Atlanta Food & Wine Festival spotlights new beverage trends

Founders Dominique Love and Elizabeth Feichter created the annual weekend to shine a spotlight on the food and beverage traditions of the South, from Texas to Maryland, pulling from a wide swath of talent, including chefs, bartenders, sommeliers, artisans and entrepreneurs. It also celebrates the unique culinary heritages of other southern regions around the globe through its tasting tents, dinners and events.

The festival reflects what is happening in the world of food and wine. Through a variety of traditional and nontraditional experiences — including classes and hands-on master studios — AFWF aims not just to discover the latest trends, but to understand them fully. New this year was a special focus on health and wellness within the industry, with the festival's Nourishing You programs for "fueling those who fuel us." This personal and developmental mission made sure there were spirit-free drink options to complement the experience.

At this past weekend’s gustatory adventure, experts gave us a taste of emerging dining trends in the world of beverages.

Philippe Broom, sales representative for De Maison Selections in the Southeast

Broom led a class called Hello, My Name Is Sherry, pairing the fortified wine with various celebrated ingredients (caviar, langoustines, charcuterie, chocolates). He sees sherry as having a comeback, in terms of compatibility with food. He summed it up: “It’s one of the best food wines out there.”

Mattie Beason, owner of Black Twig Cider House (home of the largest variety of cider in the Southeast) and Mattie B’s Public House in Durham, N.C.

“We are seeing more and more small craft cideries popping up all over the country, and the more I taste people on them, the more converts I create. Cider is not just the sweet stuff we have seen for years. There is so much more to it. We are seeing bone-dry ciders made like champagne. We are seeing ciders with amazing flavors added. In fact, I brought a lot of different flavors of cider with me, and the biggest hit was salted cucumber from Stem Ciders. People were loving it!”

David Goewey DuBou, regional sales manager of Indigenous Selections

“The wines of Mount Etna, the active volcano on the east coast of Sicily, have been some of the most talked about over the last few years. ... Grapes have been grown on Etna for centuries, but the region producing distinctive, high-quality wines is something new. ... And those wines being recognized, studied and complimented by the world’s wine critics and top sommeliers is most certainly new. The primary red grape of Etna, nerello Mascalese, is commonly compared to pinot noir, mostly due to its uncanny ability to express the character of an individual terroir, as well as nebbiolo (the grape of Barolo and Barbaresco), because of a broad aromatic profile, higher acidity and, sometimes, plentiful tannins. So, you could say that narello Mascalese is in between pinot noir and nebbiolo.”

Angel Postell, founder of industry beverage conference BevCon

The BevCon Lounge was a welcome oasis during the weekend’s festivities. It featured a rotation of some of the South’s best bartenders, with informal introduction to a number of spirits.

Angel Postell’s enthusiasm for her upcoming BevCon conference in Los Angeles (Aug. 19-21) shone bright. Through her planned seminars, she predicts major trends:

“I think there are so many cool things happening. We are seeing a lot of responsibility discussions with the bar. Not just with harassment, but with mobility, and taking care of your staff, with being responsible and sustainable. People are back to the basics and classics, and mocktails are big … more younger people are not drinking. Cider is exploding; breweries are starting to be less localized, and everyone is working together — breweries with distilleries, wineries with distilleries, etc., to make products."

Jerry Slater, co-author of "The Southern Foodways Alliance Guide to Cocktails," and owner of the Expat in Athens

Slater was a part of the connoisseur master studio Taste and Tempo, on the intersection of cocktails and music. Right now, besides crafting a Manhattan variation called Hotel Arizona, inspired by a Wilco song, he is really into American whiskey that is not bourbon, including “rye, or interesting whiskies like those finished in Sauternes barrels," like WhistlePig’s Old World Series.

Gary Crunkleton, owner of the Crunkleton in Chapel Hill, N.C.

During a shift in the BevCon Lounge, Crunkleton made what he called a “grocery store drink.” His Mama at the Pool was a mixture of red hot candies and lime sorbet melting in reposado tequila. (It was quite tasty.) He sees a trend in happy hour cocktails. “History repeats itself. In the '50s and '60s, cocktails are popular again, even women are drinking them. Happy hour is invented. Then, in the '70s, people like cocktails without the social aspect, and they want them quicker. The highball is invented. I’m trying to bring back the styles that invoke the spirit of those cocktails of the '50s and '60s."

Chris Hannah, lead bartender of Arnaud’s French 75 Bar

Hannah sees coursing of drinks as a trend. “I’ll get guests an aperitif before dinner. I love to make a sour to prepare their palates for what is to come. Low-ABV (alcohol by volume) cocktails are trending now. Bartending for a cause is also something good we are seeing now, like ... Negroni Week, which raises money for charities.”

Eric Crane, advanced sommelier and director of training and business development at Empire Distributors

Crane’s seminar dove into munchies, and how to elevate snack food with perfect wine pairings. On beverage trends, he said, “I’m digging more and more breweries getting away from super hopped beers. Cocktails with less ingredients. More and more Japanese whiskies. People are drinking Australian (wine) again.”

Rachael Roberts, co-owner of the Atomic Lounge in Birmingham

“We tend to stick with the classics. In Birmingham right now, tiki drinks are big. We are at the mercy of the (Alcoholic Beverage Control) Board, so we are making more locally sourced variations of those cocktails. I am really into digestive and aperitif cocktails.”

Kellie Thorn, beverage director for Hugh Acheson restaurants

“I think it is worth noting that sherry and low-ABV cocktails are a trend. Sommeliers and bartenders love them — sherries and fino sherries ... the oxidized flavors, the minerality of it. We love them with food, and as aperitifs, but we find it a struggle to include them on a menu, because, like wine, they need to be consumed quickly. We want more people to drink sherry, so we can list it on our by-the-glass list." At AFWF, "it was nice to see there were two classes about (sherry), pairing it with food. We in the U.S. are starting to catch on with the rest of the world, that it is something to drink with your meal.

"We are continually on the path of making these beautiful low-ABV cocktails, with a lot of attention to detail. More and more bars are making it a more balanced menu, so you find both (low-ABV and spirit-heavy) are thoughtfully crafted, and feature these fortified wines that we love. Both can be nuanced and beautiful. So much thought goes into them, and they make your night last longer."



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