We’ve all changed in the last few years. It makes sense that the way we drink has shifted along with that. COVID-19 pandemic lockdowns led to a demand for easy-to-mix cocktails for budding home bartenders. As the pandemic wore on, an initial surge in drinking turned into a focus on more creative but lower-proof drinks. Supply chain disruptions affected our drinking in surprising ways: Glass bottle supplies ran short, and shipping snarls led to shortages of imported liquors. Before long, inflation crept into our drink menus, too, as food costs soared and brought the price of alcohol with them.
We’re also more health conscious these days: More than 50 percent of us now consider wellness a top priority, an increase from the 42 percent reported pre-pandemic. This focus on wellness translates to consumers caring more about what goes into their drink. How healthy are the ingredients, for example? And how sustainable are the processes and elements in that drink?
Even our choice of spirits is changing. Bourbon is a perennial favorite, but as collectors snap up the rarer bottles and those annoying supply chain problems limit our choices, more buyers are looking to European-style spirits, and gin in particular.
To find out what the 2023 drinking scene will look like, we spoke with industry leaders and star bartenders to parse out a preview. Here’s what they said.
Back to the Future
Nostalgia is in, big-time, from sequels of ’90s film favorites like Hocus Pocus and Jurassic Park to drinks from that decade. Matt Mergener — owner of Two Birds and Apartment Disco, the newly opened bar above Lost River cocktail bar — sees the trend as a longing
for a simpler time — at least asfarasmanyofuscan remember.
“All the bartenders making drinks right now, we grew up in the ’90s,” Mergener says. His partner, Kar Green, agrees. “People are looking for things that make them feel better. You’re trying to escape to that time that felt good, felt familiar.”
Today’s throwback drinks aren’t the sickly sweet concoctions of yesteryear, though: Freshly squeezed juices and fewer additives make for a more sophisticated Long Island iced tea or hurricane, more in tune with modern consumers’ tastes.
Let’s Be Transparent
Weiss Distilling Co. in Clawson opened last year with a focus on spirits crafted sustainably and with intention. Proprietor Dennis Weiss says that he and his wife, Amanda, prioritize transparency in the ingredients they use.
Many consumers want to “really figure out what is going into our bodies,” he says. And some spirits have all sorts of hidden allergens or additives. “Many of the popular spirits on the shelves today are full of additives like glycerin, colorings, and more — which legally do not have to be listed on the bottle,” he says. “I think a lot of these additives can fuel hangovers and a poor experience the next morning.”
As drinkers focus on wellness, more alcohol producers are starting to disclose their “family secret” ingredients for the sake of transparency.
Low Proof, High Impact
Many of those “family secret” blends of botanicals and herbs come in the form of aperitivos and digestivos, another trend rushing into 2023. These spirits tend to be lower in alcohol content than traditional gins, vodkas, and whiskeys, often clocking in at less than 20 percent alcohol by volume. But Two Birds Beverage Director Hannah Whitenack sees this as a continuation of the focus on wellness and health.
“I feel like the pandemic brought out more mental health awareness and destigmatized not wanting to go out just to get drunk but instead enjoy the taste of the cocktail.” Bartenders are happy to mix up low-octane drinks because “the nature of the cocktail scene in general has expanded a lot,” she says, “and now it’s just easier to create interesting, complex, low-ABV cocktails.”
Complexity, hand-foraged ingredients, and consumer education have boosted interest in one underrated spirit. John Neely, manager of Highlands Detroit at the Renaissance Center, has dozens of whiskey, Cognac, and Scotch bottles at his bar, but he’s also noticed more guests asking for one of the bar’s many gin choices, from London dry to Old Tom to American-style gins.
“What is in each gin really speaks to the palate a bit differently,” Neely says, “so there’s definitely more nuance and a lot more to gain and explore with gin” these days. “Palates are evolving.”
This story is from the January 2023 issue of Hour Detroit magazine. Read more in our digital edition.