A Vision in Booze

In Eat, February 2020 by Max Trujillo

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A new year has just begun and maybe you’re thinking what I’m thinking: Is the end nigh? I mean, why not? The Star Wars saga is over, the president has been impeached and people are consuming copious amounts of White Claw and Truly Hard Seltzer. Crazy! But what if it’s only the beginning?

As I ponder what’s to come in drinks trends for this new year, I keep going back to those hard seltzers. They’re leading the charge. In 2020, it’s all about that carbonation. 

During the holidays, I witnessed my family and friends plow through six cases of the non-alcoholic, zero-sugar La Croix. Everyone, it seems, is drinking bubbles, for good reason: They’re fantastic to pair with food, they settle your tummy and they’re quite thirst quenching.

I predict that, rather than moving away from bubbles this year, we’re going to improve upon them instead. We already have a short list of local businesses crafting their own seltzers—including Isla, a Key Lime-flavored spiked seltzer from Raleigh’s R&D Brewing—to be used behind the bar in mixed drinks. If we, as a society, have effectively been seduced by White Claw, why wouldn’t we love a delicious, locally sourced fruit drink mixed with bubbles and a local spirit? And that’s assuming we even want to use a spirit at all.

On that note, get ready for more zero-proof (low ABV) cocktails. Having recently put a beverage program together at Wye Hill Kitchen and Brewing, I witnessed first-hand the importance of having a cocktail without booze. Obviously, they’re great for kids and pregnant women, but non-alcoholic drinks also broaden the options for those struggling with addiction or who simply want a delicious drink without booze. Of course, a zero-proof drink can always be spiked—now the customer gets to choose their favorite spirit. (Just a tip: Bourbon and vodka go great with lemon whereas tequila and rum work well with lime). 

By now, most of us are much more woke to the importance of sustainable practices and protecting the environment. Plastic straws will be things of the past as alternative sipping options become the standard. Because everyone loves a turtle, right?

You don’t have to take all of this from me. I asked Ian Murray, a bar manager at Foundation, for his thoughts on 2020 bar trends. In his view, hospitality is finally taking precedence over the 20-ingredient cocktail. 

“Don’t get me wrong, I love making 20-ingredient cocktails,” Murray says. “But I think the industry is finally on to ‘being cool to each other’ over how trendy the cocktails are. Ya feel me?”

I feel ya, Ian. Hospitality is always top of the list for successful businesses, and even though it’s not as sexy to say “be friendly to each other,” it definitely keeps people coming back. So does getting a drink quickly and not having to wait in line.

My last bar scene prediction will be the boom of the North Carolina distiller. Last year saw changes in alcohol laws that readied the local liquor industry for unprecedented growth. Distillers can serve cocktails now and instead of going through the ABC store, they can sell bottles to the public at their own brick-and-mortar locations. Look for this to expand in a wonderful way, with charming little boozy cafés crafting locally sourced spirits and pouring them over carbonated water. 

It all fits together. For the 2020 bar scene, my vision is clear. You could even say it’s 20/20.

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