These are the Drinking Trends to Watch in 2021
by David Klemt
It was so much fun reviewing 2021 food trend predictions that we felt compelled to do the same for drinks.
We checked out Liquor.com, VinePair, Wine Enthusiast, SmartBrief and Forbes to see what they had to say about how and what people will be drinking in 2021. As we predicted, a number of the predictions were identical or at least similar, lending them even more weight.
Let’s get into the top trends for 2021!
To-Go Cocktails are Here to Stay
What was once a defining characteristic of partying in New Orleans and Las Vegas quickly became a necessity for operators throughout the United States. To-go drinks provided operators with a way to generate some revenue during the pandemic (to varying degrees of success, of course). VinePair and Wine Enthuisast have both predicted this trend will swing more toward a stand element of operations through at least 2021. Similarly, SmartBrief and VinePair predict that alcohol delivery also isn’t going anywhere anytime soon. Also here to stay? Contactless/touchless menus. Guests have gotten used to them, and that’s unlikely to change.
When building out their cocktails-to-go menu sections, operators should consider another Wine Enthusiast trend prediction: the growth of low- and no-alcohol drinks. This trend has been growing for at least the past two years, so it’s worth noting and leveraging.
Cans, Hard Seltzer & RTDs Continue Their Rise
Canned wines, canned cocktails, hard lemonades, hard seltzers growing in the on-premise space… VinePair, Forbes, SmartBrief, and Wine Enthusiast all made similar predictions. Wine Enthusiast went a step further and more specifically suggested that the popularity of canned cocktails may be strongest in the first half of 2021. It stands to reason that what consumers make popular off-premise will be in demand on-premise sooner or later. Operators should probably assume they’ll be selling buckets of hard seltzers, hard lemonades and canned cocktails once people can resume dining and drinking in person like they did pre-pandemic.
Responsible, Ethical & Transparent Businesses are the Future
And the near future, at that. This shouldn’t come as a surprise—people vote with their dollars and today’s consumer wants to know they’re supporting restaurants, bars, hotels, resorts, and other businesses that align with their values. Wine Enthusiast and Forbes predict that consumers will seek out businesses that operate ethically and that brands, cognizant of this expectation, will work harder to be more sustainable and responsible.
Connection Becomes Even More Important
The statement that humans are social creatures by nature isn’t exactly a hot take—we all know this. Having been largely deprived of the ability to socialize, people are starving for interaction. SmartBrief predicts that consumers will look to connect more with the brands they support. This is largely down to people becoming accustomed to engaging with brands and people via Zoom and other platforms—they’re going to want to continue this engagement in person. Bars, restaurants and brands that have hosted tasting, cooking, home bartending and other events online should capitalize by hosting them in person when it becomes safe to do so.
Wine Enthusiast, in a similar fashion, predicts that people will be seeking out unique cocktail experiences, as does SmartBrief. Whereas VinePair predicts a return to classic cocktails, Wine Enthusiast thinks guests will seek out opportunities to try complex and esoteric drinks. Savvy operators may be able to save time and headaches by batching complex cocktails (at least in part), a trend Liquor.com predicts for 2021.
Operators can leverage the Liquor.com prediction that pop-up bars will grow in popularity this year. These types of experiences became more common in 2020 and bar and restaurant guests have spoken: they love them. Bar takeovers, partnerships with restaurants and food trucks… Operators have the chance to get creative with these events and attract guests craving new experiences.
Speaking of the importance of connection, Liquor.com fears the nation may lose a significant number of local distillers. The pandemic took a serious toll on distillers as tasting rooms were ordered to shutter or suffered from slow to no traffic due to the pandemic. This is an opportunity for operators and distillers: As consumers seek to connect with brands, operators can leverage the drive toward supporting local by featuring local distillers on their menus and back bars. It’s win-win-win.
Tiki is Out
This prediction speaks to responsible and ethical business practices and connection. Wine Enthusiast and Liquor.com, pointing to the colonialist roots of tiki culture and the appropriation Indigenous cultures. Liquor.com goes so far as to say tiki bars “are fast on their way to extinction,” using the example of Lost Lake in Chicago removing the word “tiki” from the bar’s lexicon. Instead, the words “tropical” and “nautical” are in favor, and the designs of such bars are eschewing the use of Indigenous images, symbols, stereotypes and language.
Other predictions made by the publications and websites we reviewed ranged from the standard to the esoteric. For instance, Wine Enthusiast predicts that Cognac, tequila, mezcal and whiskey will continue their notable growth through 2021, with Irish whiskey in particular performing well while blended Scotch whiskey will be an exception. The publication also predicted, as at least on source does each year, that rum may finally have its moment in the United States.
Forbes thinks we’ll see rosé expressions of Champagne and Prosecco will have “a moment,” as will orange wines. Liquor.com predicts spirits will embrace and promote their individual terroir, and that “sophisticated” Jell-O shots will rise in popularity. The site, pointing to consumer concerns about health and safety, will reject shared cocktails like Scorpion Bowls for obvious reasons.
Two of the most unique predictions come from VinePair and SmartBrief. The former predicts more alcohol producers will make suspect health benefit claims, while the latter says we may see a demand for drinks infused with cannabis or psychedelic properties.