Top 10 Cocktail Trends 2016

It’s that time again to take a look back at the year and present the cocktail trends that dominated in 2016.

Top 10 Cocktail Trends 2016

We’ve seen the consumer’s thirst for knowledge increase and connections being forged with brand stories, Espresso Martinis becoming the new vodka-lime-soda and the ubiquitous Negroni. What trended in 2016?

Top 10 Cocktails Trends 2016

1. Aperitivo & Low ABV Cocktails

Last year we reported a trend in low ABV cocktails brought along by the popularity of spritzers. In 2016, the trend extended to include vermouth with the rise of the aperitivo, reverse cocktails offered as an option in restaurants, more aperitif style drinks lengthened with tonic and/or soda, even shrubs served with a dash of spirit and soda water. Amaro is still an emerging category, with Australia slowly appreciating the bitter end of the cocktail flavour spectrum.

2. Spirits

The vermouth renaissance is well and truly here, a natural evolution from the gin explosion that continues to see new and innovative distilleries, seasonal variations of gin along with sell-out expressions. In terms of agave spirits, while Tequila is still struggling with its party image, Mezcal is becoming more widely used in cocktail lists as is rye whiskey.

3. Cocktails on Tap

Though not a new trend, cocktails on taps are becoming more widespread and more refined such as in a coconut fat-washed espresso Martini and a tapped punch style rum cocktail crafted with exotic ingredients.

4. Health Conscious Cocktails

It may sound like an oxymoron but 2016 has seen an influx of health conscious cocktails with ingredients such as kale, green matcha tea, celery, even activated charcoal appealing to the health enthusiast. One bar has devoted a cocktail list to healthier choice drinks, another has combined celery and apple in a sessionable drink, while another bar has gone all out with the Natural Hipster (pictured above) using ingredients that include spirulina, aloe vera juice and Earl Grey tea.

Non-alcoholic drinks, or mocktails feature on some of Sydney’s most prominent bars while a local bitters brand has partnered with the Dry July campaign that saw activations in several bars. Seedlip, the distilled non-alcoholic spirit we featured last year is still not available in Australia yet it would be interesting to note its influence on the popularity of non-alcoholic drinks.

5. Presentation & Theatre

Theatrics are still in and liquid nitrogen still makes an appearance though it is mainly reserved to specialist bars where customers come for the experience and some hotel bars.

Interactive and “instagrammable” cocktails include “drink me” labels, mini pegs on the glass to encourage interaction with the garnish, “pour it yourself” bottled cocktails, collectable tinned cocktails such as the Mar-tinny and the Can-hattan, and a Vegemitini cocktail poured out of a Vegemite jar.

Bar Carts have a made a comeback where the drinks trolley is wheeled to the customer’s table for a personalised interactive experience.

6. Ice

Be it clear ice, large spheres, square blocks or hand-chipped, ice continue to trend along with a new addition, the branded ice cube that bears the bar’s name or logo.

7. The Cocktail Menu

The physical cocktail menu has undergone some changes. Many bars now feature one or two pages of drinks instead of the 20+ page tome. Creative menus include a spiral bound notebook style menu with illustrations and handwritten notes, and a pizza-shaped menu which you turn a wheel to make your selection. Some bars are listing ingredients like a chef’s menu with words that capture the essence of the drink, others are using “feelings” to describe the cocktail such as “loosen up”. One bar contemplated not having a cocktail menu at all and encouraging customers to name a flavour or a mood and they’ll create a matching drink.

8. Sustainability

While we’re a long way to reach the standards of White Lyan bar in London, sustainability in bars is an emerging trend with bars taking the initiative to minimise waste, use biodegradable straws and turn unused produce such as citrus into house syrups.

9. Kitchen Equipment

We’ve seen more bars bring it in-house with house-made shrubs, syrups, bitters, sous-vide machines for oleo saccharum and liqueurs. Some bars taking it to the next level by using a rotovap for infusions to create new flavours, an ultrasonicator for house-made liqueurs, even a slushie machine for summer time drinking.

10. Back to Basics & Putting the Fun Back

It may be an antithesis to the speakeasy phase, cocktail bars are focussing on putting the fun back into drinking without compromising on quality. Taking it back to basics, bars are offering well-crafted fun drinks and riffs on classics designed to win the customer and bring them back.

Future Cocktail Trends

What will 2017 bring to cocktail culture? Have we had enough of barrel-aged cocktails, are we experiencing Negroni fatigue, and will  Espresso Martini lose its appeal? Will we see more savoury cocktails, make a conscious effort to eliminate non-essential plastic straws, have more vegan alternatives, order cocktails based on feelings, witness vodka making a return, embrace slushie cocktails or will these melt into a puddle like this summer’s Frosé?

Photo Credit: Supplied

Top 10 Cocktail Trends 2016 was last modified: August 21st, 2017 by Corinne Mossati
Corinne Mossati

Corinne Mossati is the Founder/Editor of Cocktails & Bars and popular online magazine Gourmantic. She is named in the Australian Bartender Magazine Top 100 Most Influential List since 2013, is a member of The World’s 50 Best Bars Academy who judges the World’s 50 Best Bars. She has also judged the Australasian Whisky Awards and various national cocktail competitions. Read the full bio here.