The Whisky Exchange unveils drinks trends predictions for 2020

Dawn Davies MW of The Whisky Exchange and Jen Baernreuther of Speciality Drinks predict the leading trends of 2020:

THE RISE OF SIPPING RUM 

 A thirst for rum has made itself known and, looking back at 2019, the category has undoubtedly had a moment in the spotlight. Sales of rum at The Whisky Exchange are up by 165% since May, after the introduction of a new system of classification and a large expansion of the range. Leading hotel, restaurant and bar supplier, Speciality Drinks reported that sales are soaring in the on-trade, up by 65%. 

Looking to 2020, the trend is for rum consumption to continue rising as attitudes towards it continue to change. Premiumisation is key, as consumers are looking for better quality products – they’re ditching the mixer and seeking rums best served neat. Clairin Sajous, for example, is Haitian sugar-cane juice rum. It’s distilled by Michel Sajous at the Chelo distillery, located in the middle of the plantation where the cane is grown. It’s made with organic cane juice and distilled using a traditional pot still to create a complex spirit that’s perfect for sipping. Equally, bigger brands are introducing more premium offerings – such as Bacardi Diez Gran Reserva – and surfing the crest of this wave. 

In the on-trade, bartenders are seeking more unusual brands to use in cocktails. This has been a particular boost to white rum thanks to its versatility in popular serves such as the Daiquiri. High-quality white rums – such as Foursquare’s Veritas and Diplomatico’s Planas – are among the brands seeing huge demand. 

TONIC OUT, SODA IN 

Consumers are becoming more discerning about how they are drinking spirits. They are not just changing their choice of serve but also the mixer used, noticing how soda allows the flavours of a spirit to shine, rather than masking them with sugar and extra flavourings. Negative stories about the impact of sugar on our bodies have dominated the media for years, and switching to soda water is increasingly considered a more-informed choice.

THE AMERICAN BOOM 

American whiskey is booming, despite the 25% tariff imposed by the EU in 2018. The Whisky Exchange reports that sales have remained steady since the introduction of the tariff, and Speciality Drinks report that one in every twelve whisk(e)y bottles sold to the on-trade in 2019 was an American whiskey. 

Innovation is at the forefront of American whiskey, and smaller whiskey producers are reaching the UK market more than ever before. These often come from micro-distilleries which are experimenting with mash bills – including using local and non-traditional grains – as well as distilling and maturation methods. 

In the on-trade, although bourbon is still the most popular type of American whiskey, other styles are expected to soar in customer interest, from the traditional rye to more experimental releases made with non-traditional mash bills. The demand is partly fuelled by bartenders looking to improve their classic cocktails – Manhattans, Boulevardiers and Old Fashioneds in particular. While rye is leading the charge, other new styles are a natural evolution for a bourbon drinker. This rise will continue throughout 2020 and over the next few years. 

An example of this mixture of old and new is Michter’s US*1 Original Sour Mash Whiskey – The Whisky Exchange Whisky of the Year 2019, the first non-Scottish winner of the consumer-voted award. Made using a mash bill that doesn’t fit into any of the defined categories other than ‘whiskey’ but using solely traditional grains, it shows how brands can combine old-fashioned production with new ideas to create category-leading products. 

HONEST DISTILLING 

Never have the words ‘sustainable’, ‘ethical’ and ‘climate change’ been used by so many, and the new voices of this generation are proving to be a powerful driving force behind consumers changing their buying behaviour. A brand’s production methods, packaging and environmental credibility are under more scrutiny than ever before, and consumers are more conscious of reducing their carbon footprint and doing their bit to halt climate change. This demand calls for brands to become more transparent and communicate their story. 

Brands will need to commit to minimising their environmental impact and support conservation if they hope to succeed in 2020. 

Fledgling Scottish distiller Ncn’ean is an example of a brand already working towards this goal. Its flagship spirit is a tasty 100 per cent organic and sustainable spirit that is neither whisky nor gin – Ncn’ean Botanical Spirit. Situated on the west coast of Scotland, the farm distillery runs entirely on renewable energy, with wood chips from surrounding forests fuelling itbiomass boiler, leftover grain used to feed cows and all waste products used on the fields as fertiliser. 

WINE BY-THE-GLASS 

It’s going to be essential for bars and restaurants to offer more wines and Champagnes by the glass in 2020. This is due to a rise in the quality and interest in lesser-known producers of natural wines and grower Champagnes. These smaller brands will thrive and drive this need, as consumers want to try these new-to-them wines before committing to a whole bottle, making wine-by-the-glass crucial to allow consumers to broaden their horizons and discover new brands. 

WAVING A FLAG FOR AUSTRALIA 

Consumers are becoming more accustomed to new flavours and are increasingly intrigued by new styles of whisky, which is helping Australian whisky to expand swiftly. More than 30 distilleries are now up-and-running across the country, and their whiskies are slowly becoming more available and popular in the UK. Currently, accessibility issues due to pricing is slowing demand, but we expect to see more from this category over the next few years. 

A brand paving the way for the awareness of Australian whisky is Melbourne’s Starward. The distillery’s Solera Malt Whisky is a deliciously sweet and spicy whisky made from Australian malted barley and aged in casks that previously held Australian apera – a fortified sherry-style wine. Its superb simplicity makes a delicious Old Fashioned.

VODKA’S NEW RENAISSANCE 

After riding high through the 1980s and 1990s, vodka has in more recent years become fairly stagnant, with few new ideas. However, thanks to a new-found focus on craft and innovation from smaller distillers, we are now starting to see more inspiring brands launch and become successful. 

With gin starting to reach saturation in the market, there is a segment of clear spirit drinkers looking to move to something new, and vodka is growing to meet this need. Consumers are looking for a combination of quality and innovation, and premium brands are meeting the challenge. With vodkas emphasising their ingredients – including potatoes, fruit, local grains and less traditional raw materials – as well as their production methods, we see the category thriving over the coming years. 

Leading the way in the UK is craft vodka Black Cow – at launch the world's first vodka to be made entirely from milk. Created by dairy farmer and cheesemaker Jason Barber, it is made from the whey left over from crafting his farm’s cheese. The texture is, somewhat unsurprisingly, rather creamy, and it has been championed by chefs and restaurateurs across the UK. Along with high-quality spirit, the brand’s sustainability credentials are impressive. 

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