Southern Glazer’s Wine & Spirits, Dallas and Miami, unveiled the results of its 2022 Liquid Insights Tour, a coast-to-coast educational initiative designed to explore and identify the latest trends in cocktails and wine. The Liquid Insights Tour kicked off in Houston in February, and included stops in Kansas City, New York, Las Vegas, Chicago and Los Angeles. 

Over the course of 111 days, Brian Masilionis, director of on-premise commercial strategy and national accounts for Southern Glazer’s, led a team of its mixologists to sample more than 400 drinks in 83 restaurants, bars and hotels, compiling their insights to discover emerging cocktail and wine trends across the United States.

Analyzing industry data and gathering insights within the beverage industry has long been a practice of Southern Glazer’s, where it is used for internal education and training of the company’s sales force and its accounts. Through the Liquid Insights Tour, Southern Glazer’s now is sharing its findings more broadly to help a hospitality industry still reeling from the effects of the pandemic, and to excite consumers about wine and cocktail innovation being driven by a new generation of diverse bartenders, sommeliers and beverage professionals.  

“Our driving purpose for conducting the Liquid Insights Tour was to uncover innovative beverage trends and experiences across the country to ensure Southern Glazer’s continues to have the most knowledgeable sales consultants in the industry,” Masilionis stated. “Throughout the tour, we evaluated the complete on-premise experience by examining product offerings, pricing, promotional approach, people, service and process.”  

The conclusions from this tour, coupled with Southern Glazer’s wine and spirits portfolio, creates a leading wine and cocktail experience, with best-in-class customer service from coast to coast, for restaurants, bars, hotels and other on-premise venues, the company says.  

Top 10 Trends Revealed 

Analysis of the findings of the Liquid Insights Tour revealed that top trends fell into three distinct categories: cocktail trends, wine trends and presentation/execution trends.

Top cocktail insights: 

    Uncommon Combinations: Bartenders were mixing spirits not commonly used together to create new and interesting cocktail flavor profiles such as Scotch and corn liqueur, rum and cognac, and gin and mezcal.

    Beyond Basic Balancers: The team found many cocktails that were made using an innovative variety of methods or modifiers to balance the drink or add layers of flavor. These included the use of acids; sugars and syrups; salt; herbs and spices; coffee and tea; and the use of fats beyond animal fats. Adding ice or heat, like with stamped ice or smoked ice, also was common.

    Caffeinated Comeback: Once the darling of the ‘90s bar scene, the Espresso Martini took center stage as the standout cocktail of the tour. Around the country, mixologists are giving new life into this classic, incorporating a variety of creative ingredients such as amaro and coffee liqueurs or brandy with espresso or cold brew. 

    Sophisticated and Spirit-Free: Non-alcohol offerings at the country’s top bars, restaurants and hotels now are just as elevated, delicious and pricey as their alcoholic counterparts, featuring similar ingredients, flavors and presentations just without alcohol. 

Top wine insights: 

    Bubbly Is Popping: Champagne and sparkling wines continue to climb in popularity on drink menus. Throughout the tour, more sparkling options were available by-the-glass and had a more prominent presence on top wine lists. In addition, bartenders are mixing sparkling wine of all styles and prices into their cocktails to add effervescence, crispness or sweetness to the experience.

    Wines Chill Out: Chilled selections of red and sweet wines appeared on menus across the United States. Orange wines also appeared more frequently than ever before, often presented on menus in a combined rosé and orange section.  

    Tempting Trial With By-The-Glass & Premium Half-Bottles: Curated by-the-glass (BTG) options are becoming more diverse and more balanced between domestic and international offerings than in the past. There also is a growing trend in wines priced to sell with good value in either BTG or by-the-bottle formats to drive more orders and not just high margins. 

Top execution and presentation insights: 

    Batching for Speed and Service: Top bartenders continue to innovate around batching their cocktails, including both partial (batching only non-perishable items) and full batching, driven by the need for speed and to improve quality and consistency in cocktail preparation, which allows for more time to connect with guests. 

    Entertaining Experience Enhancements: Adding “flair” to the cocktail experience with the use of vapors, “air,” smoke or torch; the use of unique glassware; or the return of communal drinks to be shared; all are creating memorable moments for consumers. 

    Meaningful Menu Innovations: Restaurants and bars are evolving their menus beyond being a functional tool to improve the consumer experience. The team saw great storytelling, unique categorizations and humorous names paired with detailed drink descriptions. QR codes, which rose in popularity due to COVID-19, now are being used to deliver broader offerings and information ― from curated, account-specific Spotify playlists to ever-changing allocated spirit offerings, all of which can be updated easily without needing to reprint menus. 

Factors Influencing Trends 

Backed by industry data and Southern Glazer’s internal insights, Masilionis and his team identified several key factors that are influencing these trends. These include an aging population, demographic and ethnic diversification of the U.S., a preference for health and wellness among consumers, and ongoing ramifications of the COVID-19 pandemic still affecting the hospitality industry. 

“These unique insights can be incorporated into any on-premise business to build greater success through strategic and innovative beverage programs,” Masilionis stated. “Identifying which insights are relevant to your business and how to incorporate them using creative themes, highlighting seasonal ingredients, and tailoring cocktail and wine offerings to the demographics of your guests are all strong strategies. We continue to see the ramifications of the COVID-19 pandemic throughout this industry segment, in terms of effects on the work force and on the consumers returning for the on-premise experience. We’re excited to offer these insights to help speed the recovery from the pandemic and make this segment stronger and more consumer-focused than ever.”