No doubt the Christmas prep at your pub is already under way but have you spared a thought for your vegan drink selection this festive season? Or your sparkling cocktails offer?
Likewise, your low and no alcoholic mixed drinks, or what you'll be serving with dark spirits. No? But they are all set to be as big as Santa's sack this Christmas, so it's time to get the mixed drinks and cocktails sorted before Slade hits the airwaves, no?
Most publicans have considered adding at least a plant-based burger or some pulled jackfruit to the menu to cater for the growing number of vegans. Some have even gone as far as sourcing vegan beers and wines, but what about vegan cocktails?
"The rise of veganism, especially at Christmas, is another element to consider when planning your cocktail menu this festive season," says Ounal Bailey, co-founder of WiseHead Productions (part of Britvic). "Instead of using milk and egg whites for your eggnog (and other milk or cream-based tipples), try almond milk to tap into the plant-based market and create that same creamy texture we all know and love."
Even for the meat and dairy consumers among us, this can be appealing – especially at this time of year.
"The party season is the perfect time to try out more adventurous flavour combinations and twists on classics," Ounal explains. "You will also see a big push in spritzes this year."
Make it sparkle
Festive offerings suggested by Ounal include The Christmas Hi-ball (Sauvignon Blanc mixed with the company's London Essence Classic Tonic), or the Prosecco Spritz (equal parts Prosecco and London Essence Elderberry & Hibiscus Soda).
The mention of Prosecco brings us neatly to another trend expected to hit bars this winter – fizzy cocktails.
According to Diageo, 27 per cent of drinkers now choose fizzy cocktails on a night out and Prosecco and gin are two of the fastest growing sub-categories featured in cocktails in the on-trade (CGA Mixed Drink Report, 2018).
Rob Poulter, on-trade consultant for Diageo, advises using seasonal ingredients to boost sales even further at this time of year. "Try a Gordon's Sloe-Secco, mixing winter favourite sloe gin with Prosecco in a Champagne flute," he advises.
"It's super-simple to make and tastes delicious. Just add 25ml Gordon's sloe gin and 125ml chilled Prosecco to a flute, stir gently and serve."
How low can you go?
Rob is also advising pubs to reassess their low- and no- offering ahead of the festive season. Most top-ranking bars will also now stock one type of non-alcoholic spirit, he says – with 46 per cent of people under the age of 35 likely to order a mocktail, versus just 16 per cent of over-35s.
Current trends mean this shift to moderation doesn't just mean alcohol-free drinks though, it also means there is more demand for lower-ABV drinks, something simple mixed drinks are well placed to supply.
Amy Burgess, senior trade and communications manager at Coca-Cola European Partners (CCEP) explains: "This year has seen a revival of interest in fortified wines, particularly vermouth, which continues to benefit from the unrelenting popularity of the Negroni (CGA Mixed Drinks Report).
"Tipples like sherry and sake will be very popular at Christmas as an alternative to stronger spirts as consumers seek lower-alcohol options when choosing a mixed-drink. Sherry and vermouth are now commonly served with tonic as a less alcoholic, innovative twist on the classic G&T."
CCEP has also had an eye for the rise in dark spirits in recent times – first launching Schweppes 1783 Muscovado, designed to mix with the likes of dark rum and whiskies, last summer and this year unveiling its Coca-Cola Signature Mixers range back in May – the four-strong range is designed to enhance the complex flavours in spirits, with a focus on dark spirits.
"Research, shows that after a decade long 'ginnaissance', discerning drinkers are now exploring the mysterious world of dark spirits and are looking to mixologist to help them experiment with more complex flavour profiles," Amy says (referring to Future Laboratory Research, May 2019, commissioned by Coca-Cola).
"The UK dark spirits and liqueurs market was estimated at £6bn in 2018, following record growth in the sector between 2013 and 2018 of 20 per cent (Dark Spirits and Liqueurs UK Report)."
Rum is particularly popular at the moment – sales topped £1bn for the first time last year, according to the Wine & Spirit Trade Association. Whiskey too is also moving into the spotlight and, perhaps more surprisingly brandy and Cognac are also enjoying a resurgence of interest.
Mixologist Max Venning echoes this shift to brown spirits. "People are discovering drinks like Bourbon, rye, premium Scotch and Irish whiskeys and naturally they will be looking for the right mixer to pair it with. If you order a gin and tonic, you're spoilt for choice on flavours. There are salty tonics, elderflower, orange. At the moment there isn't this choice for dark spirits, which is strange when you think that rum & Coke and whiskey & Coke are two of the most popular mixed drinks."
Of course, CCEP aren't the only company to have seen this change. New entrant to the mixer market Merchant's Heart has also spotted the opportunity around dark spirits. "We can expect G&Ts, as well as other classics to soar at Christmas. However, we anticipate a few newcomers such as whisky high-balls will shine this year too," says Jason Sennitt, head of Merchant's Heart.
"The serve originates from Japan where it remains extremely popular, while the trend also spreads around the globe. Merchant's Heart Soda Water has been created to be a perfect partner for Suntory's Toki Whisky, with a taste profile and carbonation level intended to let Toki's complex flavours shine."
As Jason points out, drinkers have become increasingly demanding when it comes to their choice of spirits and have woken up to the idea that the mixer is just as important. "This represents a great opportunity to upsell, which means venues need to have a premium mixer range to match their premium spirits," he adds.
And remember, kids – mixers are not just for Christmas. As Dry January hits, posh and interesting mixers make great non-alcoholic drinks too – but that's a feature for another time.
For now – "Merry Christmas Everybody!/It's only just begun..."