In a country as vast and diverse as America, it’s more than a little challenging to pin down “national” trends. This can be especially true when it comes to cocktails: Drinkers in NYC may be tiring of Old Fashioneds and Aperol Spritzes, while those drinks may be hitting their strides in markets across state lines or time zones. Likewise, while some regions may be embracing the low- and no-ABV revolution, others are more concerned with sustainability in terms of ingredient sourcing and usage. As with other fashions, it’s all very subjective.
To parse what might be on the horizon for 2020, VinePair asked 15 bar industry professionals across the U.S. what they think will define cocktail culture next year. Highlighting the wonderful diversity of our nation, here are their responses.
“This is going to be the year sustainability goes fully mainstream and deeper than just paper straws. Industry leaders like Claire Sprouse and the Trash Tiki crew have been proving to people that sustainable practices are not only good for the environment, but also good for a bar’s bottom line. This is the year that it’s truly gonna hit the tipping point.” — Erick Castro, Co-Founder, Raised By Wolves and Polite Provisions, San Diego, CA
“A return to classics, simplicity, flavor, and quality spirits. The tricks and gadgets are on the way out; we’re seeing it in food trends, cocktails will follow.” — Johnny Swet, Mixologist and Co-owner, Jimmy at The JAMES, New York, NY
“Less common spirits like soju, poitín, genever, and baijiu will continue to be showcased on creative cocktail menus in big markets. Highballs are going to make a comeback, but with an emphasis on quality and execution.” — Chris Hamilton, Head Bartender, The Katharine Brasserie & Bar at the Kimpton Cardinal Hotel, Winston-Salem, NC
“I think the cocktail trends to look for in 2020 will be people using salt or ingredients that give cocktails more of an umami flavor. Boozy, citrus, and sweet have been done again and again, but I think people are afraid to hit that umami flavor or aren’t sure how to execute it.” — Tommy Householder, Bartender, Watershed Kitchen + Bar, Columbus, OH
“The reinvention of chain-restaurant cocktails. Bartenders have conquered the classics, now they will take on the drinks that blenders and sour mix set out to destroy. Welcome back, Mudslide. Find a place to sit, Sex on the Beach. We’ll be right with you, Tequila Sunrise. Frozen Strawberry Daiquiri party of one, your table is ready.” — Josh Gandee, Beverage Director at Watershed Kitchen + Bar, Columbus, OH
“After seeing the rise of vermouths and bitters beyond the major brands we’ve known for years, I’m predicting a surge in popularity of local spirits. Here in NYC, more and more places seem inclined to spend a little more on New York spirits rather than importing [other], more famous counterparts. … Some of the bars and restaurants around town have backbars that are mostly foreign to me, even after over 10 years in this business. Bring on the diversity!” — Thomas Spaeth, Head Bartender, Raines Law Room, New York, NY
“I think ‘spirit frees’ will become an even larger trend in 2020. In fact, I believe that carefully crafted non-alcoholic drinks are beyond a trend, and [are] here to stay.” — Julia Momose, Partner and Creative Director, Kumiko, Chicago, IL
“As we continue the third generation coffee movement in the U.S., I expect to see a celebration of specialty coffee in cocktail bars. … Breathing new life to old caffeinated cocktails is an easy pivot that the large majority of Americans can get excited about. [It will] allow creative bartenders a whole new world of possibilities.” — Stephen Kurpinksy, Former Bar Director, Hundred Proof; President, USBG San Diego Chapter, San Diego, CA
“I have a feeling we will see a comeback of the popular ‘90s classic cocktails. Just like fashion, cocktails circle back around. We might start seeing drinks like the Cosmo, Metropolitan, and the Appletini. There will likely be twists, with better quality spirits, and maybe fresh cranberries instead of cranberry juice cocktail, but I really think you will start seeing these cocktails pop again.” — Lara Lowenhar, Beverage Director, La Pecora Bianca, New York, NY
“We’re going to continue to see more simple cocktails [made from] just two to three ingredients. To express ourselves from a creative aspect, bartenders will continue to focus effort on the prep side, incorporating more complex and concentrated flavors into housemade mixers. There will be more spirit blending as well. And sherry, lots and lots of sherry.” — Dan Oskey, Co-founder, Tattersall Distilling, Minneapolis, MN
“Our industry is leaning [toward] a more inclusive bar scene as we grow throughout the years. The addition of low-ABV and no-ABV cocktails on menus is growing steadily and I hope to see that trend continue to thrive in 2020. I think that bars are about creating community and experiences, and having a cocktail menu as varied as your guests is important.” — Crystal Chasse, Head Bartender, Il Fiorista, New York, NY
“I believe we will see a bigger push in 2020 for ultra-premium rum. People are really starting to get excited about limited releases by companies like Foursquare and The Real McCoy, [which is] creating a Pappy Van Winkle hoarding frenzy!” — Kenneth McCoy, Chief Creative Officer, The Rum House, New York, NY
“I think you’ll see a bit of a return to perfecting classic cocktails, and, more importantly, the technique and application in the next year. The metaphorical pendulum has swung way out into the bizarre for a while, and I think we’re coming back to center with the Negroni, Manhattan, Old Fashioned, Collins, but with fewer frills. That’s my bet.” — Matt Catchpole, General Manager, Terra, Columbia, SC
“A big 2020 trend in cocktails will be a focus on simplification and purity of flavor. Bartenders have become really confident using tools and methods that were typically reserved for the kitchen in years past. This has allowed for extremely focused, unique, and manipulatable flavor extraction that begs to be the centerpiece of a drink. Look for two- and three-ingredient cocktails that rely on strong culinary techniques [pushing] their way onto more and more menus.” — Sean Umstead, Owner/Mixologist, Kingfisher, Durham, NC