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How the drinks industry will mix it up in 2024

From the sober bar movement to the rise in New World whiskies, here are the five trends that will define the drinks industry in 2024

The global rise in demand for zero and low alcohol drinks is driving the sober bar movement.
The global rise in demand for zero and low alcohol drinks is driving the sober bar movement. (Pixabay)

The global drinks industry of 2024 is a vibrant canvas of innovation, exploration and conscious consumption. The five trends highlighted in this list are not just fleeting fads, but markers of a dynamic and evolving landscape across the world.

Also read | In search of ‘buzz-free’ cocktails

1. Sober bar movement

Welcome to the era where the term bar no longer implies a place of inebriation, but a space for mindful drinking experiences. The sober bar movement is gaining traction worldwide, revolutionising the perception and enjoyment of non-alcoholic beverages. New York welcomed its first sober bar, Hekate towards the end of 2022. In London, a shop-cum-community space for zero alcohol drinks, named Club Soda Tasting Room, opened few years ago. Last December, they began to evolve into a sober bar. “From alcohol-free cocktails with in-house blends to soon-to-be-introduced classic cocktails, the bar menu is designed to cater to a diverse palate. The surge in popularity (of zero alcohol drinks) has turned this sober bar into a packed space,” says Nicolas Medicamento, General Manager of Club Soda. This pioneering establishment offers an extensive menu featuring over 150 low-alcohol and alcohol-free beverages. In England, the concept of sober bars traces its origins to the nineteenth century, when they were created to support individuals in recovery or those choosing to abstain from alcohol. Contemporary sober bars now cater to both the sober community and those simply curious about alcohol-free options.

This transformative trend isn't confined to London; there's a global rise in demand for low-and-no-alcohol drinks as stated by the latest International Wine and Spirits Research (IWSR) industry insight released in January 2024. The West is witnessing an upsurge in non-alcoholic bar menus, and this trend has expanded to new territories, including India. The 30 Best Bars India recently introduced a new category, The Best Non-Alcoholic Cocktail Menu recognising the growing demand for thoughtfully crafted non-alcoholic drinks. The award in this category was claimed by Chennai's Pandan Club.

2. The closure revolution

The world of wine and spirits is witnessing a closure revolution that goes beyond the liquid inside the bottle. The traditional cork stopper is no longer the only player in town. In the fine wine industry, screw caps and other alternatives such as (glass-closures) Vino-Lok closures are stealing the spotlight, bringing a wave of consistency, convenience, and a reduced risk of cork taint.

Napa Valley's PlumpJack winery was the trailblazer two decades ago, opting for screw caps on fine wines. A 2020 overview of wine from New Zealand, published by the wine retailing and publishing platform Wine Enthusiast highlights that 95 percent of wines from New Zealand are sealed with screw caps. In Australia, according to the luxury publication Robb Report, 70 percent of wines offer the convenience of screw caps. From Henschke Hill of Grace's Vino-lok glass stopper to Penfolds' commitment to screw caps for all its white wines, the bottle has become a canvas for expressing style and innovation.

The spirits industry, on the other hand, is leaning towards a different kind of closure revolution–customised cork closures. Distillers are recognising the visual and tactile appeal of premium cork stoppers, especially for high-end luxury spirits, like cognac, rum, whiskies and gin. Some Indian whisky brands such as Amrut, Paul John, and Rampur have been using premium cork closures for some time, while the craft spirits producers such as Stranger & Sons, Hapusa, Tamras, Samsara, and the new rum Eekh are using alternatives like agglomerated cork stoppers or cork stopper with natural wood caps.

3. New World whiskies

The world of whisky is experiencing a seismic shift, with New World whiskies taking centre stage and stealing the spotlight from the classic regions. While Scotland continues to remain the heart of traditional whisky production, the spotlight is shifting to emerging players like India, Taiwan, Australia, Canada, France and Israel.

India, despite being the largest buyer of Scotch whisky, is disrupting the scene with its homegrown single malts, such as Paul John, Rampur, and Indri. The competition has prompted global giants like Diageo, Pernod Ricard, Beam Suntory and Bacardi to introduce domestic whiskies like Epitome Reserve, Godawan, Longitude 77, Oaksmith and Bacardi Legacy tailored for the Indian market.

The success of Indri’s Diwali Collector’s Edition and Radico Khaitan’s Rampur Asava in international whisky competitions signals a significant preference shift among whisky enthusiasts. The exploration of diverse grains, maturation techniques and climatic influences in New World whiskies is captivating a new generation of connoisseurs seeking novel and exciting flavour experiences.

4. Indigenous spirits on the rise

Embarking on a quest for distinctive drinking experiences, enthusiasts are placing indigenous spirits at the forefront. The global spotlight is particularly illuminating the surge in demand for tequila and mezcal from Mexico, celebrated for their artisanal appeal derived from the agave plant.

Korean soju, led by the Jinro brand, stands as the world's best-selling spirit, selling 100.9 million cases globally in 2022, marking it as a powerhouse. Sudip Majumdar, a seasoned liquor distributor and owner of SM advisory & Marketing, notes the remarkable growth of soju in India. Initially challenging, the category now witnesses over 1000 cases sold monthly in Maharashtra. Majumdar is set to introduce a new soju, Punter, next month in the region.

Japan's sake and shochu, coupled with China's baijiu, are gaining prominence in the liquor market. Each possessing unique characteristics and cultural significance, these indigenous spirits offer a departure from the ordinary, inviting consumers to explore and savour flavours of diverse regions.

5. Brands geared to impress Gen Z

Brands with compelling narratives, particularly those advocating ethical and sustainable causes, resonate with the socially conscious generation. In the fiercely competitive landscape vying for Gen Z's attention, who have entered the legal drinking age, liquor companies having a meaningful brand story is now imperative.

An example is the evolution of Plantation Rum into Planteray Rum, catalyzed by the brands shift to embrace racial equality following George Floyd's tragic death in 2020. The rebranded 'Planteray' pays homage to sugarcane and sunlight, encapsulating a story aligned with Gen Z's values.

In sync with this trend, Godawan, Diageo India’s Single Malt Whisky, emphasises sustainability and conserving the endangered Great Indian bustard. Similarly, Terai, a craft gin, weaves a narrative rooted in provenance, drawing inspiration from the fertile Himalayan foothill marshlands.

Take pride in homegrown labels, and drink better in 2024. 

Also read | How to pair drinks with your favourite K-drama

Rojita Tiwari is a drinks writer, educator and consultant based in Mumbai.

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