Ginger beer, flavored spirits, honey among top beverage trends

(The new year has barely begun, but several beverage trends already are taking shape. These trends are expected to impact hotel bars and restaurants alike throughout 2015.)

The new year has barely begun, but several beverage trends already are taking shape. These trends are expected to impact hotel bars and restaurants alike throughout 2015.

One of the big growth areas is ginger beer. Ginger beer is being included in a range of contemporary cocktails at bars and restaurants across the country, and its menu appearances are soaring, according to Technomic.

Ginger beer comes in alcohol and non-alcohol varieties. Ginger beer is an essential component of the Moscow mule cocktail, a combination of vodka, ginger beer and lime juice that's enjoying a rise in popularity. It's also integral to the Dark and Stormy, in which dark rum takes the place of a Moscow mule's vodka. But operators also are turning to ginger beer to enliven a variety of house-original cocktails—to add fizz and bold, not-too-sweet flavor to fresh-tasting formulations, according to Technomic.

At the U.S. restaurants and bars tracked by Technomic's MenuMonitor online resource, the number of specialty drinks containing ginger beer climbed 75 percent from Q3 2013 to Q3 2014. The number of operators with ginger-beer concoctions on the menu rose by about the same share (76 percent). Moscow mules alone saw their numbers rise 45 percent.

Another bar trend is flavored spirits, which increased in popularity in 2014 and are expected to continue to grow in 2015, according to SmartBrief.

Flavored spirits have been around since the 1980s and preferences are cyclical, but often when perennial favorites come back around they come with new twists, Kirsten Wemer, lab manager at Flavorman in Louisville, Ky., told SmartBrief. Citrus vodka and apple-flavored moonshine hardly ever go out of fashion, and favorite flavors like orange and raspberry may stand alone or mix with other favorites like chocolate to create something slightly different.

Cinnamon has been a particularly popular flavor for whiskey and other spirits last year, according to Wemer. Mint is also growing popular again, she said. It's cooling and mixes well with other flavors, so there's the potential to create new flavors of orange mint or vanilla mint, for example.

The trend is extending to mixers—tonics flavored with elderflower and other herbs and spices are growing increasingly popular, and cocktail fans are experimenting with new combinations such as bourbon and craft tonic, according to SmartBrief.

According to Swiss flavorings and fragrances maker Firmenich, the flavor of the year for 2015 is honey, and its popularity extends to the bar.

For example, Jack Daniel's Tennessee Honey saw volume climb 22 percent and sales rise 30 percent from 2012 to 2013, according to Technomic's DRINK database. And data from Technomic's MenuMonitor online resource shows that mentions of "honey" (in a drink description or as part of a product name) climbed 29 percent on adult beverage menus through the third quarter of 2014. Moreover, the number of MenuMonitor-tracked restaurants and bars offering honey-accented alcohol drinks rose 23 percent. On menus, honey's growth was even stronger within the specialty-drinks category (cocktails and mixed drinks, where honey mentions rose more than 60 percent) than it was in straight spirits listings, according to Technomic.

And don't forget about wine, a staple at every hotel bar and a number of hotel restaurants. According to the E. & J. Gallo Winery-commissioned Gallo Consumer Wine Trends Survey via VIBE, younger consumers are willing to mix wine with other beverages in order to expand their enjoyment. They also love moscato and drink sparkling wine as an everyday beverage.

When asked about specific wines, moscato and Champagne were popular choices, according to VIBE. Frequent wine drinkers under 40 are more than twice as likely to purchase moscato (22 percent) when compared to 26 other popular varietals (11 percent on average) as well as when compared to older wine drinkers. These younger wine drinkers are also shedding the preconception that sparkling wines are just for special occasions - nearly all of them (93 percent) would pair sparkling wine and Champagne with the foods they're enjoying.

Of drinkers between the ages of 25 and 40, 66 percent mix wine with fruit or fruit juice; 51 percent make wine cocktails; 48 percent mix wine with other cocktail mixers like club soda; 46 percent drink wine over ice; and 27 percent occasionally drink wine with a straw, according to VIBE.