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The best cocktail award 2020
Photograph: Shutterstock

2021 Drinks trends according to Hong Kong's bar and beverage experts

Trends to keep an eye on this year and those that we'd rather see left behind

By Tatum Ancheta
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2020 has changed the way we consume, from the way we eat, drink, and socialise, and it will definitely affect the food and drink trends for the new year. We asked Hong Kong's beverage and bar industry experts to tell us the drink trends we need to watch out for and what they'd rather leave behind in 2020. Read on to learn what we can watch out for in Hong Kong's drinking scene for 2021. 

RECOMMENDED: Planning to set up your own home bar this year? Check out this guide to get you started and where to get your supplies

Watch out for these drink trends

Ming Court Wan Chai Brunch
Ming Court Wan Chai Brunch
Photograph: Courtesy Ming Court WanChai

1. Foodservice in bars

With social distancing measures still in place and bars are usually the first venues temporarily closing during tightened restrictions, Hong Kong bars with catering licences have pivoted as cafes or restaurants to keep their venues open. For this year, we will continue to see a focus on food services in bars. Offering food menus in bars is a move that will ensure the survival of establishments. "For sure I think bar owners or companies will look into the option of having restaurant licences in any bar premises because restaurants can run and open anytime and also receive a government subsidy," says Tell Camilla's co-founder Gagan Gurung.  

"I agree that food will have to play a more significant role in regular bar service as establishments need to get more creative on what else can be offered which includes food, coffee, juice, and so on to ensure their survival at these taxing times," adds Harsh Roopchand, co-founder of Amalfitana, Fratelli, and The Pontiac.  

For Quinary's Antonio Lai, this trend is nothing new. "Personally, food has always been a significant part of regular bar service," he says. "It's all about finding a good balance because drinking on an empty stomach is a bad idea, and a few good bites can actually enhance the cocktail drinking experience."

 Roganic Hong Kong
 Roganic Hong Kong
Photograph: Courtesy Roganic Hong Kong

2. Flexibility in business 

"The bar trends for the new year include creative ways bar owners and operators are adapting to save their businesses and preserve bar culture," shares Agung Prabowo of Penicillin and Dead &. Bars needed to pivot and adapt to various restrictions last year, and because the of the uncertainty of when the pandemic will end, bar owners still need to be flexible in order to thrive.

"What the pandemic has taught us is that we need to create flexible business models, which can cater to a wider audience, and most importantly with a flexible offering," explains Caprice Bar's beverage manager and Time Out Hong Kong's 2020 bartender of the year – Lorenzo Antinori. "We need to be able to change on the run and adapt, and adjust," he adds.   

Requirements for safety like social distancing through partitioned customer seating, temperature checks, and doubling up regular cleaning have been part of the industry's changes and will continue to do so this year. Bar and restaurant collaborations, including tie-up with brands, will continue to be a regular fixture in the business model. "Another thing that has come out of the pandemic is how the community has come together to help each other," says Bob Louison, bar manager of Lobster Bar and Grill. "We see a lot more collaboration and support between local bars now, and there are also more crossovers between bars and restaurants too," he adds. 

"We all realised how important it is to be flexible with our business models and be able to change or adjust according to the circumstances," shares Lorenzo Antinori. "Technology will be more present and play a bigger role when looking at guests' experiences: QR code menus, live tasting sessions, online shopping platforms. All these are here to stay," he adds.

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Sugar Hong Kong inspired cocktails
Sugar Hong Kong inspired cocktails
Photograph: Courtesy Sugar

3. Love local

"Instead of talking up must-see places around the world, it is now a trend to talk about must-see places locally," observes Tiana Ludhani, co-founder of The Daily Tot. "Supporting smaller businesses and F&B exploration locally now is more frequent than most normally would."

The pandemic has pushed bartenders to think harder about what to serve and where to get the ingredients. Due to difficulties and delays in shipping, many have turned to local ingredients for their drinks. Not only does this move help out local farmers and businesses, but it's also good for the environment. "Fresh and locally sourced ingredients will be likely utilised in 2021," Agung Prabowo predicts. "Helping local farmers during this crisis and reducing carbon emissions is part of our goals," he adds. 

"Due to the fact that import and export have decreased exponentially, we are forced to focus locally," shares The Pontiac's Beckaly Franks. "Though that reality is hard on the global economy, it is good for the business and the local industry. I forecast you will see a trend in local flavours and produce, spirits, and brewing," she adds. "We will learn a lot about Hong Kong and what we can source locally. It's an exciting adventure discovering all the local flavours that this amazing island has to offer." 

Cocktail ingredients I Photo from Shutterstock
Cocktail ingredients I Photo from Shutterstock
Cocktail ingredients I Photo from Shutterstock

4. Sustainability

Mindful consumption and environmental awareness have been gaining traction over the years. Sustainability is the big buzzword on everyone's lips, and bars are trying to move into more sustainable practices. "There will be some new beverages and liquors that are inspired from eco-friendly concepts, and big brands of spirits will change their production to be as sustainable as they can," says Agung Prabowo.

It's not just the bars and brands that want to be more sustainable, but also environmentally concerned consumers demand it as well. "Customers want sustainable products and sustainable packaging, and thus especially within the F&B market – it is rapidly growing through the chain of process," states Tiana Ludhani. "From suppliers such as Proof & Co's initiative for EcoSpirits to biodegradable straws – this means consumers go for sustainable products and are more aware of their choices in products," she shares.  

Being less wasteful is also a part of the efforts to be sustainable. "The emphasis on 'no waste' will definitely continue," predicts Coa's Jay Khan. "As more and more of us are becoming aware of the consequences and the impact on the environment, I have a feeling there will be a new interest in the classic and minimalist style of cocktails," he shares.  

"I think the industry will focus more on humble parts of leftover ingredients, such as fruit skin, roots of herbs etc." adds head bartender of The Poet, Tony Hsu. "Sustainability is not just a trend, but what we have to pay attention to." 

"Expect consumer demand for eco-friendly packaging to grow and product manufacturers to take up this cause through reducing carbon footprint and enhancing the sustainability of packaged goods, upcycling foods, finding new ways to upcycle ingredients, and producing less waste," shares The Old Man's Nikita Matveev. "

The pursuit of being more sustainable won't impede the industry, but rather allow it to be more creative. "Ingredients are always new, experiential, and innovative," says Roger Chan, chairman of Metabev, an alcoholic beverage supplier and distributor company in Hong Kong. "We believe sustainability and overall responsibility will grow."

 

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 Shutterstock cocktail
 Shutterstock cocktail
Photograph: Shutterstock

5. Low-ABV 

After the indulgence and celebrations during the holiday season, many opt for low-ABV cocktails at the beginning of the year. This year is no different. "Most of the guests will be more conscious of their health and will focus on drinking habits [will be less]," predicts Agung. "Healthy and low alcohol cocktails perhaps will be around for the first quarter."

Blogger and founder of Time For Whisky, Martin Eber, hopes to see creative low-ABV cocktails this year. "I'd like to see more of a focus on lower ABV cocktails - vermouth-based, Amari-based drinks that really show off the versatility of some of the wonderful products out there," he shares. 

Penicillin
Penicillin
Photograph: Courtesy Penicillin

6. Fermentation

In terms of drink-making techniques, fermentation is seen as a popular method of choice for this year. While fermentation is an ancient process (used to make boozy favourites like beer and wine), its application to the current drinking trends has to do with its perceived health benefits and a connection to tradition. 

"Anything that has a strong element of storytelling and a sense of authenticity will add texture and value to any beverage program," states Lorenzo Antinori. "One of the unusual ingredients I pick is koji, the fermentation starter used in sake making. There has been a major interest in fermentation lately and preserving techniques which belong to the food universe." 

"Experimental techniques are still strong in 2021 as consumers are used to it in terms of flavour and taste. Some organic fermenting techniques will be increasing during the summertime," Agung Prabowo says.

"Fermentation is making a 'comeback' in markets, with a growing demand supported by consumer perceptions of it as a 'natural' and 'healthy' food preservation method," adds Nikita Matveev.

"Fermentation is an old technique, but it started getting used widely recently," shares Tony Hsu. "People are already drinking kombucha; the use of fermented ingredients for cocktails still have so many possibilities." 

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Honi Honi CBD cocktails
Honi Honi CBD cocktails
Photograph: Michele Galeotto

7. CBD drinks

There is no shortage of experimentation in terms of drink ingredients for this year. One of the buzziest drink ingredients in Hong Kong in 2020 is CBD or cannabidiol, one of over 100 chemical compounds – known as cannabinoids – found in the cannabis or marijuana plant. Despite the stigma around CBD products, its appeal has not waned and will continue to be part of this year's food and drink market. 

"Stress is at an all-time high, and I love to see CBD oils incorporated into cocktails," shares Tiana Ludhani. 

"I think we might see some CBD liquor in [the market] soon," predicts Gagan Gurung. 

 

Whisky & Words bottled cocktails
Whisky & Words bottled cocktails
Photograph: Courtesy Whisky & Words

8. Take-away cocktails

One of the most significant pivots that bars made during the pandemic was to offer cocktails for takeaway and delivery. Once enjoyed in the bar premises and served in special glasses and intricate garnishes, cocktails are now available to-go and will continue to be in great demand since it is still better to stay at home if you can. 

"Ready-to-drink alcoholic beverages are not going away anytime soon," Tiana Ludhani declares. "The cocktail bottles being sold for takeaway cocktails is officially a trend that is here to stay," she exclaims. 

The takeaway trend for the year will continue to use bottles but may include canned cocktails as well. "Bottled cocktails are sometimes heavier and more expensive (due to size), so I think the next trend is canned cocktails," says Eddie Nara, spirits consultant at Barrel Concepts. 

Cocktails for takeaway offers many opportunities for collaborations and innovations as well. "I think we will see more and more different collabs with brands and bars," Nikita Matveev muses. "We will see more varieties of packaging, and I am sure that it will be more sustainable as well. Alcohol vending machines provide another way to serve customers quickly and eliminate long lines," he adds. According to Nikita, one important technique that the bar industry might work on is stabilising takeaway drinks and making shelf life longer. "Bartenders will experiment more to keep drinks fresher and better," he explains. 

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Spirits 101 tasting kit and online class with Victoria Chow
Spirits 101 tasting kit and online class with Victoria Chow
Photograph: Courtesy Sip Straight

9. Virtual tastings

We have advancements in technology to thank for making the pandemic bearable. We can stay home and observe social distancing while still being able to connect with people. Going to bars and attending events has moved from the real world to the virtual world. Online classes, tastings, and events will continue this year, allowing people to enjoy a sense of camaraderie while enjoying their drinks. This trend has also made it easier for drinkers to learn more about their favourite spirits and brands to reach consumers.

"Whilst Zoom tastings might have been seen as a poor substitute initially, I think they've taken on a life of their own and allowed greater exposure to industry personalities (global brand ambassadors, master distillers etc.)," observes Martin Eber. "They'll never replace in-person tastings, but I think we'll see both co-existing in 2021 and beyond - especially for global spirit launches where brands can expose a global audience to their (usually time-poor) key staff."  

"Let's not forget online mixology masterclasses, where we will share our knowledge, tips and whatnot together with a set of bar tools and ingredients already delivered to their doorsteps," adds Antonio Lai.

Dead &
Dead &
Photograph: Kevin Mak

10. Dive bars

With the continued trend on temporary closures to curb the rising number of positive cases in the city, people have already adopted fuss-free, easy and straightforward drinking, making it easier for consumers to enjoy boozy libations. Some bars would just open their curbside windows to serve drinks to consumers in takeaway vessels and drink it on the streets. This new way of drinking paves the way for dive bars to thrive, not only do they serve cheap and straightforward drinks, the ambience is laid-back and requires no gimmicks. We've already seen former The Old Man founders open  Dead & last year to cater to consumers already enjoying the perks of club 7-Eleven in Lan Kwai Fong, and Black Sheep also announced the opening of The Last Resort – a new venue that is something between a dive, back-alley, or roadside bar. This might just be the start, and we might see more of these kinds of establishments to pop up this year. 

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Sparkling Sundown at Red Sugar
Sparkling Sundown at Red Sugar
Photograph: Courtesy Red Sugar

11. Day drinking

Since dining services may often halt after 6pm every time the government imposes strict measures to fight the pandemic, day drinking has become the new way of consuming alcohol in the city. With bars already shifting their services to cafes and restaurants, free-flow brunch and dunch have become part of the regular promotions. Whereas people would flock to bars after work to unwind and take advantage of happy hour before, anyone who's thirsty for a good tipple can enjoy happy hour any time of day. 

Cocktails at home I Photo from Shutterstock
Cocktails at home I Photo from Shutterstock
Cocktails at home I Photo from Shutterstock

Leave these behind in 2020

As we look forward to what 2021 has in store for us (crossing our fingers that it's all good news), we need to say goodbye to some things from 2020. 

Gagan Gurung wants to see the word 'speakeasy' struck from our collective vocabularies. Beckaly Franks wants balanced, drinkable drinks, not just "fancy tech and bullshit." And the use of unnecessary packaging for liquors and garnishes is on Eddie Nara's leave-it list. 

"High sugar content syrups that mask the flavour of fine rums, my biggest pet peeve!" Tiana Ludhani exclaims. 

For Martin Eber, the focus on aesthetics over the flavour of 'the Instagram cocktail' needs to go. "By all means, make a drink look good," he says. "But the focus should always be on flavour first. Clear ice and good glassware? Of course. Seven different garnishes and a tri-colour salt rim? Pass," he ends. 

Jay Khan emphasises personal taste over trends. "I think the term 'trend' itself (should go)," he says. "We should focus on what we believe and like and not follow what's in fashion."

Time Out Bar Awards 2020
Time Out Bar Awards 2020
Photograph: Shutterstock

What to watch out for in Hong Kong bars

2021 has a lot of exciting things in store for the bar industry. According to Roger Chan, meta-bev.com will be featuring more passionate craft brands, especially from Asia. 

At Caprice Bar, they are working on a new bar at Four Seasons Hotel Hong Kong, which will hopefully be opening in spring. "All I can say is that will be a platform for innovation and exploration of new territories of the drinking experience," Lorenzo teases. 

According to Jay Khan, Mexican-inspired bar Coa will utilise unique local ingredients and introduce new flavours to their drinks.

The Daily Tot will be launching their new menu in mid-January, highlighting a selection of sipping rums as part of their rum journey. They will be showcasing milestones in rum's history to highlight in each cocktail by pairing local ingredients with herbs and spices from the Caribbean. Consumers can also watch out for various 'Tot Experiences', focusing on new activities every month like their rum masterclasses already rolling out this January.  

Looking at things with a different perspective is the core concept of The Poet, so they'll be exploring more housemade ingredients and pay tribute to ancient techniques such as marination, fermentation, and give the classics a new face.

The Pontiac intends to collaborate with Applewood Gin and develop their own Pink Gin with local oyster farms. Beckaly Franks will be developing a herbal liqueur called SoE Co. which is focused on the local flavours of Southeast Asia. 

Japanese kumquats, the small citrus fruit with a thin edible peel, will be the focus on Antonio Lai's January 2021 cocktail offering at Quinary. Freshly delivered from the Miyazaki prefecture, the perfectly tart and tangy fruit will be made into a cordial and fragrant, edible garnishes. 

The Old Man Hong Kong, currently headed by Nikita Matveev, will be 100 percent focused on their guests. They are looking into collaborating with chefs and offer more food pairings with cocktails. They'll be working with more local ingredients, updating their signature cocktail list every six months, and bringing at least one new drink out of the menu every week.

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