As Latin American cuisine continues to gain popularity with US consumers, more restaurants and food and beverage manufacturers are embracing Latin American beverages from wine and cocktails to juices and horchata.
Wines from South America, which are among the top US imports, are being joined on wine lists by bottles from Brazil and Mexico. The latter is quickly turning into a top source for New World wines. Baja’s Valle de Guadalupe has been called the “the Next Napa,” according to the Los Angeles Times. Beers and spirits from Mexico are also seeing increased popularity in the US and consumers are looking beyond tequila to explore other agave-based spirits such as mezcal and sotol. Spirits from South America are making inroads as well, with Peru’s pisco and Brazilian cachaca leading the pack.
Here is an overview of the most popular Latin American beverages showing up on menus and store shelves.
Mexican wine on the rise
Wines from South America are now a mainstay on wine lists and liquor store shelves. Bottles from Argentina and Chile are most popular with US consumers, and the two countries are the third and fifth biggest suppliers of wine to the US, respectively, according to GuildSomm. The success of Argentinean and Chilean wines has led to an uptick in imports from other Latin American countries, such as Brazil, Bolivia and Peru.
The brightest new star in Latin American wines is Mexico, which is quickly gaining a following among wine lovers as a top destination for wine tourism and a source for organic and natural wines. Wine production in the country has risen sharply and Baja California now boasts more than 100 wineries, according to a report by Bloomberg.
Wines from Mexico are, unsurprisingly, a perfect companion to Mexican dishes. The wines’ bold, juicy flavors perfectly complement smoky and spicy cuisine, Maurice DiMarino of San Diego’s Cohn Restaurant Group said in an interview with Nation’s Restaurant News. DiMarino works with wine producers in Baja California to source wines including Costa Tierra, a custom blend of barbera, tempranillo and syrah created for the restaurant group.
Margaritas and mojitos make way for the next wave of cocktails
In its 2014 report “Culinary Trend Tracking Series: South American Flavors”, Packaged Facts points to the popularity of the mojito as one of the factors that opened the door for other Latin American cocktails.
“In the wake of the craze for mojitos, a rum-and-fresh mint classic from Cuba, the popularity of the caipirinha cocktail is growing by leaps and bounds, a monument to the growth of the Brazilian community in the United States and to the appeal of the rum-like spirit called cachaca,” Research Director David Sprinkle writes. The popularity of Brazil’s national cocktail and its base spirit peaked this summer, thanks to a fervor for all things Brazilian brought on by the Olympic games in Rio.
Packaged Facts’ report also mentions the growing popularity of pisco, a brandy fermented from grapes that is the national drink in Peru and is also very popular in Chile. The rising popularity of Peruvian cuisine has no doubt boosted pisco’s reputation, and the spirit is now a common sight at bars and restaurants in classics like the pisco sour as well as creative new cocktails.
Tequila, which has long been a fixture in US bars, offered consumers an introduction to the wide world of agave spirits. Tequila’s smoky cousin, mezcal, has been steadily gaining fans and opened the floodgates for more obscure liquors, such as a sotol and raicilla. Bars and restaurants across the country are raising the profile of Mexican spirits by featuring them in a range of cocktails and educating servers about the nuances of each liquor so they can share their knowledge with guests.
“The best way of getting the word out about the great list of Mexican spirits we carry is through staff education,” Drew Sweeney, beverage director of New York City’s Dream Downtown hotel and its upscale Mexican restaurant Bodega Negra, said in an interview with FSR Magazine.
“We have found that once they have the opportunity for a personal connection with these products, they want to share that enthusiasm with our guests, which is the best way to get them to explore,” Sweeney said.
Mexican imports win fans, and US brewers try their own take
Constellation Brands raised its annual profit forecast after sales of its Mexican beer brands Corona Extra and Modelo Especial beat forecasts, Bloomberg reported earlier this month. Strong consumer demand led to impressive sales around the July 4 holiday, Chief Executive Officer Rob Sands said. This summer saw a surge in popularity for Mexican lagers of all types — both imports and new takes from US brewers such as Oskar Blues’ Beerito and Flying Dog’s Numero Uno Summer Cerveza, the Chicago Tribune reported.
Chef Rick Bayless offers a lineup of atypical Mexican beers at his Cruz Blanca Cervecería in Chicago. Rather than emulate classic Mexican lagers, the beers at Bayless’ restaurant are made in the Biere de Garde style with Mexican ingredients such as hominy and Piloncillo sugar, according to Eater Chicago. Bayless also partnered with Constellation Brands to produce Tocayo, a white hominy ale brewed with coriander and sweet orange peel that is available in bottles and cans.
Horchata, fruit flavors are popular in packaged drinks
Latin American beverages are also influencing trends in the soft drink market, with horchata making an especially strong showing in the beverage aisle. Elmhurst Naturals has seen strong demand for its bottled horchata from millennial consumers, who consume it both as a drink and as an ingredient, using it in coffee beverages and for pouring over cereal, Dairy Reporter reported earlier this year. Califia Farms offers two flavors of its almond milk horchata, and the brand also infuses Latin American flavors into its juice segment with a line of seasonal agua fresca beverages.
Fruit aguas frescas were also the inspiration behind a new product from MillerCoors. The company launched Zumbida, a mango-flavored “alcoholic soft drink” in select markets last month. “With Zumbida, we found our inspiration in a great Mexican tradition and added a touch of alcohol you don’t normally have in aguas frescas,” Tristan Meline, MillerCoors’ senior marketing manager for Zumbida, said in a news release.
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