Beer is by far the most popular alcoholic beverage for summer, followed by wine and then cocktails, according to NPD Group. Last summer, U.S. patrons downed 335 million beers, drank 179 million glasses of wine and sipped 158 million mixed drinks, according to NPD data. Those numbers cover May through July, and trends have held steady for the past several summers, said NPD Vice President Warren Solochek.
Microbrews continue to grow in popularity, a trend likely to spike in the summer months as beer consumption increases, while those who prefer spirits will increasingly seek out fresh ingredients this summer, said Solochek, who presented at the Vibe Conference in March, an event that brings together beverage manufacturers with restaurant operators and others in the hospitality industry.
“The perception of healthier sorts of spirits, fresh sorts of things, that’s what everyone was talking about. Fresh fruits, basil, cucumbers — a lot of interesting flavor stuff is done in spring and summer, because that’s when those become available,” he said.
Light, crisp and fresh are also key when wine fans switch from the reds of winter to the whites of summer, said Juan Muñoz-Oca, winemaker at Columbia Crest winery in Eastern Washington.
“People are getting more and more educated and adventurous when it comes to wine, and that makes for a really exciting change of seasons,” he said. Columbia Crest finds that its roses and sauvignon blancs do better and better each summer.
“They’re more refreshing and they’re wines that go with the different diets we have in the summertime,” he said. “We’re not having roast or ham anymore, and we want wines that pair nicely with salads and other refreshing foods. These whites have a lot of acidity, so they go will with diets that don’t have a lot of protein and carbs.”
Innovative bartenders in Kansas City are creating cocktails for sophisticated sippers, using tools like the porthole to infuse cocktails with cool summer herb and fruit flavors in real time, The Kansas City Star reported earlier this month.
Bartenders in smaller markets are also seeing more sophisticated tastes and a willingness to try new cocktails, said Mike Nims, who has been mixing drinks for nearly a decade and managing Catch 22 in Tuscaloosa, Ala., for two years.
Nims is in the process of finalizing the summer drink menu, and he’s going social with new concoctions like the gin, elderflower, St. Germain and grapefruit cocktail he posted on Twitter and Instagram this week. Summer means light, citrusy flavors and, this year, it also means gin.
“Gin has been coming back, it’s really picking up,” he said. “Everything I’ve read for several years has been calling for this resurgence of gin, and it hasn’t happened, but this time it seems like it is.”
The drinks menu will also likely include a new rum cocktail or two, as well as drinks made with cachaca, a Brazilian liquor that’s similar to rum.
“I do a lot of reading on trends. I’m down here in Tuscaloosa, and we’re not on the cutting edge, so there has to be a balance of what is cutting edge versus what will actually work in our town,” Nims said.
That said, it’s getting easier for Nims to encourage his patrons to try new things, he said, a trend that’s likely driven at least in part by how easy social media makes it to discover the big-city trends.
“A very real cocktail movement has finally started to take hold in even the smaller corners of the country. We’re in the deep south, and it’s starting to come here,” he said. “I have a regular who was up in New York, and he was telling me about the drinks he had at Death & Co. He knew about it because we talked about it, and we’re able to follow bars on Twitter.”
What cool cocktails are on tap at your restaurant this summer? Tell us about it in the comments.
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