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The clean, transparent ethos is surfacing even at the bar, typified by cocktails that boast improved ingredients such as fresh juices, garden herbs, organic spirits and natural syrups.
“Mixologists are talking about using cane sugar and freshly picked basil in drinks, bringing out the fresh and the pure,” says Sally Sparks, vice president of consumer insights for Food & Drink Resources, a menu and product development company based in Centennial, Colo. “And you are also seeing more organic vodkas, made with organic grain and pure mountain water.”
Providing much of the impetus for cleaner, more transparent beverages and foods are millennial and Generation Z consumers, a group that is motivated by several key drivers, Sparks says. “There is always that underlying health concern. But it really comes down to just wanting to be sure what they are buying is really what they think it is.”
Customer concern about what goes into cocktails “is more and more apparent every year,” says Ryan Wainwright, beverage director of Bombet Hospitality Group, which runs the popular restaurants Terrine, Hanjip and Faith & Flower in Los Angeles.
Wainwright says the liquor brands he stocks at the bar are typically not the trendiest, but rather those with the highest ethical and quality standards.
For example, when it comes to tequila, he chooses labels made by sustainable methods that are free of undisclosed additives such as caramel color used to enhance flavor and appearance.
“I painstakingly search for producers who are committed to processing the tequila in a way that may not be the most economical, in the sense of getting all you can out of the plant, but that respects nature and the consumer,” says Wainwright.
In addition to cleaner spirits, other hallmarks of Wainwright’s bar programs are ice made from filtered water, flavorings that are natural and bar mixers free of artificial sweeteners and high fructose corn syrup. For example, one of his signatures at Terrine, a California brasserie, is Le Vieux Port, a medley of gin, pastis, fresh lime juice, cucumber and two housemade products — crème de menthe steeped with dried and fresh mint and orgeat syrup made with soaked almonds, sugar and orange flower water.
The quality of mixers “is definitely an important part” of cocktail programs today, Wainwright says.
Operators who meet consumer demands for transparency and quality ingredients stand to reap a significant marketing reward. “It can absolutely be used to create a backstory for your menu and connect with your customer,” says Sparks. “If you can call your products any of those labels — organic, natural, non-GMO — I think you would be very remiss in not pointing that out as a selling point.”
Wainwright foresees a day not far off when natural flavors and improved products will become more widely used in cocktails. In fact, he sees it already happening.
“People are starting to make fresh fruit juice in the city of Los Angeles and selling it to bars,” says Wainwright. “There is a guy selling grenadine and a guy selling ginger he does fresh every day. I think you will see that happen more and more.”