From time-tested and traditional to new flavours and festive expressions, consumers continue to celebrate the season with wine and spirits.
But are they sipping on a sherry or heading back to beer? Is mulled wine trendy or is it all about cocktails? We take a look at some key categories.
World whisky: Winter warmers take consumers on a voyage
In the on-trade there are three spirits categories where ‘there’s some really interesting stuff happening – and they’re all dark,” says UK importer and distributor Mangrove Global.
Bartenders can take this popularity to a new level with the promise of new experiences drawing on travel and exotic lands.
“The winter months are traditionally a good time for whisky sales. But, this winter, there’s an opportunity for bartenders to use their influence and encourage customers to take a trip around the world," says Mangrove.
"World whisky as a category is growing, quite significantly, and is projected to be worth $91.3bn by 2028.
"Top quality whiskies are now being distilled in countries like Denmark, Japan, Canada, Israel, England, America, and Australia – and whilst they’re quite different from Scotch, they’re just as pleasing.
“But beyond whisky, there are other dark spirits which are being enjoyed by customers neat – namely rum and tequila.
"With premiumisation taking hold across almost all spirits categories, customers are willing to explore premium dark spirits, and sip them neat to enjoy the nuances between brands.
"There’s a great opportunity there for the on-trade to be on trend and educate customers in these new emerging super-premium dark spirits."
Cocktails: twists on tradition
A staple of the festive season, cocktails have become even more popular over the last few years (the number of cocktail drinkers in the on-trade increased by 11% in 2022, according to CGA’s Cocktails in Europe report).
Flavor house and drinks manufacturer Simpsons Beverage Supplies believes that twists on tradition is a sure winner this Christmas. Take, for example, the concept of ‘coconuts at Christmas’ – matching a tropical vibe to traditional Christmas spices.
“This tropical fruit is ideal for drinkers on plant-based diets, still keen for creamy cocktails," says the company. "Complementing cherry, cinnamon and nutmeg, it can easily become a winter flavour too.
“Sprinkled with decorative garnishes it’s the base for an attractive White Christmas Colada. In Puerto Rico coconut is already a seasonal staple, used in Coquito, an eggnoglike rum-based cocktail.”
We can also expect to see the level of spice amped up in cocktails.
“The growing interest in Middle Eastern cuisine will support spices being a sure-fire winner for festive cocktails by winter, as will the continued trend for super sensory creations," says Simpsons.
"Spices like nutmeg, cloves, cardamom, star anise and allspice or zesty orange peel all create warming and full-bodied drinks, perfect laced through flavoured spirits, rich ales and mulled wines alike.
"Simply adding spices to Old Fashioneds, Daiquiris and Whiskey Sours gives an easy Christmas twist to classic cocktails. New mixes like cinnamon, star anise and vanilla will work with whiskeys and bourbons. Recreate a spiced sugar plum whisky sour with plum, allspice and cloves.”
Bartenders could have a key role in helping establish new ideas. CGA’s Cocktails in Europe report found that 62.5% of cocktail drinking consumers were happy to be influenced by the bartender – even if they’d already chosen what to drink.
This is excellent news for the on-trade, says Chris Pollard, Head of Sales at Mangrove Global.
“Traditional cocktails have already made a comeback on menus across the UK. And we expect Christmas to be no different.
“But, given the creativity of modern-day spirts brands, Christmas will see a range of exciting new limited-edition products come to market – many of which we expect to feature traditional festive flavours. If bars can bring create delicious variants of classic cocktails like martinis, negronis, and spritzes, all while using their influence to get customers to branch out – it’s likely to be a very rewarding time on both sides of the bar.
“Explore new cream liqueurs, spiced rums, and even syrups to add a twist to an old favourite.”
Low and no
In the off-trade, UK supermarket Waitrose anticipates ‘strong demand’ for low and no drinks at Christmas, promising new launches set in the run-up to festivities. Its started trialing new alcohol-free sections to help consumers navigate this category.
In the on-trade, Mangrove says low and no options are ‘vital’ for the season this year. “You want to ensure that everyone stepping through your doors feels catered for – and that includes customers who don’t drink alcohol.
“Luckily, there’s plenty of choice out there for you, with the low and no category steadily growing. But make sure you do plenty of sampling before you put something on your menu – it’s a difficult category to navigate, and you need to do a bit of digging to find the high-quality options.”
Catering for the eco-conscious can be a challenge. However, Mangrove highlights the availability of brands that are doing more and more to address their carbon footprint.
“Avallen is a delicious Calvados that’s actually carbon-positive and can be used in place of numerous base cocktail spirits.”
The apples trees used by the Dutch B-Corp company sequester more carbon than the company emits in producing Avallen each year, so every bottle produced ‘represents a small positive step towards tackling the climate emergency’.
Prepare to see more from sherry in 2023, says Simpsons.
“Traditionally left out for Father Christmas, sherry is often overlooked for everyone else, seen as an old-fashioned tipple. But it can be a delicious and versatile spirit.
"For Sherry cocktails to appeal to apprehensive drinkers, mixes with other spirits like rum, vodka and vermouth will work best. Sherry’s sweet, nutty taste best suits soft flavours like strawberry, orange and apple or coffee and maple syrup for mixers.”
Mulled wine – and beyond
‘In this year of bigger, bolder flavors: mulling doesn’t have to be confined only to red wines!” says Simpsons.
“Mulled cider, mulled white wine, or mulled spirits will make for excellent alternatives. Lace spices like nutmeg and cinnamon through ciders, or orange, cranberry and star anise into rum, ready to be warmed. Creating mulled spice syrups or liqueurs will suit everything from a mulled gin cocktail to a mulled spice coffee.”
Belvoir Farm even created a non-alcoholic mulled juice drink last year, showing the broad and diverse appeal of this festive flavouring.
Back to beer?
Cost-of-living pressures are top of mind for UK consumers: could that lead consumers back to the beer category?
The UK beer market saw an uplift in share from December 2022 to February 2023, thanks to the festive period and sports fixtures, reveals Heineken category & commercial strategy director Alexander Wilson in The Grocer’s Guide to Christmas 2023. “Over the same period, data shows more households were buying into beer, with an increase in shoppers switching from wine and spirits to beer,” he added, citing Nielsen data.
“We feel this was linked to cost-of-living pressures for consumers, as beer’s more accessible price points vs wine and spirits became important for shoppers – something we are expecting to see again this year."
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