Food has always been tied to beverage; and as chefs innovate and set new foundations for the culinary industry, so do the mixologists. After all, exquisite drinks don’t merely serve to complement delicious dishes, but stand alone as culinary masterpieces in themselves. This year, at the StarChefs International Chefs Conference (ICC), some of the industry’s most brilliant minds behind the bar put their best mixed libations forward, and shared some insight as to what’s currently trending in the drinks industry.

PART 1: Top Trends From the 2019 StarChefs International Chefs Congress

These days, consumers have become a lot more mindful, and are looking to drink as health-consciously as they eat. And so low-proof cocktails are becoming more popular. Julia Momose of Kumiko in Chicago prepared a Silver Martini with Suntory Roku gin, Gyokuro shochu, and a little bit of Dassai Junmai Daiginjo.” It’s kind of more of a low-proof style martini where the sake is the main, and the gin and the shochu are accenting,” Momose explains. “People either moving into that low-proof realm so that they can extend the period of enjoyment, basically.”

Creative Director of New York City bar Seamstress, Pamela Wiznitzer, echoes these sentiments. “You’re seeing low-proof, because people want to drink healthier and cleaner, whether or not it’s actually good for you.” This, she says, is what brought on the spiked seltzer craze — with hard seltzer products like White Claw, Truly, Bon & Viv and many more in high demand because of its low-calorie, low-sugar, and low-carb content. Wiznitzer continues, “People are trying to figure out how they can replicate something of that nature in their bars.” Something close would be fizzy highball drinks such as gin and tonics and vodka sodas. And, of course, tequila and mezcal never go out of fashion because there is this perception that they are better for your health than other alcohol.

In terms of flavors, tropical fruits seem to be on-trend, even in the fall. Wiznitzer used pineapple juice in her extra virgin olive oil-washed tequila blanco cocktail with some lime and a little bit of chili for a slight heat. Claire Sprouse of Hunky Dory, instead of going the spirit-forward approach, decided to mix a fun whiskey cocktail with a sweet mango puree. And Vitamix’s Adam Wilson prepared a simple five-ingredient, refreshing carrot-pineapple punch.

Otium LA’s Chris Amirault decided to give spirit-forward drinks a lightness to them with fruity tropical flare. He prepared two of his own takes on the classic negroni: “More Life,” which is a frozen passion fruit negroni, and the “Pineapple Express” which is a tequila negroni with pina colada foam on top.
“I think it’s about making drinks fun as well as culinary,” Amirault says. “I mean it’s cool if you can make drinks with ingredients people haven’t heard of, but if you go to a bar and say ‘I can make you the best midori sour you’ve ever had,’ I think you kind of bring people into the joke a little bit. It allows people to have a little bit more fun with cocktails.”

Junglebird mixologist Mea Leech, who is based in Puerto Rico, says that she likes to balance fruit brandies with refreshing herbs, spices, and a saline element to bring out the other flavors. Naturally colorful ingredients like butterfly pea flower also add an exciting aesthetic element, as they cause a magical change of color, as well as add an earthy taste.

These beverage trends are geared towards the consumer and their cravings, as Leech says, she finds it helpful when people give feedback at the bar. As the desires of the customers change, even the highest of culinary experts have to somewhat adapt. “We’re going to play towards those trends, obviously,” says Wiznitzer. “But as millennials start being overtaken by Gen Z, there’s going to be drinking trends that come from that generation. So it’s going to be interesting in the next two to three years how that flip starts to happen.”

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