The senior whisky specialist at Edrington-Beam Suntory joins us today to chat all things festive and fun in the world of drinks.
What can we expect this Christmas in the drinks industry? All kinds of merriment and mayhem are par for the course, but helping us to dig deeper and peek behind the curtain is David Miles. The former bar manager of 57 Jermyn Street, who also has experience setting up cocktail bars in Amsterdam, Mumbai, and Tel Aviv, is the senior whisky specialist at Edrington-Beam Suntory. As well as working with brands like The Macallan, Bowmore, Highland Park, Laphroaig, Maker’s Mark, Jim Beam and Suntory, Miles’s role involves training, as well as predicting and interpreting trends in the drinks market.
Miles was generous enough to share some of that wisdom with us, even going as far to include a couple of serving suggestions to try out at home for those who want to keep things simple at this hectic time of year.
The trend: an increase in demand for premium products
David says: “More and more the drinks industry is encouraging people to drink better rather than drink more. That’s a trend that will carry over into Christmas. It’s more profitable for brands if people drink more premium products so they are creating more premium products in the last few years and consumers are responding to this. It’s reflected in trends like the craft beer and gin booms, it’s reflected in the kind of glassware people use, it’s something you can see even in the rise of premium mixers. If you spoke to someone five years ago and said there would be six or seven tonics in a pub you’d get laughed out of town, but this is how the whole drinking experience has moved. Premiumisation is up across the board, it’s all about the drinking experience being as good as possible. At Christmas, this trend is amplified”.
The trend: a revamping of traditional Christmas drinks
David says: “Bartenders are using traditional drinks as a starting point now. We’re seeing more drinks emerge like the Spiced Negroni, where people are taking the spices they would have traditionally used for mulled wine, like cloves and star anise, and instead are infusing it with gin. That traditional Christmas flavour is being as a launchpad to create more interesting, experimental serves. Warm serves are also being modernised, so instead of mulled wine, people are beginning to favour things like Hot Toddys, which bartenders are reworking and reimagining. Maybe they’ll make one with rum or Cognac, but ultimately what they’re doing is opening up the possibilities for interesting flavours and unusual flavours to stand out from the crown a little bit”.
The trend: rum enjoying more of the spotlight
David says: “Building on the back of an explosion with gin, you can see a huge growth in the consumption of premium rum and the number of rums a bar offers. How rum is being drunk has shifted with serves like Rum Old Fashioneds, which showcase rum in a different light and demonstrate its increasing premium perception. It’s one of those options that consumers wouldn’t have gone for a few years ago but is now becoming more commonplace. There’s some great rum out there produced with true love and care and it’s good to see it be respected and treated like the great spirit that it is alongside the more traditional Christmas spirits”.
The trend: whisky becoming more playful
David says: “The culture that you can only enjoy single malt with a little drop of water or neat is one that’s being challenged all the time. At this time of year, you’ll see it increasingly reflected in cocktail lists, where single malts are being used so much more and with real creativity and imagination. It makes whisky cocktails so attractive, which has the effect of enticing people who would usually shy away from whisky”.
The trend: the rise of low-to-no ABV
David says: “Low-to-no ABV drinks are going to be part of the story this Christmas. There are already success stories you can point to, look at the work Seedlip has done and its ‘NOgroni’. We think of this time of year as being one of indulgence, but if you’ve got a glut of Christmas parties and yet another night where you’re not quite as enthused as other people, then that sort of offering where you can temper how much you drink over the festive period will be in demand”.
The trend: increased investment in aesthetic
David says: “This is more of an off-trade trend, but having a standout appeal on a supermarket shelf or online really matters at this time of year. Brands will spend a lot of time and money trying to get it right. If you look at The Macallan, for example, the packaging is already so beautiful you almost wouldn’t want to wrap it. Across the board, this is really important, as statistics suggest that around a quarter of the drinks industry’s profits come at this time of year”.
The trend: pubs and bars becoming more spirit-forward
David says: “Pubs and bars will be increasingly encouraging people to go for more spirit and mixers. Back bar displays are becoming more spirit-focused to encourage consumers to step that way. Spirits are vastly more profitable to any bar than a pint of lager or a glass of Pinot Grigio. You’ll see more and more at this time of year that there will be cocktail menus and drinks lists on the bar and on tables available to people that will have a written offering of all the different gins and tonics they serve, for example. You wouldn’t have seen as much of that a few years ago”.
Before we let Miles get back to being all senior and specialist in all things whisky, we asked him to suggest some cocktails that can be made simply at home this Christmas:
The White Lady/G&Tea
David says: “Classic gin cocktails will do well this Christmas. One to try would be The White Lady. It’s a three-ingredient cocktail (gin, triple sec and lemon juice) that you put the same amount of each in (25ml each, although you can double the gin measurement if you’re feeling frisky), so it’s super easy to make at home and it always got a great reception from the people I’ve served it to! Innovating around a Gin & Tonic is great as well. Swapping out half your measurement of tonic and replacing it with cold green or jasmine tea is a very interesting twist which is not hard to pull off. The same goes for substituting half of the tonic with soda. This dilutes the tonic side of the drink so you can notice more of the flavours from the botanicals”.
The Old Fashioned
David says: “It’s such a bartender’s drink, but it’s one you can make really easily at home. You don’t need sugar syrup, everyone has got sugar at home. Anybody who makes Champagne cocktails will have Angostura bitters, if not they’re available from every supermarket. We don’t need to go down the road of spending 10 minutes crafting the perfect serve, because, for the most part, it’s unnecessary. Stir down in a rocks glass, at home, with some premium whisky. It will improve the pleasure of your Christmas!”