Cocktail trends: What you’ll be drinking this summer
These cocktail trends will have you in good spirits this summer.
Cocktails made with beer, swapping vodka for vermouth, pickled rosés and sustainable mixers are just some of the drink trends set to hit bars and drinks lists this summer.
With the continued rise of gin and growing numbers of millennials choosing yoga and green smoothies over boozy nights out, we’re also seeing a move towards lower-alcohol cocktails and single-spirit drinks topped up with artisan shrubs (flavoured syrups) as cocktail makers and mixologists come up with creative ways to cater to increasingly discerning, health-conscious drinkers.
We caught up with Michael Somanuslert, chief cocktail maker and resident mixologist at one of Melbourne’s coolest new bars, Bourke Street Green, to find out what will be the taste on everyone’s sips this summer.
Cocktails are set to be pretty in pink gin this summer.
Bourke Street Green mixologist’s top drink predictions for 2019
Gin-gle all the way
You’d have to have been living under a rock to have missed the gin-trification of Melbourne’s bar scene. And the ginaissance is showing no signs of slowing down. “Gin is ridiculously popular,” Michael says. “And its star is still rising.” This summer, he says, the focus will be firmly on local gins, with brands like Four Pillars, Tiny Bear, Alchemy and Animus among some of the state’s cult sips. Pink gins are also making a comeback.
Why gin, you ask? “After the whole whisky craze a few years back, everyone wanted to open up their own distilleries,” Michael explains. “But whisky takes a long time to make and has to sit in barrels ageing before it can be sold – which means it’s a long time before you’re seeing any money come in. Gin is quicker and easier to distil, more versatile than vodka and you can put your own unique spin on it, which is why it’s so attractive to craft distillers.”
Gin without tonic
Michael says gin drinkers are also swapping tonic water for soda. “They want to taste the botanicals so using soda water allows them to highlight that pure gin profile.”
Move over tequila; there’s a new Mexican wave in town and Melburnians are going mad for it. Introducing mezcal, tequila’s richer, smokier and more savoury cousin. Mezcal is so cool, Quentin Tarantino even has Leonardo Di Caprio and Brad Pitt drinking it in his new Hollywood blockbuster, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood. In simple terms, this agave-based spirit is to tequila what scotch is to whisky. While both are made from the agave plant, tequila is made exclusively from blue agave and can only be produced in the state of Jalisco (and a few other small but legally defined places). Mezcal, on the other hand, can be made from 28 varieties of agave (blue included) and can be produced more broadly.
Virgin and low(er)-alcohol cocktails
Sober drinking might sound like the oxymoron of the year but, according to Australian Bureau of Statistics figures, alcohol consumption in Australia has hit a 55-year low, with many millennials opting for lower-alcohol options or abstaining altogether. To cater to a new era of discerning non-drinkers, Michael says bartenders are finding interesting and exciting ways to make lower alcohol-by-volume cocktails. “That’s why Pimms, Campari, Aperol and vermouth have become so popular,” he says. “They’ve got full flavour but low alcohol, which is good for people who are more health conscious or who can’t [or don’t want to] drink. They’re also good for summer because, if you’re drinking during the day, you don’t want anything too heavy.” He says many restaurants and bars are stocking a wider range of mid-strength beers, lower alcohol wines and non-alcoholic spirits to meet rising demand.
Yes, beer cocktails are now a thing and no, we’re not talking about snakebites and shandies. “Last year saw some people experimenting with beer cocktails,” Michael says. “They were adding some porter or stout into expresso martinis then mixing things up with a little rum or even mezcal for a bit of smokiness. It sounds gross at first, but they’re actually really tasty.”
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Bourke Street Green's Michael Somanuslert making his signature negroni cocktail, which he says will be one of this summer's hottest drinks.
Yes way frosé
If you thought demand for frosé and friesling (frozen rosé and frozen riesling) had gone cold, think again. The refreshing frozen drinks are set to be back this year, with Michael predicting frinot noir (you guessed it, frozen pinot noir) might even be added to the spiked slushies list.
Homemade botanicals, shrubs and syrups
A return to more traditional, homemade syrups has also been steadily gaining momentum across Melbourne’s bar scene. Michael says as well as tasting better, they’re also giving bartenders an opportunity to work with kitchens to reduce food waste. “At the moment I am making a beetroot syrup, a spiced orange syrup with cinnamon, star anise and orange peel, and a citrus shrub with pink grapefruit and lemons,” Michael says. “The idea is to make things taste good without piling on the alcohol, which also keeps them more affordable for people. Plus, they’re a nice alternative to sugar in a glass.”
Not only are people picky about what they drink, Michael says, they are also starting to become more specific about what they mix with. “There is a lot brand loyalty starting to emerge,” he says. “People can be really pedantic about their mixers. If you have Four Pillars Navy Strength gin, for example, you might only serve it with a slice of orange, a sprig of rosemary and top it up with Fever Tree tonic water rather than just post mix.” This is going both ways, Michael says, with both bartenders and customers demanding higher-quality ingredients.
It was only a matter of time until the personalisation trend hit bars, with many venues now offering custom cocktails, made just the way you like ’em. “I am seeing a lot more bespoke cocktails,” Michael says. “Bourke Street Green has its signature cocktails menu but, if you don't see your favourite on there, we also do made-to-order.” Some bars are even doing away with menus altogether and tailoring cocktails according to guests’ individual tastes. You tell the mixologist your flavour profile and spirit preferences, and they’ll shake or stir up something special for you.
A rosé by any other name would still taste as… salty? “Cocktails are becoming less sweet and fruity and more floral, earthy and savoury and we’re seeing a trend towards the more sour side of drinks,” Michael says. This includes experimenting with interesting combinations and textures. “I’ve tried putting pickles in rosé to add a little more salinity and give it a more interesting mouthfeel,” he says. Don’t knock it ’til you’ve tried it, we say.
Cocktail matching and degustations
We’ve seen beer and wine pairing, now restaurants are getting around cocktail matching and cocktail degustation dinners. Michael says bartenders are also collaborating with chefs to create cocktails that will complement the food. “I work closely with kitchens and speak with chefs to see what they’re using for their food and try to match it and expand on it in the bar.”