Tradition will take a back seat as an urban mindset that prizes convenience over provenance takes hold among many consumers.
Although curiosity is often at the heart of drink purchases in both the on- and off-trade, this has to be balanced with the desire for attainment. Consumers want to obtain things more quickly, but they also want access to things they’ve never tried before.
This is why the time is ripe for synthetic alcohol to live up to its promise. Even though alcohol made in a lab remains a nascent idea, it will become even more developed next year as consumers increasingly recognise its benefits.
But there is another tension in the world of alcohol, because even as consumers strive to attain the inaccessible, they are also more interested in quality than ever before. Alcohol sales may be down, but spirits consumption is up, and that tale of quality over quantity will continue next year. New narratives, such as those on terroir, sustainability and geographical distinctions, will be used to attract consumer interest.
While the conversation on lab-grown ingestible products mostly centres around cultured meat, alcohol created in the laboratory is becoming a larger part of the conversation. And although consumer concern over ‘hacked’ foods is latent, the synthetic offerings that show a clear benefit may find some appeal.
In Los Angeles, The Lost Spirits Distillery has been working to age rum and whisky synthetically in record time using a high-tech reactor that uses heat and light to speed up the process, creating the complexity of a 20-year-old liquor in just six days to satisfy the impatience of many drinkers.
Professor David Nutt at Imperial College has spent the past decade inventing alcosynth, a synthetic alcohol which mimics the positive effects of alcohol while negating the toxicity of it, which can lead to hangovers. Also on the market now is Bellion’s Functional Vodka, which is created using NTX technology, a proprietary blend of additives said to lessen the damaging effects of alcohol on the liver.
Industry Innovator: Sombra Mezcal
Big idea: Creating a sustainable solution for mezcal production by planting one agave plant for every one harvested and using spent agave fibres to create adobe bricks for local community buildings.
Why it matters in 2018: The tequila market is forecast to grow at a steady rate of 3% a year until 2021 (source: Technavio), and current agave practices may not be sustainable enough to feed this growth. Sombra Mezcal is investing its distillery with a sense of purpose, not only by practising restraint in its production, but also by ensuring that its work enriches its community overall.
In 2018 tradition will give way to a conversation around terroir, which will give spirits a greater sense of place.
Some spirits, such as tequila and whisky, have to be produced in particular regions, but to compete in a crowded market, more will be made of the specific locations within a region as a point of difference.
In Scotland’s Isle of Raasay, R&B Distillers has begun production of its whisky, and is focusing on local elements such as the volcanic mineral content in the island’s water supply as well as planting barley trails to determine whether the climate is suitable for growing and ripening the plant.
‘Terroir is not simply a notional concept. It really does shine through in our food and drink, and enables us to experience the history and traditions of a place through our palate and senses,’ explains Claire Smith-Warner, head of spirits education for Moët Hennessy.
The UK will face an upward battle when it comes to drink sales, thanks to the continuing uncertainty surrounding the future post-Brexit. But while imported wine, beer and spirits may be more expensive next year, it could be an opportunity for domestic products to shine.
A record one million grapevines are expected to be planted in the UK from April 2017 to April 2018, and the growing category of English sparkling wine could become a more attractive option on the shelf. English spirits alternatives may also find favour, with recent launches of innovative products such as Southwestern Distillery’s take on pastis, an aniseed-flavoured liqueur from France.
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