With 2018 just barely in the rearview mirror, we turn our sights to the calendar year ahead. What might 2019 hold for cocktail culture? Let’s peer at the tea leaves to see what’s coming our way, from corporate-branded cocktails to the new spirits we’ll soon be pouring, mixing and sipping.
Hang on to your wallet. Pricey limited-edition spirits and expensive stunt drinks at cocktail menus point to more conspicuous consumption at the bar. Just look to growing vintage-spirits collections, reserve lists and “captain’s lists” at bars and restaurants. A study from the Distilled Spirits Council of the U.S. (DISCUS) confirmed that higher-end and “super-premium” spirits dominated sales across the board last year—a trend that’s expected to continue.
Right now, my social media feeds have been awash in corporate logos stamped into ice cubes, sprayed onto egg white foam, printed on rounds of fondant and clipped on as garnishes. I’m predicting more of these are ahead, even though I’m already chafing at the prospect.
2018 was the year of tequila and mezcal, when we saw everything from big-time mergers to Elon Musk’s “Teslaquila” trademark. We drank so much mezcal, in fact, that DISCUS actually gave it its own category for the first time in its annual report on the spirits industry—a signal it expects surging mezcal sales to continue in a significant way. In 2019, we’ll likely see other agave and agave-adjacent categories like racilla and sotol go mainstream.
If you’ve enjoyed exhibits dedicated to ice cream or candy, distilleries are betting that you might enjoy one built around whiskey, too—and they’re spending big to build “experiences” linked to their brands. Los Angeles’ Lost Spirits distillery offers boat rides for visitors; in 2018, Scotland’s Macallan distillery built a futuristic tour that includes an on-site museum and virtual-reality elements; and Sazerac is spending $50 million to build a “cocktail museum” slated to open in New Orleans this summer.
It’s Instagram’s world; we're just drinking in it. In 2019, look for fewer brown drinks and more Technicolor-hued cocktails. Last year brought a purple yam Daiquiri,the Commodore Daiquiri, from The Polynesian, a Windex-blue Calpico Swizzle at Katana Kitten and a virtual sea of Midori-green-tinted cocktails. Expect more colorful drinks in the year ahead, designed to make your social media feeds pop.