Blending, experimenting and exploring are on the rise, as drinkers push the boundaries more than ever before.
Waitrose reports that gin is this year’s tipple of choice, with sales up 34% compared to 2015, and 43 different types of gin now in stock across its supermarkets.
Other drinks in favor in 2016 include craft beer (and particularly beers packaged in cans); wines from new regions; and Pignoletto (an Italian sparkling wine that is becoming a popular alternative to Prosecco).
Spirits: a host of serving options
“The choice of flavors and serving options available has never been greater,” said Pierpaolo Petrassi, head of buying for beers, wines and spirits at Waitrose.
It’s a trend he sees evidenced most strongly in spirits.
“Drinks are no longer necessarily served in a tumbler over ice; people are creating their own signature cocktails with fresh fruit, garnish and herbs.
"It’s all pretty funky and it’s all absolutely acceptable.
“Whether people like Japanese whiskey, premium tequilas or niche bourbons, they are enjoying expressing themselves.
"There has been a real blending of flavors and categories.”
This year, Waitrose has started selling Seedlip: a non-alcoholic spirit with botanical flavor and a company that has attracted investment from drinks giant Diageo.
Meanwhile, calorie content has become an increasingly important point for consumers when considering their beverage choices, notes Petrassi.
Gin up 34%
Gin accounted for a third of all spirit sales at Waitrose over the summer months this year.
The UK has experienced a ‘gin revival’ in recent years, attracting a new generation of consumers.
Last year 49 new distilleries opened in the UK. Over the last five years, 117 new distilleries have been set up.
Some of the more weird and wonderful innovations in the category include ant gin, lobster gin, and meat gin.
Popular brands for Waitrose include Opihr Oriental Spiced Gin (containing Indonesian cubeb berries and Moroccan coriander), Copper House Dry Gin (from coastal brewer Adnams), and Audemus’s Pink Pepper Gin (distilled in France by an Australian).
Each has a different flavor profile and is infused with a variety of botanical flavors and citrus notes, observes Anne Jones, category manager, wine beer and spirits, at Waitrose.
But it’s not just the gin that’s important: the variety of mixers and tonic waters means that personalization can be taken to new levels. Sales of botanical mixers, such as premium tonic water and mixer brand Fever-Tree, have grown 17% this year.
“The humble G&T is fast becoming the ultimate vehicle for self-expression,” said Jones. “People want to find flavors of their own volition, rather than be told what to drink,” she added.
Reducing distance between consumers and suppliers
In craft beers and cider, drinkers can choose the brand that best fits their personality (small producers are engaged with their local communities and offer people the chance to visit the production facilities).
“In short, people today want an experience that is about more than just buying a product form a supermarket,” said Petrassi.
In September, Waitrose held its inaugural Waitrose Drinks Festival, where shoppers could meet winemakers, distillers and brewers. The aim was to reduce the distance between consumers and suppliers, allowing consumers to learn more about where our products come from.