A look at drink trends coming right up in 2016

It’s so hard to accurately predict what will be hot and trendy in the drinks biz this year. When sipping out at a restaurant or bar, we ended 2015 with beer dominating the beverage industry with around 85 per cent of the market, wine at about 9 per cent, and spirits at 6 per cent.

Perhaps the best predictor is to look at what was trending at the end of 2015. Here’s what 2016 should look like.

Let’s start with beer, the largest part of the market. Small boutique breweries that create craft brews were hot and will continue to be huge. The attention to detail, use of choice ingredients and innovative, creative merchandizing and marketing make these producers hard to beat. If the craft brew is domestic, that’s even better – most folks are glad to support their local industry. Imported brews should also see continued success. The larger, national brewers creating more commercial offerings might lose out to both of these unless they produce super-premium products – something many of them now do.

When it comes to wine, although smallish, it shows good growth as a beverage of choice. Many younger folks are vying for the nectar of the grape these days and the subculture is booming. Wine bars are on the rise. Domestic wines are receiving a huge amount of interest as quality levels are better than ever. (The only drawback being price, pretty much on par with imports.) Unusual and emerging grape varieties seem to be surging as consumers are eager to experiment more with new tastes. Bubbly is more popular than ever. There’s just something about the fizz that entices people. Surprisingly, Italian sparklers like Prosecco seem to be specifically hot. The novelty of wine on tap in restaurants is on the rise. Many establishments are offering more choice in serving sizes, from small to large tasting portions.

There are lots of things going on with spirits. Brandies, whiskies and white spirits are all enjoying growth. Super-premium special bottlings and longer aged selections are increasing dramatically and will continue to do so. Generally speaking, consumers’ tastes tend to be morphing toward more complex, bolder flavours. Liqueur aficionados are opting for less sweetness and more herbal, savoury notes. Cocktails are huge and more and more of these favourite mixed drinks include wine, beer and even cider. There is also a resurgence of classic cocktails like the martini, bloody mary and Caesar in many establishments. Cold-pressed juices are being used more and unusual, flamboyant garnishes are taking presentation to new artistic heights.

In general, if the words “ultra premium,” “craft,” “artisan” or several other adjectives denoting extra quality appear on the package of products in any of these categories, then popularity will most likely increase.

If there’s any overall downside to these trends, it’s probably cost. Most of these specialty drinks and premium selections are pricey and, let’s face it, price is definitely an issue with many consumers. As a result, one can probably predict there will be a huge peak in sales during “happy hours” at most establishments.

Interestingly, trends today tend to be set by “millennial” more so than other age groups. They are the ones who seem to frequent bars and restaurants more often and will go to specific establishments that are known for a particular type of imbibe (eg. wine bar, tequila bar, martini bar). The bottom line is, the drinks industry is doing fine and evolving with the times.


Edward Finstein is a wine writer, award-winning author, TV and radio host, educator, judge

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