Drynuary? Really? Hopefully by now, your resolution to not drink in 2015 has already gone by the wayside, because with a new year comes a whole new set of booze trends to follow. Here are my predictions for what you’ll be hearing about (and drinking!) in the spirits world during the next 12 months.
Brandy, but not cognac
Brandy can be distilled from any kind of fruit (not just grapes) and anywhere on earth (not just the tiny French cognac region), and bartenders have been waking up to the wider possibilities of the spirit. Expect to find after-dinner drinks lists stocked with more armagnac—a slightly less refined cousin of cognac, also made from grapes in southwestern France—and calvados—an apple brandy from northwestern France—which both make excellent digestifs. When it comes to cocktails, you’ll find lots of drinks with pisco, an unaged grape brandy made in Chile and Peru that mixes beautifully. And for real booze geeks, there are more obscure brandy styles I expect to see popping up, from brandy de Jerez, distilled from the same wine that makes sherry, to grappa, a clear Italian spirit distilled from the grape skins, stems and seeds left over from winemaking.
Demand for whiskey of all kinds, whether bourbon, Scotch or otherwise, is exploding, which means distillers are desperate for stocks of booze they can sell. So rather than waiting a decade or more, distillers are releasing new bottlings (like Talisker Storm Scotch and Green Spot Irish Whiskey) without age statements, aiming for consistency of taste instead of sticking to a specific number. This is not necessarily a bad thing: Older is definitely not always better. In fact, the livelier, spice-and-grain characteristics of younger whiskies are coming into vogue over the staid, often muted oakiness of a wizened spirit. Try the same distillery’s 8- or 10-year-old Scotch alongside its 18- or 25-year-old and you’ll taste the difference.
Okay, it’s not technically a distilled spirit, but the Spanish fortified wine has been the next big thing among bartenders and drinks geeks for the last year, and now it’s hitting the mainstream, led by Talia Baiocchi’s excellent book on the subject and an array of bars and restaurants launching sherry-focused menus. What’s great about sherry is that it’s so versatile: Styles range from the austere and nutty fino to the rich and syrupy Pedro Ximenez, and the stuff can be an aperitif, a digestif, a food-friendly by-the-glass wine or the basis of cocktails from strong and stirred to bubbly and fruity.
Mexico distills way more than just tequila. You’ve probably heard of its cousin mezcal, which can be made from any of dozens of varieties of agave plant and offers flavors that can range from refined and grassy to fiery and smoky. Mezcal is hitting the mainstream: You can now find a wide variety on menus around the country, incorporated into clever cocktails or served by the shot. Expect mezcal to grow even more in popularity this year, pulling up other more obscure Mexican spirits behind it, like sotol, which is made in the north of the country from an agave-like plant called the desert spoon; raicilla, made in the tequila-producing Jalisco region from agaves other than the blue agave used for tequila; and bacanora, made in the state of Sonora from pacifica agave.
Good booze is coming over both borders! As whiskey prices continue to soar, Canada is looking to rise off the bottom shelf at the liquor store. Long seen as a source of cheap and inferior blended products, distillers in our neighbor to the north are creating more spirits for the premium market, including some fine ryes and longer-aged whiskies. Keep an eye out this year for tasty brands like Pike Creek, Lot No. 40 and Collingwood.
Craft distillery growing pains
Craft distilling has been booming for almost a decade now, which means many of the beloved brands that got started back then are having to evolve from scrappy startups into mature businesses. In the spirits industry especially, growth requires cash, to pay for bigger stills and fermenters, and space for aging barrels. And when fiercely independent distillers bring on investors to supply that cash, confilicts arise. Take the case of the widely respected Balcones Distilling in Waco, Tex. An ugly, public dispute led to the ouster of founder (and distilling genius) Chip Tate late last year. I’m sad to say it, but I think more stories like this might hit the papers in 2015.