Each January, we look at the previous year’s trends, and see what predictions we can formulate about the next year in drinks. Some hunches for 2023? You’ll be hearing more about American single malt whiskey, sipping Micheladas at brunch, and adding more non-alcoholic bottles to your bar cart.
And, no, the $20 cocktail isn’t going anywhere.
Are Micheladas the New Bloody Marys?
Micheladas aren’t new. This year, however, the Mexican beer cocktail sits at the center of a cocktail trend Venn diagram. It’s low-ABV, it’s brunch-ready, and both mega-brands and craft brewers are now making canned versions (though Athletic Brewing’s Chelada Nada, a non-alcoholic version, is currently sold out).
The spiritual home of the drink, Mexico City, is also seeing a boom in tourism. The capital city’s Micheladas are fantastic in both their variety and their over-the-top, made-for-TikTok presentations. As with the Bloody Mary, American bars are getting wild with toppings: Think boiled shrimp, ceviche, fruit skewers, Tajín-dusted vegetables, chapulines, and whole overturned bottles of beer.
Bring on the American Single Malts
American single malt has always been experimental, with its bottles influenced by the unique geography, local agriculture, barrel aging, and malting techniques of U.S. producers. But this category, whose first releases date to the 1990s, has never been legally defined in the manner of bourbon or Tennessee whiskey.
After years of lobbying by distillers, though, the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB) has officially set proposed standards for American single malts, aiming to put them into effect in April 2023. “[The] mash is 100% malted barley,” states TTB documentation. “It must also be distilled and aged at a single distillery in the U.S. at a distillation proof of 160 or less and stored in oak barrels at a maximum size of 700 liters.”
Drinkers should expect a boom in the category. Texas-based single malt producer Balcones was recently purchased by Diageo, and Jack Daniels will unveil its first single malt in 2023. Upstate New York’s Tenmile Distillery will release its first “Little Rest” Scottish-style American single malt in the spring, though you’ll have to sign up to get one of 3,000-ish remaining bottles.
The “Drink Masters” Influence
If Netflix’s Drink Masters is any indication, multi-sensorial cocktails, foam, and snack sidecars are in. Also apparently back after a brief hiatus: the word mixologist (say it’s not so).
But what the competition show really demonstrates is that cocktail culture is ready for a brighter media spotlight. The casting on Drink Masters shows an industry populated by diverse bartenders, strong women, queer drink makers, and genuinely nice people. These folks are professionals, and it’s easy to imagine a future where winners (dubbed the “Ultimate Drink Master”—click here for the season one spoiler) gain perks and opportunities long afforded to popular television cooking competition victors, be it funding for future projects, new bars, consulting contracts, or non-profits. Drink Masters has star-making potential, and the liquor industry has the deep pockets to support it (the show’s $100,000 prize, and much of its back bar, comes from Pernod Ricard).
Copycat shows are sure to follow.
From Non-Alcoholic Bottle Shops to Sober Bars
The United States has experienced a proliferation of non-alcoholic bottle shops, pioneered in large part by the opening of New York City’s Spirited Away in 2020. In the years since, the category has expanded, with shops now populating cities as varied as Houston; Los Angeles; Alexandria, Virginia; and Charleston, South Carolina. Popular chain Boisson, which operates 10 non-alcoholic retail locations between California and New York, just secured $12 million in funding.
Naturally, dedicated non-alcoholic bars have followed. Examples abound, like New York City’s new-in-2022 “elixir lounge” Hekate, Denver’s hybrid coffee/sober bar Awake that debuted in 2020, or Wildcrafters in Jacksonville, Florida, which has been serving tea, kava, and spirit-free cocktails since 2020. Community, inclusivity, and a growing swell of interested consumers are driving the growth. This dry movement, according to a mission statement from Austin’s Sans Bar, “is a decision to be fully present in a world that distracts us from our purpose, and tells us the solution for deep human connection and fun can only be found inside of a bottle.”Continue to 5 of 5 below.
Tapping into the Complexity of Zero-Proof Spirits
The craft of mixing drinks is going through a seismic change, thanks to the rise of non-alcoholic spirits and aperitifs. N/A drinks are now standard on cocktail menus. Home bars are now stocked with bottles from Seedlip and Lyre’s—often right next to the hard stuff. And that’s good news for everybody: sober folks, people trying to drink a little less, and even the most devoted boozehounds who are simply seeking new flavors.
As the non-alcoholic category matures and bartenders familiarize themselves with the plethora of new ingredient options, we think they’ll start reaching for booze-free bottles to make spirited cocktails even more interesting. Some are already using N/A spirits to dilute classic cocktails like the Martini, and acclaimed bartender Jim Meehan is now working the non-alcoholic botanical spirit Wilderton into zero-, low-, and high-proof cocktails. It’s still early days, but look for more N/A spirits on back bars and mixed into your next cocktail, whatever its ABV may be.