That’s the spirit: The cocktail trend and why it matters

Cocktail trends at convention centresTrends. They are an interesting part of so many industries. From the stock market to fashion, music to technology, businesses need to anticipate need, and rely on those who can forecast what the next big thing will be. The food business is no different, and what we choose to buy and eat has become as much of a barometer of taste, the state of the economy, and our relative happiness as rising and falling hemlines.

Often the popularity pendulum swings wildly to extremes in a short period of time. Not too long ago, molecular gastronomy aimed to distill the elements of cooking down to raw science, while the farm-to-table movement and locavorism gives great ingredients the top priority. If it all seems hard to keep up with, rest assured, if you do nothing, eventually what you’re already doing will come back into style – although you won’t be scoring high points with your clients or peers in innovation! It’s not practical to attempt to keep up with every trend. A smarter approach is to find ways to make existing trends overlap for maximum benefit.

A great example of this is the popularity of cocktails, a phenomenon that shows no signs of slowing down and has taken elements from other trends to grow and flourish. Like the emergence of local food, cocktail culture was born in smaller boutique bars where creative mixologists moved away from the ubiquitous Cosmo, using house-made ingredients and local distillers to make distinctive drinks, or using them in new ways to update the classics. Often they were served alongside other house-made items, like handmade crackers with local cheeses, or house-cured charcuterie and olives brined in the same spirits used in the cocktails. Embracing several key trends at the same time (in this case, local food+charcuterie+cocktails), and overlapping them in interesting ways makes it easy to navigate changing trends and tastes, while staying current and streamlining purchasing to boot.

A great mixologist creates a perfect balance of flavours, textures, colours, and temperatures, and the finished product engages all our senses. Mixologists can teach us about creativity and innovation, the importance of great ingredients, and the art of presentation, and more and more people are flocking to places where they can experience the fruits of their talents.

The cocktail trend has definitely begun to trickle-up, and larger venues are embracing the idea as more clients request more interesting drinks at their events. In our convention venue, we’re showcasing our local program while at the same time introducing the products of artisan distilleries. Our latest project is to create “local cocktails” which can be tailored using seasonal ingredients, and provide almost infinite options to our clients. Think vodkas made with Canadian Rye and pine, spring water sake, and local single malts melding with heirloom tomatoes, edible flowers, fresh herbs, fresh fruit syrups and pickled vegetables.

Being able to offer clients a signature cocktail, created especially for them and their event provides a bit of luxury and sophistication, key elements which fuel the cocktail trend. At a recent event, we made a delicious Ontario Rhubarb Soda, which can be enjoyed on its own or paired with a several different spirits for a more potent libation.

Whether its food or fashion, art or business, trends by their very nature breed innovation and creativity, as we build upon ideas and constantly evolve. The best part of exploring a trend is the possibility that during the course of trying new things, you may create something so great that it becomes a new classic.

Kelly Hughes is the Local food Procurement Officer at the Metro Toronto Convention Centre. Follow Kelly on Twitter or email her at khughes@mtcc.com.

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