It’s that time of year—one just ended, another begun—when the trendspotters and analyzers come out to offer pronounced opinions (also called WAGs) on what the spirit business trends will look like for 2016.
So, let’s take a look at what the fortune tellers tell us, and make some predictions on the predictions.
The Drinks Business forecast
First up, the British-based but globally-scoped www.thedrinksbusiness.com and its five pronouncements of what to watch for:
1. Flavour polarization, radicalization and experimentation
In other words, a reaction to the sweet and sticky flavored beverages dominated by the Flavored Vodka category, which has apparently (thank goodness) jumped the shark and gone into decline, with a diametrically opposed leap to the far other end of the spectrum with bitter spirits. While we’re all in favor of that, and Portland has already been doing it for a couple of years now, some caution should be observed: is the American market ready for a headlong rush into such extreme bitterness? We’re talking about not just the Coasts but “Flyover Country”. It’s popular in Portland, but will it play in Peoria?
2. Rum lift off
The people in the know, or the ones that think they know, or the ones that hope they know have all faithfully predicted the sudden expansion of rum in spirit consumption for several years now. We are all still waiting for it. (And many of us are yearning for it.) Yes, the rum category has steadily improved, but it hasn’t gone nuclear, not quite. With the U.S. trade embargo of Cuba dissolving and the production of so many countries gearing up for the increase in rum awareness, this may indeed be the year.
3. Whiskey coming of age
“Coming of age”? That’s a cute play on words that means very little. And this is the easiest of the no-brainers, because the surge is already in media res and has been for some time. It’s not difficult to predict a nuclear explosion when you can already see the mushroom cloud looming. Whiskey is hot! And not a type of whiskey (Scotch has actually had its troubles of late), but all whiskey/whisky. Japanese whisky is white hot—but you’ll have to temper that by also noting that it is in short supply, so may not be able to sustain the volume sales it is enjoying. And the merciless equation of popular + empty shelves = soaring prices. Still, it’s great news for the overall category, which means more whiskey for us all, one hopes.
4. The allure of others
Here our prognosticator is being somewhat vague, for the only two “others” specifically mentioned are Cachaça (Brazilian Rum), which is part of the #2 prediction, and Raki, based on the supposed “Turkish diaspora”, which we in the U.S. have almost totally missed. Again, Portland has already been there and done that on both spirits, most recently with raki (the national drink of Turkey, equivalent to the better known Greek iteration of Ouzo, an anise-flavored liqueur). The results: it did not shake the fundament of spirit consumption in our fair city; and that may well be because there is a built-in limit to how many licorice-loving Americans there are. Remember Absinthe? Remember the sudden explosion of brands when the ban was lifted, followed almost immediately by the sudden disappearance of almost every one of those brands? Raki and ouzo will do better; whether that will amount to an explosion in the marketplace here is doubtful; perhaps in the EU and Britain, where those Turks are diasporating, will be different.
5. White spirits
In a somewhat contradictory comment, after announcing the diminution of vodka, the author hedges all bets, suggesting that vodka, contrarily may actually grow by offering “…a simple, effective, no-frills alternative to the sensory overload of sophistication…” Don’t think you can have it both ways. On the other hand, the author elevates gin, another no-brainer because that too has already happened and likely will continue.
The Spirits Business forecast
The prediction of trends from another Euro-based but globally focused internet magazine www.thespiritsbusiness.com takes an entirely different slant in that they are more concerned with brands than categories. While they do suggest overall trends, it’s usually from the perspective of major brands rather than sweeping categories. So while certain key brands and top rankings are bandied about, with “Top Ten” this and “Best of” that, the overall view of categories is somewhat less clear.
In a quick scan of articles, the only categories mentioned for specific growth were cachaça, mezcal and pisco, and even those not as category (rum, agave spirits, grape brandy, respectively) but as the sub-category of “other spirits.” These don’t really fall so much under predictions as they do of recognizing what is already happening. And once again, in the Portland market all of these things happened years ago; now the market is simply maturing and expanding rather nicely.
Uncorkd, another popular beverage site, makes some fairly safe predictions for 2016:
1. Vinegar Shrubs and tart cocktails
2. Cocktails on tap
3. Rum cocktails and sipping rums will grow “beyond tiki”
4. Whiskey growth will continue
Again, nothing new here and Uncorkd recognizes these are clearly evident existing trends. Also not new in that Portland has already experienced each and every one of these—and in some cases, years ago.
The upshot of all this prognostication: we are fortunate to be living in a strong culture of spirits, wine and beer. Thanks to the overall expertise of our bartenders, restaurants and retailers, and the welcome attitude of sophisticated customers, Portland seems to be starting the trends rather than responding to them.
As always, we’ll have to wait and see which crystal ball was the clearest and which analyst was the best informed. Only time will tell.