Cocktails: Fighting Back

Cocktails: Fighting Back

Food & Drink

Cocktails: Fighting Back


The following is an excerpt from a White Paper available from The Food Channel®. To obtain a free copy, click on the pdf link below or, for more in-depth analysis, contact

Cocktails are fighting back from a decades-long push by wine. Some of this is perhaps led by the example set at the White House, where President Obama has begun inviting House and Senate leaders over for cocktails. It’s also led by the economy, since cocktails make a bottle of alcohol go further.

From what we are observing, expect a resurgence of classics such as the Manhattan, along with serious mixologists using seasonal and exotic ingredients to bring cocktails full-force into the 21st century. You can get a nice vodka or a nice wine for a similar price – people will choose the vodka because it goes further, and will experiment with new combinations.

Reasons for the soaring popularity of cocktails are multi-fold, and include:

⋅ Nostalgia – we are seeing trends towards comfort foods, so this frame of mind may also bleed over into ‘comfort cocktails.’

⋅ New laws – state laws governing the distillation of spirits have become more relaxed in the last few years, making it easier for small business to get started.

⋅ Move towards artisanal/local products – as the laws relaxed, small distilleries cropped up, and locals who were following the ‘locavore’ trend with food were naturally inclined to transfer the sentiment to alcohol as well.

⋅ Move towards artisanal/local products has moved beyond the alcohol itself and into the other components of a cocktails – fruit juices, garnishes, etc. The result is a 21st century cocktail that is seasonal and artisanal, paralleling the Slow Food movement.

⋅ Cocktails are ‘different’ than wine – wine growth has had an apparently unprecedented growth in the US for several decades – roughly one generation. The new generation of drinkers is looking for something new; hence, the growth of craft beers and cocktails.

Most of the noteworthy new products we’ve seen pay homage to an earlier time. Absinthe, which recently became legal again in the U.S., is another example of a tip of the hat to the past. The other trend we’re seeing is increased emphasis on packaging – witness the beautiful Belle Epoque bottle of St. Germain Edlerflower Liqueur, the sleek Chinese paper lattern look of Domaine de Canton ginger liqueur, or the release of numerous absinthes that include ornate absinthe spoons.

We are not advocating that a whiskey or bourbon dinner will ever evolve to the popularity of the wine dinner. Across the board, wine is simply much more food-friendly than whiskey or bourbon (or any other distilled spirit for that matter). However, there is an economical factor to the popularity of spirits. You can easily pay $30 for a 750 ml bottle of a quality spirit or wine. You’ll get 4-5 drinks out of the bottle of wine, but the spirit will provide enough for 12 cocktails (using 2 oz. of the spirit per cocktail and a relatively inexpensive mixer). So depending on what the drinker is looking for, the spirit may be the better bargain.

Click here for the full pdf with evidence links:


Sample Recipes:

Ginger Cosmopolitan

White Chocolate Martini


Blackberry Champagne Cocktail


â‹… The recession is fueling the move toward more spirits, but it is only one factor. The desire for experiential foods, new flavors, and entertainment is the biggest influence.

â‹… There is still a perception that wine/beer are cheaper because they are a one-stop purchase, but people are becoming more and more interested in the process of mixed drinks, and are learning more about the value (changing the perception that mixed drinks are more expensive).

â‹… ‘What goes around, comes around’ is a factor, in that the Gen Ys have an overall fascination with their grandparents and great-grandparent’s eras.

Also see our Top Ten Food Trends for 2009.

The Food Channel has been tracking emerging and mainstreaming food trends for 20 years. Publications include a consumer website, TrendWire, a newsletter for the foodservice industry, and FoodWire® for the consumer. Research is done in conjunction with the World Thought Bank and the International Food Futurists™.


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