Mixologists create new innovative spirit offerings


The popularity of spirits has surged recently, with whiskey and vodka vying for the top spot and rum a close second. Thanks to increased Ready-to-Drink (RTD) offerings during the pandemic, diners are spending more on alcohol to pair with their meals.

President and CEO of Spirits Canada, Jan Westcott, says more people in their early to mid-20s are choosing spirits. “Historically, it has been an older crowd. Now, younger people want more quality drinks. They’re willing to try new things; this leads to changing tastes.”

According to Spirits Canada, sales of spirits-based refreshments grew by 15 per cent in 2021, or almost 33 million litres. “RTD sales are up, representing an opportunity for bars and restaurants because of the convenience. It’s like serving a beer because it requires less labour,” says Westcott.

The LCBO FY2021 annual report shows the spirits market in Ontario (including spirits-based RTD coolers and seltzers) grew by 26.8 per cent (35 million litres) to almost 166 million litres, with 99.5 per cent being attributed to the LCBO. “In terms of spirits, we have seen a trend toward more premium offerings in all categories. Customers also seek more complexity and flavours in their spirits, with categories such as scotch, bourbon, and cognac seeing strong growth,” says a LCBO spokeperson.

And with patrons returning to on-premise dining, mixologists are tasked with getting creative to keep up with the demand for new and innovative cocktails. After two years of mixing their drinks, people want to try something new in a different atmosphere where they can relax and enjoy themselves.

“More bartenders are making signature cocktails. Different restaurants will offer variations of the same drink. For example, they’ll take a Manhattan and smoke it,” says Westcott. “This is how restaurants/bars distinguish themselves from other restaurants. Spirits give them this opportunity to carve a niche out for themselves.”

The Fairmont Pacific Rim in Vancouver, for example, has signature cocktails that patrons return for time and again. “We have Lost in Translation, made with Japanese whiskey, or the Geisha, which is fruity and floral,” says Grant Scenery, creative beverage director at Botanist Bar and The Lobby Lounge and RawBar. “During the holidays, guests can enjoy our popular fresh in-house Egg Nog or our Hot Buttered Rum. It tastes just like a boozy warm cookie.”

“At [our properties], the brown spirits continue to be king,” says Richard Garcia, Senior VP, Food and Beverages at Dallas-based Remington Hotels. “Our number-1 selling cocktail is the Old Fashioned, a high alcohol bourbon-based cocktail. We use a mixture of Bourbon Amaro Montenegro and chocolate bitters strained over a large ice cube.”

Up and Coming
Red Bull and vodka continue to be top-selling items, along with low-calorie and low-carbohydrate drinks such as hard seltzers featuring flavours such as mango, grapefruit, and cucumber.

Classic liqueurs/creams and Tequila have seen a boon thanks to to celebrity-endorsed brands such as Wayne Gretzky Caramel, Casamigos and Teremana.

Remington Hotels is working to create cocktail packages for the retail market. “We’re working with Red Bull and a potential spirit company to create cocktail kits that would already come prepared for you to buy at our Corner Pantry,” says Garcia. “People will be able to make a more complex cocktail than just rum and coke or vodka and soda. We’re giving people the opportunity for some creativity and to have some fun.”


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