Alas, the bitter, unexpected, amaro-like finish that defined the end of 2021 only makes us long for next year more. As we do look forward, let us take a moment to ponder grape varieties over variants, flavored whiskeys instead of flattening curves, and consider how the year in drinks will unfold in 2022.
Here are seven trends to watch from the editorial staff at VinePair.
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2022: The Year Flavor Becomes a Category
One needs to only look at the rise of brands like High Noon, Crown Royal Peach, and Skrewball Peanut Butter Whiskey to realize that flavor, no matter the base liquid, is the hot new category in alcohol.
But there are other signs as well: top execs from Pepsi now running the show at LVMH; CPG veterans from brands like Taco Bell and other fast food pioneers taking innovation and brand management positions at top alcohol brands around the country; and the rapid fire release of new SKUs from Boston Beer’s Truly.
This was bound to happen eventually in the drinks world, as it’s been happening in the food space for at least half a decade. Look for more collaborations between food and drinks brands this year — ehem, Oreo Wine — as well as more bold, in-your-face flavors. While some of the big cities on the coasts may not see a rush of cocktail bars using Skrewball in their cocktail creations, many cities in the rest of America will, which will result in more of these drinks making their way into homes as well.
Continued Experimentation With Wood in Whiskey and Beyond
For years, distillers have turned to used barrels to add an extra dimension to their aged spirits. Scotch and sherry casks enjoy a famously close relationship, while across the sea, the leading producers in Ireland’s whiskey revolution have proven just as keen to innovate with things like rum casks, Marsala casks, and Japanese mizunara oak. Expect to see such experimental attitudes evolve within other whiskey categories and seep into other types of alcohol next year.
American whiskey is ripe for an oak renaissance, and the signs of what’s to come are positive. Some of the most exciting rye releases VinePair tried in 2021 resulted from cask finishing, including Tattersall Distilling’s Port Wine Barreled Straight Rye and Barrell Craft Spirits’ Seagrass Rye. Meanwhile, our No. 1 spirit of 2021 owes much of its character to a unique stave-finishing process.
Beyond whiskey, the Cherry Wood Stout iteration from this year’s Bourbon County lineup also caught our eyes. Finished with perforated cherry wood chips, the release “adds an exciting element to the future of Bourbon County and other barrel-aged stouts,” as VinePair’s managing editor Cat Wolinski noted at the time of release.
With bourbon-barrel-aged everything going straight to the moon, and specific types of oak becoming bonafide brands, watch this space for wood in 2022.
Cask-Strength Irish Whiskey
As mentioned above, Irish whiskey distillers have proven themselves eager to innovate using different barrel finishes. This stems from multiple producers sourcing their whiskey from the same distillery — which is common around the world, not just in Ireland — then using cask finishing as a method for stamping individuality on the spirit. Bottling at cask strength, which remains much less common in Ireland, is another method of delivering individual character. More of a niche trend, we’re already starting to see such bottlings hit the market in small quantities, and VinePair enjoyed those that we tasted in 2021. Given how popular and commonplace whiskeys of this strength are in the bourbon category, don’t be surprised to see more Irish producers enter the fray.
Celebrities Cash in on the Non-alc and Alcohol Alternative Trends
In September 2021, the world famous model Bella Hadid got a new job, becoming co-founder of the adaptogenic non-alcoholic (NA) drinks brand Kin Euphorics. Though it’s unclear how someone can “co-found” a brand that’s already been available for four years, the development confirmed our suspicions that the next drinks category celebs will swarm to is the NA space.
Actress Blake Lively was also active in this arena, launching the Betty Buzz line of premium cocktail mixers. “I don’t drink,” she notes on the brand’s website. “I know that’s odd coming from the wife of an infamous gin slinger.”
With an increasing array of non-alcoholic spirits, wines, and beers, and sober curiosity entering the mainstream, expect more A-listers to join Hadid and Lively in either launching or buying NA drinks brands.
Craft Beer Prices Will Rise
If pandemic life were a TV drama, the unexpected villain to emerge in season 2 would be supply chain issues, which first captured our collective attention after the Ever Given shipping vessel lodged in the Suez Canal caused weeks of delivery holdups, and spawned a thousand memes. Global supply chain issues are of course more complex and much more serious than this. One of the major ways they will affect American drinkers next year is via price hikes in craft beer. Why is that so? Well, it’s complicated, but VinePair writer at large Dave Infante breaks it down masterfully in this feature article.
Innovative Packaging Will Make Waves
For many drinkers, bag-in-box wine might feel like an opportunity missed, especially when it’s the liquid that slaps. The equivalent of four bottles of wine, conveniently packaged, and maintaining freshness for extended periods, boxed wine also outdoes traditional bottles on the sustainability front.
Increased adoption of bag-in-box, both from a producer and consumer standpoint, for now remains more of a hope than a trend heading into next year. But we are seeing other areas where convenience is meeting sustainability and innovation, most notably among on-the-go and RTD cocktails. In summer 2022, expect the quality of both packaging and liquid to continue to rise.
In truth, our nostalgia craving kicked in during the height of the pandemic, but throughout this year, we’ve only seen it continue. “Sex and the City” returned to our screens (minus one of the gals and with a different title), so it was only fitting that the Cosmopolitan had already returned as one of the trendiest cocktails around town. The Espresso Martini staked its claim, too, while old school hotel bars became new and hip for the latest generation of drinkers.
We expect the nostalgic momentum to spill over into next year, which leaves us questioning which fads lurking in our pasts are also ripe for a revival. White Zinfandel? Hard soda? Midori? Watch this space.