2018 was a year of divided loyalties. Did we want to drink less, as the mocktail trend would indicate, or more, as the proliferation of all-day cafés would suggest? Did we crave the authenticity of small craft spirits producers, or were celebrity-backed spirits what we wanted to pour? Did we order ever-more elaborate Instagram-able cocktails at bars, or did we enjoy the novel simplicity of ready-to-drink concoctions prebatched into bottles and cans? Glancing in the rearview mirror, apparently we wanted it all. As we prepare to close out the year, let’s look back at how we drank in 2018.
All the energy that surrounded the potential to create more environmentally sustainable cocktail bars seemed to fizzle, with one key exception: The industry honed in on the plastic straw as a scourge to sustainability. That led to a search for plastic straw alternatives, including paper, metal, bamboo and even linguini-like wheat. Will 2019 be the year we hear celiacs request “one gluten-free straw, please.”
The latest crop of celeb-backed spirits included Bob Dylan’s Heaven’s Door American whiskey lineup and Metallica’s Blackened American whiskey. U2 frontman Bono also announced plans to invest in an Irish whiskey distillery.
Even as California’s governor signed a bill prohibiting drinks that mix alcohol and cannabidiol, or CBD, the trend picked up steam elsewhere, as bartenders and baristas laced all manner of drinks with oils and tinctures that touted a wellness effect, although not a high. Meanwhile, in 2018, Michigan became the 10th U.S. state to legalize marijuana for all adults, and Canada legalized marijuana federally. No wonder brands like Constellation and Coca-Cola placed bets in the cannabis/CBD space in 2018.
New offerings from the Death & Co team, Sother Teague, Chall Gray and Selma Slabiak filled out the shelves, although perhaps the biggest splash was The Aviary’s Kickstarter-funded cocktail book. Further, a sign that the cocktail revolution has finally matured: a reissue of Gaz Regan’s seminal Joy of Mixology bible, updated for a new generation of barkeeps.
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A kinder, gentler Tales of the Cocktail returned in 2018 after the original founders resigned following a series of controversial events. Further north, Bar Convent Brooklyn made a successful debut, the NYC offshoot of Bar Convent Berlin. Meanwhile, the organizers of BevCon moved the cocktail conference from Charleston,S.C., to Los Angeles in 2018, then announced plans to shutter the enterprise.
From Gran Patrón Smoky, a tequila meant to capture drinkers gravitating to mezcal, to peated rum (Mount Gay X.O. The Peat Smoke expression) to Jack Daniel’s with a limited-release Smoked Hickory Finish, smoky spirits had a moment.
Nonalcoholic drinks are still showing up on menus, and Seedlip rolled out a new citrus-flavored extension to the N/A product line, even as detractors wondered if competing products might soon appear on the horizon.
In particular, the reengineered 1960s vending machine at NYC’s Existing Conditions made a splashy debut with its prebatched bottled cocktails, adding another potential tool for bartenders seeking to speed up drink service for customers alongside drinks on draft, kegged, etc.
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While Nikka had landed its gin and vodka the previous year (and Suntory released is Ao vodka before that), Suntory rolled out its Roku gin bottling for a mainstream U.S. audience. Perhaps because American drinkers have consumed so much Japanese whisky, this incoming gin will keep thirsty folks at bay while whisky stocks finish aging.
The explosion of all-day cafés encouraged all-day tippling from boozy brunch straight through after-hours revelry.