktail gift sets with everything you need to make popular drinks such as ​Aperol Spritz​, Negroni​ and ​Espresso Martini​.

Dave adds that “a number of London bars offering premium at home cocktails with two stand out brands being The Sun Tavern, Bethnal Green with their ever growing on-line liquor store and Tippling Inc, a new brand from leading bartenders who have strategically partnered with Michelin starred restaurants (Lima) and high end retailers to provide their cocktail delivery offerings.”

Experiential Nights Out (and nights in)

As we enter the new year with a renewed appreciation of the time we get to share in-person, we crave for more meaningful or enriching experiences when going out. More hands-on activities, and less screen time on our phones while sharing the table with our friends will mean that venues and brands will win people over by facilitating more encounters that feature something special, be it entertainment, a game or any other shared activity.

Dave Mulligan comments on this trend: “I can also see a rise in experiential nights out once things return to some sort of normal. A trend that was already on the rise with people looking for more from a night out than just drinks, you can expect venues that offer something more to prosper in coming years.”

A local success story that illustrates this is the ​Paint & Prosecco​ sessions. The brand, which has expanded and adapted to the at-home life, now sells painting kits for their online experience but they also host events (most recently at Opium) where friends can share a glass of bubbly while partaking in the more mindful experience of taking an art class together.

For those who choose to stay at home in the new year, the phenomenon known as “zoom fatigue” will mean that unique, smaller online experiences will win over big messy calls with a tiny grid of faceless listeners.

Stephen Cope explains that “the market has been somewhat saturated with Instagram and Facebook lives and people are still craving that sense of connection so small intimate Zoom tastings give people the sense that they are still enjoying an experience and getting the opportunity to connect.”

Artisan producers Kinsale Mead Co. have embraced this trend offering an ​innovative package​ that includes a sampling set of their Irish-made meads, and access to join a talk and guided tasting hosted via zoom call with a variety of available dates.

A Strengthened Bond with All Things Local and Sustainable

Perhaps two of the most notable silver linings in the midst of adversity were a glimpse at less polluted cities and a renewed appreciation for our neighbours and local businesses. Lauren Mote, Diageo’s Global Cocktailian, highlights this as part of her ​insights for the Diageo Bar Academy​.

“Bartenders and chefs must purchase directly from farms and communities where possible, to ensure funds go where they’re supposed to; this allows the bartender or chef to add the location and individual to become part of the story of the final product. We have to start thinking beyond seasonal and local – we need to take the next step to connect to our producers.”

A business that illustrates this is ​Stillgarden Distillery​ in Dublin 8, which is offering “Garden Sessions” where they take visitors along a short tour of their project, that took an area of wasteland in the community and gave it a new lease of life. They also offer the Stillgarden Distilling Academy and Experience, in which they offer a “historical adventure, botanical exploration, special tastings, demonstrations, discovery moments and delicious food from local caterers.”

Whiskey Watch: Cask Play

When it comes to whiskey, experimentation with wood will continue and expand. Finishing in different casks to add an edge to the final product will continue to be a trait of producers big and small in the new year.

Stephen Cope notes that when it comes to Irish spirits, “​we now have our own product in Irish Whiskey for the world that we can experiment with to bring innovation through Irish Whiskey cocktails, cask finishes and blends of both Malt and Grain whiskies.” Among some of the casks that we’ll see more of, he lists Rum, Amarone, Port and Cognac, as well as cross-collaboration with breweries in the shape of stouts aged in casks. “This brings a unique new craft approach to the taste profiles of special releases of Irish Whiskies.”

Top Tier Zero and Low Alcohol

The rise of premium low and non-alcoholic beverages has gone hand in hand with the coming of age of Gen Z as well as with Millennials’ stepping into their thirties. With moderation, mindfulness and wellness being so important for these age groups, it’s no wonder the drinks industry has responded by upping its game for the sober-curious.

Intrepid Drinks’ John Ralph explains: “People are drinking more often, and they are choosing to experiment with less alcohol but premium products.”

He adds that within this category, spritz Aperitivo-style drinks is a big industry trend. “Regal Rogue vermouth (part of the Intrepid Spirits family) is a good example”, as it is both low sugar and low ABV. The drink is made of 100% organic Australian wine with the oldest indigenous botanicals in Australia. He suggests using it as the base ingredient in a 3-step serve with a mixer, seasonal fruit and herb or spice, or for making vermouth-led ‘reverse classic’ cocktails, meaning, instead of the spirit, the vermouth is the main liquid, which translates in a more rounded less punchy classic cocktail.


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