Here at Groupon, we love a good cocktail, but we especially love a good summer cocktail. Unlike their winter-time cousins, summer cocktails aim to dazzle with vibrant pops of flavor, Instagram-ready glassware, and a botanical garden's worth of garnish.
It's no surprise that cocktails step up their game in the summer when you consider that, according to Nielson, around 40% of yearly alcohol sales take place in the summer. With that in mind, we wanted to see if we couldn't get the inside scoop on what's coming down the pike for summer 2020!
That's why we interviewed some of our favorite Chicago chefs and restauranteurs who let us in on their best summer 2020 cocktail predictions. Along the way, they also helped us understand the biggest industry trends of the last 10 years, including the outsized influence of Instagram and the rediscovery of classic cocktails. Then we added a few dashes of our own observations, shook to combine, and served our conclusions straight up, with a twist. Cheers!
So what alcohol trends in the new decade should we expect to shape our summer beverage choices? Our experts have some thoughts.
If I could predict the future, I would be rich! Honestly, I have no idea, my hope is that we continue down the low ABV road, higher end spirits, sustainability. That's my hope.
- Liz Pearce
Owner/Mixologist | Flora Fauna
Tequila has a natural projection. I truly believe that cognac and rum will certainly be on the forefront. We’ve seen a lot of rum doing much, much better. When it’s approachable in price it's easy to play around with, it’s easy for it to stick and be on that Instagram page.
- John Williams
Director of Operations | BomboBar
One of the things I’m trying to get going in the Chicago market is baijiu, the number one selling spirit in the world. There are varieties of it, there are different types of flavor profiles, different ways of spinning it, and different ingredients that go into it. And it’s something that most Americans have never even heard of.
- Gerardo Bernaldez
Assistant General Manager | Imperial Lamian
So what does it take to make a popular and trendy sunny season drink, anyway? We asked our experts to tell us about some of the biggest industry influences of the past decade.
“Trendy things these days need to be Instagrammable” says Flora Fauna owner and mixologist Liz Pearce, identifying the earliest and most pervasive of the decade’s new influencers.
The meteoric rise of Instagram, the behemoth social media platform that launched in 2010, pushed those in the hospitality industry to increase focus on offerings that translated well to the digital medium. For a mixologist like Pearce, this meant increased attention to presentation when developing new cocktails: "I now have the challenge of making sure the drinks I'm doing are colorful, have a cool garnish, pretty piece of glassware, more than just tasting good."
John Williams, Director of Operations at BomboBar, agrees. "We eat with our eyes. It’s a no-brainer that social media and Instagram are a huge part of that." For him, the influence of Instagram through the decade can be seen in what he calls "the evolution of garnishes."
Look for eye-catching concoctions this summer, especially well dressed cocktails, since interest in both Instagram and garnishes spike in summer months.
The bar habits of Millenials became increasingly important in the 2010s, as the last of the cohort turned 21 in 2017. The generation has largely popularized healthier lifestyle trends, like an increased focus on lower-calorie, less potent drink choices, and the spread of the "sober curious" movement. Restaurateurs have noticed and responded.
"When I first took over the beverages one of my big things was creating a spirit-free, non-alcoholic menu because I saw there was going to be a trend for that," says Gerardo Bernaldez, assistant general manager at Imperial Lamian. "Sure enough, a few months later everyone discovered Millenials don't like drinking as much as the previous generations." As a result, bars across the country have since caught up to Imperial Lamian by developing creative "mocktails," and booze-free craft cocktails.
Another consequence of the trend towards more healthy drink choices is the rise of hard seltzer. In 2016, White Claw became the summer drink of choice, replacing light beer and white wine in the coolers of those looking for something low in alcohol and calories. Taking note of the shift, mixologists have worked to incorporate some aspects of the alcoholic fizzy water that appeal to drinkers.
"The White Claw thing...I get it," says Liz Pearce. "People want something super light and refreshing, so though I'm not going to sell White Claw, I can take some cues from that. People want something super chuggable, low in sugar, but with a pop of flavor."
Another "White Claw Summer" seems all but inevitable, but look for even more brands and flavors of hard seltzer in stores and bars.
Alternatives to strong alcoholic cocktails traditionally have been based around fruit juices, which are high in sugar and therefore go against the other prevailing summer trends of low calorie refreshing drinks. This year look for flavorful alternatives like kombucha and matcha behind the bar.
In 2009, the influential Bradstreet Craftshouse opened in Minneapolis, where it quickly established itself as an early pioneer of cocktail trends. It's here that Liz Pearce remembers ordering a drink that she said "awed" her. "[I realized] that bartending as I knew it would change. It was a cool moment."
So, what hot new cocktail rocked the world of this innovative mixologist?
Turns out it was an egg white sour, an iconic whiskey sour variation with a history stretching back beyond Prohibition. As Pearce says, "Sometimes going classic is best. I guess the revival of classics is a trend in itself, right?"
Judging by what warm-weather cocktails grabbed the public's interest in the last 10 years, it certainly seems she was right. In addition to steady favorites that have never been out of style (the Margarita), and those whose trending popularity pre-dates the decade (the daiquiri), the new crop of classics that became ubiquitous on bar menus included the Negroni, the Paloma, and perhaps most controversially, the Aperol Spritz.
There are a lot of summer cocktails just waiting for their renaissance, so what gives one a better chance of going viral than any of the rest? Answer: exposure.
During the 2016 Summer Games in Rio, there was a spike in interest here for the Caipirinha, Brazil's national cocktail. This year with the 2021 Summer Games being held in Tokyo, look for sake on the menu, as well as shochu versions of classic vodka drinks. Then there is the whiskey highball, something of an unofficial national cocktail for Japan, and one that has been elevated there to an artform.
...A colorful, obsessively garnished, low-calorie and low-ABV cocktail made with an East Asian liquor and tea-based mixer, all served in a tiki mug. See Liz Pearce, that wasn't so hard!
Of course, we could be wrong, but whatever it turns out to be, you'll be able to find it and save on your experience here at Groupon!