Kellie Thorn, Beverage Director for Hugh Acheson Restaurants, sees a rise in low ABV and zero proof cocktails that are more imaginable.
Photo: Andrew Thomas Lee
Photo: Andrew Thomas Lee

Industry experts weigh in on the drink trends to watch in 2020

The past few years brought the rise of natural wine bars, canned wine, alcohol-free spirits, tiki culture, rosé all day, and mindful drinking with low-alcohol cocktails. In 2019, canned cocktails and hard seltzers featured prominently in liquor store displays and on Instagram. 

The way we drink is changing continually. Cocktails and spirits evolve as much as any other fashion. We can’t be certain where things are headed, but we asked a handful of professionals what they think will be on tap in 2020.

Independent bartender Tiffanie Barriere sees more gin and rum cocktails on the rise.

“Leaving the comfort zone is what I'm seeing,” she said. “The consumer is considering more, and placing trust in the bartender more. Yay!” 

If books about drinking are a barometer, gin is an especially big deal. With gin having record sales around the world, there's been a boom in new distilleries. In 2020, we likely will continue to thirst for new ways to sip gin, whether in colorful hues, or with the infusion of Japanese botanicals.

There will be no slowdown in the popularity of whiskey, experts said, especially those with a uniquely American story. Bottled in bond whiskeys are some of the most highly respected and sought-after by aficionados. 

“I think bonded spirits will continue to be a major trend, as people are becoming more educated about the provenance of distilled spirits, and mindful of getting good value and high quality for their money,” said Cascade Hollow Distilling Co. Master Distiller and General Manager Nicole Austin. Her Dickel Bottled in Bond was one of the most lauded American whiskeys of 2019. 

What will we be drinking in 2020? We asked industry experts to look into their crystal balls.
Photo: Angela Hansberger

Often compared with gin for their use of botanicals and niftiness in cocktails, nonalcoholic distilled spirits, like Seedlip, Grant’s 23 Herb Distillate and Ronsin Rum, are surging in popularity as alternatives to booze. 

“Lucky for us, there are some great products on the market to help produce interesting base spirit alternatives that aren't laden with alcohol,” said Kellie Thorn, beverage director for Hugh Acheson Restaurants. 

Zero-proof cocktails will continue to be in the forefront of bartenders’ and beverage directors’ minds in 2020. “People are drinking in more mindful ways, by either cutting back or abstaining,” Thorn said. “In order to remain sustainable, we have to adapt to those habits, and create imaginative products for them. It's also just an inclusive approach to hospitality.” 

Julia Bainbridge, former Atlanta Magazine food editor, drove across the U.S. in pursuit of good nonalcoholic drinks. Her nonalcoholic drinks cookbook, “Good Drinks,” will be released in October. She believes nonalcoholic mixed drinks will get better.

“Right now, there are a number of different approaches to building these drinks, some better than others,” she said. “Eventually, bartenders won't think of them as being nonalcoholic versions of something else; they'll approach them as their own kind of beverages.”

Wayne Curtis, author of “And a Bottle of Rum: A History of the New World in Ten Cocktails,” said there will be more low-ABV (alcohol by volume), CBD-infused beverages and cannabis drinks. His forecast: beer, wine and spirits with up to half the ABV of a traditional product on shelves and menus. 

Miles Macquarrie, co-owner of Kimball House, foresees the inclusion of CBD in cocktails on bar menus, as well. He is working on a daiquiri for sister restaurant Watchman’s that gets a bright and light flavor profile from the infusion of CBD flour with aged rum.

“Aged rum, cognac and Calvados are still so underrated,” he said. “These are things I would love to see become a trend.” 

Macquarrie also thinks natural wine will continue to gain traction. “Right now, natural wine is super-hot and hip,” he said. “As it continues to grow, people will be used to it and will realize that the idea that people aren’t spraying vineyards (with pesticides) is environmentally good, as well as good for wine.” 

Jon-David Headrick is an importer of small-production wines available in many Atlanta restaurants.
Photo: CONTRIBUTED

Jon-David Headrick, importer of small-production wines from France, concurs.

“I’m glad to see the mainstream of the wine market making a definitive turn toward organic wine in general,” he said. “It’s a category that we’ve been working to promote for 15 years and we’ve seen a shift from it being a niche market to an expectation with many buyers and consumers.”

Another general trend is the growth of sparkling wine as acceptable with a meal, and not just for celebrations. “Restaurants that serve sparkling wine in white wine glasses, instead of flutes, have helped to promote this,” he said, “and this coincides with an increase in the quality of grower Champagne and sparkling wine in general. The market trend is bending more and more toward drier styles of sparkling wine, although most consumers are still not comfortable with zero dosage (no sugar) bottlings.”

Reid Ramsay covers beer nationally for Beer Street Journal, and has visited 1,400 breweries. He envisions lower calorie, lower ABV and crisp lagers trending upward. “Beer drinkers are getting a little worn out on an endless string of hype-driven one-offs,” he said. “We might even see a return to IPAs you can actually see through — ‘beer-flavored beer’ is making a comeback.”

Drinkers are looking for simpler options, which Ramsay thinks might explain the success of hard seltzers. He predicts a huge year for them.

“More craft brewers are creating them, like Atlanta local Scofflaw Brewing,” Ramsay said.

Boston Beer’s Truly has added new lemonade flavors, Bud Light Seltzer launches this month, and not far behind it will be Corona Seltzer, he noted.

“The fight for the top spot in the seltzer category will be one of the most interesting stories to start the decade.”

Whatever you choose to drink in 2020, cheers. 

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