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Damon Dyer
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Drinks Forecast, 2010–2020

Jeffery Lindenmuth - May 2010

What will the coming decade bring to the shifting barscape? Will classics prevail or will the newfangled irreversibly alter the scene? Seeking a consensus, Jeffery Lindenmuth quizzes some prescient pros about their expectations and hunches.

Bartenders, by their nature, are an opinionated bunch, willing to debate almost anything. Polling a half dozen bar professionals about their visions of the future elicited predictions veering from cold classics slipped across a mahogany bar to bespoke high-techtails designed by customers using a smartphone application that automatically pays the check as they exit. The panel appears to share a twofold certainty: Some aspects of sipping a cold cocktail will change in the coming decade, others must never be altered.

Considering current culinary trends, demographics, and globalization, what spirits will Americans be drinking as we approach 2020?

Shawn Barker, mixologist and bar trainer, Wolfgang Puck Fine Dining Group, Los Angeles: The average person has a more developed palate these days, including the appreciation of the subtle flavors that come in a well-developed spirit. I feel the classics will remain as the true spirits of 2020, namely gin and whiskey. As bartenders and mixologists become more like chefs, working with herbs, spices, fruits, and fresh ingredients, the more complex flavors inherent in gin and whiskey will turn the now prominent vodka drinker into a connoisseur of fine handcrafted classics.

Damon Dyer, bartender, Flatiron Lounge & Louis 649, New York City: I anticipate more appreciation for domestic spirits. Just as in the world of wine, beer, and cuisine, Americans will come around to the fact that we produce incredible spirits right here at home. We have grown beyond the outdated notion that French wines or German beers are somehow intrinsically superior to domestic ones.

Kevin Patricio, food/wine/cocktail consultant, Choptank, New York City: Americans will continue the slow reversion to spirits with greater character, moving away from vodka and toward gin, Tequila, and whiskeys, both foreign and domestic. Americans will begin to enjoy low-alcohol apéritifs, such as vermouths, on a daily basis, and be much more European in their appreciation.
Currently, almost all the most popular cocktails come in a conical glass. In what forms will cocktails and mixed drinks be presented in the future?

Clint Sloan, beverage director, McCrady's Restaurant, Charleston, South Carolina: I don't really see that much of a change in glass presentation. I see those stemless wineglasses, and it just doesn't look right, maybe at home but not in the restaurant. People will want a classic presentation. If it hasn't changed in almost 100 years, why would it change in 10 years?

Barker: The conical shape lends a great deal of elegance to a well-made cocktail and is also functional. The Martini glass, or even a wineglass or softer style Champagne coupe, shows off a drink's color and also displays the garnish in a way that is visually and aromatically interesting. Layers of flavor will be built into the cocktails of the future with technological advances in distillation, filtration, and the production of ingredients. The base ingredients will lend to sipping rather than drawing the mix through a plastic straw.

Dyer: Hopefully, we shall see the popularity of the ubiquitous cocktail glass wane a bit. It certainly has its place in the bar, but the notion that an overturned road-cone-on-a-stick is necessary for a quality cocktail is baffling. We have seen a return to favor of the classic Champagne coupe, which I hope continues. We have seen experimental cocktail forms--solid cocktails, molecular cocktails, foam cocktails--but ultimately we will return to basics, which is a well crafted drink in a cold glass, regardless of shape.

Christine E. Krenos, director of beverage, The Ritz-Carl­ton Los Angeles and JW Marriott Los Angeles at L.A. LIVE: Cocktail trends will continue to warp, giving us more cubed cocktails, cocktail jellies, and molecular mixology creations. These short-lived trends will come and go, but traditional cocktails will continue long into the future.

Wine, beer, spirits: in the future which will reign at your bar?

Patricio: I'd like to see our guests begin with an apéritif or cocktail, continue with wine or beer with dinner, followed by a digestif or after-dinner cocktail. I cannot endorse spirits with food. They fight on your palate. Beer and wine are made for food. And, as any bartender knows, nothing tastes better than a beer following your shift.

Kingson Kok, food and beverage operations manager, InterContinental Chicago: At a hotel bar I think there will always need to be a balanced mix; however, I can see our cocktail list growing and adding more local spirits, as well as our beer list gaining more local craft beers. I think we will always have Budweiser, Bud Light, and Miller Lite, as people look for these.

How will technology impact bar hospitality?

Sloan: I was at a restaurant last year, and they had their wine list on a computer notepad. Although it didn't seem to work properly, I can definitely see this in a lot of restaurants in the future. Just think if you come to McCrady's and want to order a bottle of wine, and the wine list has a link to the producer's Web site with the winemaker's tasting notes?

Barker: I feel that technology does amazing things for efficiency and productivity when it comes to selecting, ordering, and paying for drinks. The liquor doesn't pour out of the bottle faster for me than for one of the men or women standing next to me; it is proficiency at the point-of-sale system that makes a faster bartender. The selection of drinks, on the other hand, is a one-on-one question-and-answer between the guest and me. A big smile and educated answers to guide them are all you need. Overall, I have mixed feelings about technology ruling a bar. Bartenders are there for you to celebrate, talk out your problems with, or to make you laugh.

Kok: Technology is key to keeping the flow of the bar, and it will have a greater impact in the future as we continue to expand social media, mobile Web browsing, and more. In Japanese restaurants, handheld devices can assist the guests with selecting and ordering. This improves service times as well as cuts down on labor cost. Wouldn't it be cool to transfer drink recipes from the bar to the guest's handheld device or iPhone? Wouldn't it be cool to link up and be able to pay the tab without waiting for the server to bring the check?

Which classic cocktails will still be popular in 2020?

Sloan: The Manhattan. It doesn't get any more classic or perfect when it comes to a cocktail recipe. And, unfortunately, the Cosmopolitan. Thanks, Sex and the City.

Patricio: The Manhattan will never go out of style.

Krenos: Classics like the Margarita, Pisco Sour, and Moscow Mule. And the Champagne Cocktail will never die, if I have anything to say about it!

Dyer: The basics, those that haven't been sullied by the dirty hands of trendiness: the Old Fashioned, the Manhattan, the classic Gin Martini, the Daiquiri.

Were you to develop a cocktail recipe that could endure for the coming decade, what would it look like?

Patricio: It is spirits based, slightly savory and perfectly balanced, much like the Sunday Morning Call, our signature cocktail: 2 oz. Hendrick's gin, 3/4 oz. St-Germain elderflower liqueur, 3/4 oz. Dolin Blanc Vermouth de Chanbery, 1 dash grapefruit bitters, served up with a grapefruit twist.

Kok: A classic with a little influence from molecular mixology in the garnish.

Sloan: It would use simple, fresh ingredients, a well-made spirit, and include an interesting story on how it was conceived.

Will the job description of bartender read differently in 2020?

Dyer: It will read exactly the same as it does today, and exactly as it did 150 years ago. The task of the bartender is beautiful in its simplicity: Take care of the person seated in front of you. Give them the confidence that, for as long as they are in your bar, you will take care of everything. And make sure that they are drinking exactly what they need at that moment. That description will not change in the coming decade, nor will it ever.

Kok: Bartenders will need to go through formal mixology training. They'll need to step up their game because people will be asking more for those Sazeracs and Pisco Sour type cocktails. I can see them being more trained in technology too, capable of using social media and new forms of mobile media.