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Fresh fruits and spices flavor this season’s hot cocktails

High-end whiskey, fresh fruit and surprising spices are likely to fill more cocktail glasses this year, as a few trends come together to shape the spirits menu. Belt-tightening consumers cut down on drinking at bars and restaurants last year, and the trend appears to be continuing in the first few months of 2014, according to a recent Technomic report, but there are some exceptions, including craft beers and high-end whiskeys.

Delving deeper, a social media analysis from newBrandAnalytics shows consumers are clamoring for fresh fruity drinks like guava mojitos, mango margaritas and most anything with a hint of ginger. Those flavors, which in the past might have been seasonal, are rising in popularity year-round, possibly because winter-weary patrons want to feel like they’re on vacation, says Marketing Manager Jess Knight.

Martinis are proving to have staying power, while margaritas and mojitos are finding growing legions of fans, but in all three categories the common denominators are fruit and other fresh ingredients, according to the newBrandAnalytics report, which is an analysis of the things people were posting and tweeting last year about 100 of the country’s hottest restaurants.

“These trends we’re seeing, the tropical fruits and ginger and fresh flavors, that corresponds also to the trend of millennials who like seeing where their ingredients are coming from,” Knight says. “They’re conscious of where the foods are coming from, they don’t like mass-produced items.”

It’s a trend that bodes well for Adrian Watson and his two-year-old mobile bartending business, VIP Mixologists, which specializes in cocktails made with organic spirits and fresh ingredients.  Watson spent two years brewing beer for Red Stripe in his native Jamaica, then worked as a model before training as a bartender.

“Then I got a job and started creating cocktails and guests loved  the cocktails. I was creating more and more, and after  awhile I realized that a lot of the bartending services that are out there use the canned stuff, juices and concentrates,” he said

He started New York-based VIP two years ago with the goal of infusing more fresh and organic ingredients into the cocktails at parties and events. “In Jamaica, everything is grown organically. I wanted to go back to my roots.”

What he has learned through the years, he said, is that people like what they like, but at the same time they want to try new things. “So we’re branching out and doing a lot of creative things, and people are very receptive, especially to classics with organic twists.”

Cocktail preferences are also increasingly aligning with foodie trends, inspiring Watson to serve up old favorites with a twist, like a classic mojito with added creme de menthe or a lemon drop martini with a hint of fresh lavender.

Along with the craving for freshness comes a growing demand for lower-calorie cocktails, according to Watson, whose skinny margarita uses agave, club soda, lime juice and a bit less tequila to cut out calories.

Knight’s research also showed that a growing number of consumers are seeking out skinny cocktails. The analysis of social media comments had many patrons thanking restaurants for offering lower-calorie cocktails that helped them stay on their diets, she said. “So you know it’s not just a marketing ploy by restaurants — people really want those things.”

Many of the hottest trends are cool and fruity, but there are also some spicy exceptions, says Watson. He’s working on a new concoction that mixes them both. The Sangrita combines Tequila Ocho, pomegranate juice, fresh tomato juice, along with a touch of Jamaican jerk sauce, he says, a drink that reflects another trend. “We’re using unique, creative ingredients that you wouldn’t expect to see in a cocktail.”

Top 10 Hot Cocktail Trends in 2013

  • Ginger in everything
  • Mango margaritas
  • Guava mojitos
  • Lychee martinis
  • Rebirth of Prohibition cocktails
  • Champagne cocktails
  • Wines from Germany
  • Rye is on the rise
  • Cider
  • Housemade lemonade

Source: newBrandAnalytics