As more consumers seek out craft beverages and premium drinks, many restaurants and retailers are taking their own beverage programs to the next level in order to set themselves apart. Now you’ll find artisan juice flights, tableside cocktail service, even coffee shops roasting beans to individual customer specifications. And while these unique beverage options certainly earn press and attention, they also speak to overall industry trends like customization and the integration of technology with the dining experience.

Many restaurateurs, for instance, are looking to the premium experience associated with wine — dedicated wine menus, sommeliers, tasting portions, etc. — and translating that experience to beer, craft sodas, etc. At Chicago’s Coppervine, every dish is menued with beer and cocktail pairing suggestions in addition to the wine suggestion, and servers are trained to note how each beverage complements the dish in different ways. Other gastropubs, brewpubs, and high-end restaurants have a certified cicerone (pronounced “sis-uh-rohn”), or beer sommelier, on hand in order to explain flavor notes and help customers choose the right beer pairing. (read more…)

Wine has traditionally been a pleasure to be shared, from bottles sipped over an intimate dinner to tastings and clubs that bring out the crowd. Now, with the rise of digital technology and social media, the crowd isn’t limited to just consuming, or even a specific region, and wineries are starting to use crowdsourced investments, opinions and winemaking to build brand awareness and get consumers involved.

Two big players reinventing the wheel through crowdsourcing wine efforts include Naked Wines and Tesco.

Naked Wines, an online wine retailer that debuted in 2008, has been making headlines with steadily increasing profits, reporting record sales of nearly $8.6 million each month as of this summer. The company crowdsources members who invest approximately $30 per month in a wine producer and are then able to purchase the wines at wholesale prices. Growing to approximately 220,000 members from the U.K., Australia and the U.S., Naked Wines was shipping more than 25,000 bottles of wine to its members every day, reported a story published by The Telegraph this summer. Naked Wines has said it expects continued sales growth in 2014. (read more…)

Changing state laws around the country have fueled a rise in craft distilleries in the past decade or so, and their artisan experiments are fueling the latest whiskey trends. The number of craft distilleries in the state of New York alone has grown to 50 since the state began cutting licensing fees in 2002, and there are 12 in the borough of Brooklyn alone, said Colin Spoelman, co-founder and master distiller at King’s County Distillery.

Spoelman grew up in Kentucky, the state that produces 95% of the world’s bourbon supply. He learned early on to make moonshine, which is basically bourbon before it’s aged, he said. When he moved north to Brooklyn, Spoelman set up a still in his apartment and started making the kind of moonshine whiskey he grew up with.

“Then I started getting very popular,” he said with a laugh. “So I looked into getting a license. (read more…)

As restaurants attempt to innovate through dishing out new bold flavors and creating categories like upscale comfort food, so too turn the wheels behind the bar with moves that take popular liquors to make interesting new cocktails and, a little more outside the box, create the beginnings of a beer cocktail trend.

“Chelada, the Mexican thirst-quenching combo of lime juice and a light lager, the Black and Tan — Guinness and Harp — have been around for quite some time,” says Melissa Abbott, director of culinary insights at the Hartman Group. “Consumers are just coming around to the idea of mixing some of the sour Belgian-style beers as a cocktail ingredient. But it has to make some sort of culinary sense, not just a mash-up of ingredients.”

At Poste Moderne Brasserie in Washington, D.C., and on the other side of the country, at Urbane Restaurant in Seattle, Wash., beer cocktails have graced beverage menus with measured success. (read more…)

 

Craft beer has gone from a niche offering to being practically a necessity, with many consumers expecting to see craft brews on tap at even the most basic sports bars and small town watering holes. Sales of craft beer grew 18% by volume and 20% by dollars last year, Brewers Association Staff Economist Bart Watson said during a panel at the International Wine, Spirits and Beer event at the National Restaurant Association show last month. On-premise sales of craft beer continue to grow, and many markets are nearing what Watson calls “tap saturation,” with the maximum number of tap handles being occupied by craft beers.

Offering craft beers is a great way to bring in more business, but it’s important to follow a few key rules to make sure your craft beer program is truly adding value for your customers. Watson led a panel discussion with a representative from a large brewing company, a small craft brewer and an editor from a beer magazine to get their top tips on how restaurants can make the most of their craft beer programs. (read more…)