CHICAGO — On-the-go lifestyles seldom slow even in the evening in the comfort of one’s home. Just the idea of measuring, blending and shaking an after-work cocktail may cause more stress than the beverage’s intent of relaxing and unwinding. To assist, the adults-only beverage aisle at retail is getting stocked with innovative convenience solutions ranging from artisanal prepared cocktails to culinary-inspired flavorings, making the most inexperienced home bartender feel like a mixologist. And increasingly, the products even address consumers’ health and wellness considerations.
“People don’t change. They evolve,” said Keith Davis, founder, Nebula9 L.L.C., Portland, Ore. “We did not set out to re-invent the drinker, rather to re-invent the drink and change the game.”
That evolution is apparent in data from the Chicago-based market research firm Mintel, which show strong demand for artisanal alcoholic beverages in the United States. No surprise, this is being driven by millennials and their appetite for adventure. Mintel research shows that the market for craft spirits is growing and it is driving innovation in the ingredients that are blended with spirits to make everything from a cosmopolitan to a martini. Premium ready-to-drink (R.-T.-D.) cocktails also are growing, with convenience packaging making the drinks portable and pourable.
A new report from London-based Technavio entitled “Alcoholic beverage market in the U.S. 2016-2020,” shows the spirits segment, which Technavio categorizes as brandy, gin, rum, tequila, vodka and whiskey, is growing faster than beer or wine. And, women, overall, increasingly are turning to the spirits category for refreshment, because they have more control over the calories in a drink by choosing lower-sugar mixers and other ingredients.
The Technavio report states new product launches, the rise in the import of distilled spirits and the association of spirits with lifestyle are some of the other reasons the category is growing. The lifestyle
correlation is as much about the healthfulness and naturalness of the ingredients as it is about how the product was developed and manufactured.
“Despite being a relatively small sector of the market, craft spirits are growing in response to the huge consumer-led demand for more authentic, more distinctive, more local, less processed and more interesting spirit brands,” said Jonny Forsyth, global drinks analyst at Mintel. “Millennials are the driving force, having taken their creative and unique ethos into their spirits-buying habits. Rather than wanting to affiliate themselves with bigger brands, millennials often seek to define themselves by more niche, higher-quality brands with a quirky backstory.”
You get some of that with new-to market Nebula9, a product positioned as a healthy vodka, Mr. Davis said. It is distilled four times and infused with organic drinking vinegar and sweetened with stevia.
“I fell in love with the drinking vinegars offered at one of Portland’s premier, James Beard-awarded restaurants,” Mr. Davis said. “I also recognized the trend in uniquely flavored cocktails in food service and the exponential growth in the R.-T.-D. spirits category at retail. This set the entrepreneurial wheel in motion.
“Nebula9 was created with the philosophy that some rules can, and should be broken. With the slow-food movement and resurrected interests in what goes into our bodies and where it comes from, designing a spirit that not only tastes great but boasts health benefits just hadn’t been done, until now.”
Nebula9 is a line of flavored vodka beverages that relies on apple cider vinegar and stevia to enhance the flavor of the spirit. Flavors include cherry, grape, lemon, passionfruit, pineapple, raspberry and strawberry.
“The stevia is 300 times sweeter than cane sugar and contributes zero calories to the vodka,” Mr. Davis said. “This appeals to calorie-conscious drinkers.”
Thom King, president of Steviva Ingredients, Portland, Ore., said, “Stevia-based sweeteners work well in spirits because they are non-nutritive and therefore do not contribute to secondary fermentation.”
Stevia also does not contribute to mouthfeel, which is important with spirits, as they are intended to be light on the palate. Viscous sweeteners may contribute thickness, which deters from the refreshing nature of spirit-based beverages.
The combination of vinegar and sweetener, also known as shrubs, is gaining momentum in the cocktail culture. Some of this started with the shortage of limes a couple of years ago, as vinegar provides similar acidity. Mixologists learned that vinegars also contribute their own unique flavor profiles, enabling the development of signature cocktails.
Shrubs have been around for hundreds of years and long have been a go-to mixer for cocktails. Shrubs are basically acidified fruits and sweetener. For Nebula9, it’s apple and stevia with other fruit flavors.
Organic Mixology, Beverly Hills, Calif., takes a different approach to flavoring its vodka-based beverages. The company blends vodka distilled from organic sugar cane with premium organic and natural ingredients to create liqueurs that readily blend with other liquids to create signature cocktails.
At 15% alcohol, each OM Organic Mixology contains two combined flavor profiles. They are: coconut and lychee, cranberry and blood orange, dark chocolate and sea salt, and Meyer lemon and ginger.
With many spirit-based beverages, color communicates the intensity of the flavor. To preserve those intense colors, Kemin, Des Moines, Iowa, recently introduced a line of plant-derived extracts that protect and maintain color stability throughout shelf life. The ingredients are declared simply as natural flavor and complement clean label trends, which are migrating into the adults-only beverage category.
Clean, pure but definitely not simple is what you get from Alice & the Magician, Burlington, Vt. The company takes a unique approach to helping cocktail makers — at home or food service — create a premium beverage. Inspired by careers in cooking, mixology and wine stewardship, brothers Aaron and Sam Wisniewski, co-founded the aromatics company that is redefining the way consumers experience flavors.
“I became obsessed with aromas early in my career,” Aaron Wisniewski said. “Most flavors are aromas and some of the best aromas in a flavor are the ones you experience in the first couple seconds.”
He explained that we perceive only five basic tastes — bitter, salty, sour, sweet and umami — yet we smell trillions of unique aromas. Smell accounts for nearly 90% of the flavor of everything we eat and drink.
“The purest aromas start with the best ingredients,” he said. “So my brother and I decided to travel the world to collect fine, rare, natural
botanicals to duplicate aromas that evoke memories of great-tasting foods or remind you of pleasant places or events. We use these ingredients to create aromatics that deliver intense aromas that perfectly duplicate the flavor of that food, that place or that event.”
The brothers identified a controlled extraction process to minimize ingredient exposure to heat, moisture and chemicals, as aromas are fragile and these environments may damage the essences that provide the aromas. The unique extraction and blending technique ensures every delicate nuance is preserved.
The aromatics provide flavor without diluting the cocktail with sugary flavored syrups that contribute extra calories.
“Every aromatic we produce smells as pure as if it was just harvested,” Sam Wisniewski said. “They are so true and delicate they must be misted on top of a drink rather than stirred in.”
The company began selling aromatic atomizers more than a year ago to the bartending industry and recently made them available through specialty retail outlets.
For example, Citrus Blossom Harvest delivers the essence of orange, three different grapefruits, and neroli. Autumn Bonfire combines the smells of dried maple leaves and smoked wood, while Chocolate Birthday Cake captures the smell of a freshly home-baked chocolate birthday cake.
A bloody Mary gets upgraded with a couple of sprays of Andalucia’s Garden, which melds together the essence of freshly picked cilantro, lime and tomato. Margaritas go savory with the Rosemary & Wild Honey aromatic, a hearty, green, herbaceous essence enhanced with sweet, heady and floral wild honey.