Trend watch: What’s next for Atlanta’s cocktail scene

Rum continues to rise in popularity with classics like the Hemingway Daiquiri. Photo: Veronica Rodriguez

Last month marked the 15th anniversary of Tales of the Cocktail in New Orleans. The yearly, week-long booze conference is attended by 15,000 bartenders, beverage professionals and journalists from around the world. Each July, the booze industry descends upon the Crescent City to partake in over 300 educational seminars, tasting events and parties. The AJC Bar Scene hit Tales again this year in search of the next big cocktail and spirits trends Atlanta may find at its bars over the coming months.

Low-ABV cocktails
Atlanta is already seeing this growing, low-alcohol cocktail trend in many metro area bars. Tales offered sessions on spritz and aperitif cocktails as well as creating low-ABV cocktails using at-proof spirits like gin, fortified wines and bitters. Bar pop-ups hosted by brands included Aperol and Martini & Rossi lauding the suppressor cocktail.

Mocktails
Taking the low-ABV trend one step further as people become more health conscious, expect to see the no-booze mocktail rise up in Atlanta. Think drinks which look like cocktails and taste like cocktails but don’t contain alcohol like cocktails. There was much discussion on incorporating mocktails on bar menus beyond house-made sodas and sparkling water with lime.

Rum rising
Rum continues its rise in popularity and, again, Atlanta is already on trend. Area bars are offering multiple rum-based cocktails on their menus beyond the traditional rum Old Fashioned. Expect to see more creative riffs on the classic daiquiri, too. Tales offered seminars on everything from the 400-year-old history of rum and cocktails on the high seas to selling consumers rum as a sipping spirit. This is where Atlanta lags behind as most guests still seem uncertain about sipping rum like a whiskey.

The Chartreuse Swizzle at S.O.S. Tiki Bar in Decatur. Photo: Beth McKibben

Tiki trending up
Sure, Atlanta has tiki Tuesday specials, Decatur’s S.O.S. Tiki Bar and the iconic Trader Vic’s downtown but expect to see this drinks category finding its way onto traditional cocktail menus. Tales sessions included tiki techniques as well as the history of the tiki’s oft-used ingredients such as falernum, Creole shrub and orgeat. Riffs on popular tiki drinks like the Navy Grog, Fogcutter, Planter’s Punch and Jungle Bird are popping up on Atlanta’s traditional cocktail menus.  

Cocktail watch: the Swizzle
This cocktail category is one to watch. The mostly rum-based Caribbean cocktail may be the perfect fit for Atlanta and its lengthy warm season. The Swizzle is a sour-style drink consisting of crushed ice, rum (usually), citrus juice, sugar and bitters. The name, however, is derived from the way the cocktail is stirred– with a traditional Caribbean swizzle stick.

Martini madness
Don’t expect the martini and its many riffs to go anywhere anytime soon. The classic gin-based cocktail and all of its various iterations are here to stay in Atlanta. Look for more martini variants like the 50/50 (equal parts gin and vermouth with bitters), the Bee’s Knees (gin, honey, lemon juice) and the Vesper (gin, vodka, kina) to find their way onto Atlanta bar menus as the cocktail category grows more popular with guests.

Monday Night Brewing and ASW Distillery partnered to produce a Scottish-style single malt whiskey. Courtesy of Monday Night Brewing Co.

American single malt whiskey
There is a push to designate the American single malt as an official whiskey category by the American Single Malt Whiskey Commission and the American Craft Spirits Association. Tales tackled this whiskey’s merits and those distilling it around the country in a sold out session. Brands like St. George Spirits in California, Westland Whiskey in Washington and Balcones Distilling in Texas have created their own versions of the malted, single distillery spirit. Add to that list Atlanta’s ASW Distillery who earlier this year released a Scottish-style single malt in collaboration with Monday Night Brewing. This whiskey category will continue to grow in popularity with distilleries and consumers.

Spirit watch: saké and shochu
These Japanese spirits are moving to cocktail and bar menus beyond their traditional settings. Tales devoted two days in the tasting rooms to both spirits. This included clearing up common misnomers like saké isn’t rice wine but is brewed like beer and shochu is distilled. Bartenders and enthusiasts were treated to tastes from a variety of brands and to cocktails using both as a base spirit. Keep an eye out, Atlanta.

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