David Miles is back once again to chat about Christmas and tell us what festive trends to look out for in this strangest of years…

Last year we sat down with David Miles, senior brand ambassador at Edrington Beam Suntory, so we could get the lowdown on what we should expect from the drinks industry at Christmas. Because this is a time of year of tradition and community, we decided to do it all again. After all, when you work with brands as notable as The Macallan, Bowmore, Courvosieur, Highland Park, Famous Grouse and more, you’re going to have your finger on the pulse. 

Discussing the impact of COVID on Christmas, how can people make the most of drinking at home, how brands will respond to a lack of physical shopping, which type of spirit will win the Christmas battle in 2020 and more, Miles has identified several trends to keep an eye out for and, once again, recommended a couple of festive serves.

Christmas 2020 drinks trends

Look, David Miles is back!

The trend: Bars and brands to embrace Christmas drinks at home

David says: “It’s an obvious trend but the biggest change we’ll see this year is that the usual culture around Christmas drinks will be happening at home. As people organise virtual cocktail parties or to see their family over Zoom their drinking habits will naturally have to adapt. It’s not what we would have wanted or expected, but it does mean we’ll see a lot of innovation and flexibility in Lockdown II from brands and bars. This time around it seems there’s a lot of bars who are far more prepared to deliver cocktails at home and are ready to hit the ground running. There’s also going to be brands and bartenders who are more prepared and experienced in putting together Facebook or Instagram masterclasses to take advantage of social media. You will see brands prioritising trying to get serve suggestions and ideas out there to the consumer”. 

The trend: People will opt for quality over quantity when purchasing gifts 

David says: “Consumers have been increasingly buying into the ‘I’ll drink less but drink better’ mindset and are also discovering all the time. One of the advantages of the great gin boom is that people who typically have only drunk one type of gin were suddenly trying different expressions, different brands and discovering a broader whole new world. It doesn’t take much for that to then tip over into other categories. We know that treating yourself, family and friends more are top 2021 New Year’s resolutions and I think there’s that feeling of ‘we’re going to have a Christmas somehow’. People are going to look back on this year and think ‘damn it, I’ve earned a treat’.

The trend: E-commerce and online retail to rule the roost 

David says: For all the brands the big switch in focus is going to be moving resources to make the most of online retail. To survive, brands need to make their products available as much as possible and to a large extent, this does seem to have happened. While the first lockdown was devastating for much of our industry, drinks companies comparatively speaking did all right because the great British public kept us going by purchasing booze from supermarkets and retailers like yourselves. The challenge for brands is how they present shelf appeal in an online space and ensure that they’ve got the means to give consumers the knowledge and the inspiration of what to do with their drinks at home.

Christmas 2020 drinks trends

Blended whiskies are great for cocktail making and this strength will serve them well this Christmas

The trend: Blended whisky will get some overdue appreciation   

David says: Single malt whisky is going to be a big one again thanks to the luxury aspect we talked about earlier, but the fact that people are increasingly embracing the fun mixability side of whisky and the increase of cocktail making at home means the more accessible blended malt category should get some overdue love too. 

The trend: Rum to enjoy the spoils of premiumisation

David says: With rum, there’s an ongoing question of ‘is rum the next gin?’, which has become a cliché, but there is so much interest in it. There are far more mainstream products emerging all the time, which does mean we’ll have to endure an influx of some slightly dodgy spiced rums, also that at the top end of the rum market there’s premium, aged expressions designed to rival whisky and brandy coming through in numbers. This is something that has developed over the last couple of years and is ongoing and this Christmas I think you’ll notice there’s a lot of people willing to splash out on quality rum.

The trend: Cognac to move back into the spotlight

David says: I wouldn’t be surprised if Cognac had something of a revival this year. We’ve been pushing Courvoisier a lot at the moment and the reception has been great. There’s a real drive to get Cognac back in the minds of the on-trade and to embrace its history as a key component in cocktails, which we saw over London Cocktail Month. I get the feeling that it’s about time that Cognac had its turn there.

Christmas 2020 drinks trends

Is Cognac primed for an overdue comeback?

The trend: Low-and-no alcohol will adapt to thrive

David says: There’s been a whole slew of low-and-no alcohol spirits launched in the last year and the big difference is that they’ve adapted to create ranges of zero-alcohol bottled cocktails which should prove very popular. It’s a reflection on the fact that even if people aren’t drinking they still want a treat, something that’s a little bit special. They’re not settling for another orange juice with soda water or something as the non-alcoholic option anymore.

The trend: English sparkling wine to make its mark

David says: Traditional drinks like mulled wine and a bit of bubbly will always have a role at Christmas, but a development that’s happening in this space is people swapping Champagne or prosecco for English sparkling wine. That category of really good quality sparkling wine, which champagne has always tried to keep to itself, is diversifying and opening up. Even though it’s not cheap, English sparkling wine is getting this great perception of having really good quality. People shopping for a special occasion and the association with festive fizz will serve the category well. 

The trend: Ethical and sustainable practices essential for brands to adopt

David says: A lot of brands are looking at how they can reduce their carbon footprint, how can they reduce the amount of glass they use, the amount of plastic. There’s been a bit of a kickback against premium spirits in ceramic bottles as you can’t recycle it. When I’ve been doing training sessions on peated whisky I will now always get a question about peat use and sustainability. Consumers are concerned about this and so brands are going to try to be more responsible. Both to tap into that consumer desire and for our own good as well. If our packaging weighs less it will cost us less. Our Maker’s Mark packaging would be a great example of that. It’s totally recyclable and designed to be a little herb pot once you’ve taken the bottle out of it so you can grow your mint for your own Mint Julep at home. Innovations like this will continue to take place and when consumers are purchasing presents they’ll demonstrate they favour those who are more mindful.

Christmas 2020 drinks trends

The Salted Honey Old Fashioned

The cocktails:

The wonderful David Miles leaves us with a couple of delightful festive serves that can be made simply at home this Christmas:

Salted Honey Old Fashioned

Emphasising the salty, heather honey notes of the whisky, The Highland Park Salted Honey Old Fashioned is a simple but effective twist on a classic. To create, stir 50ml of Highland Park 12 Year Old – Viking Honour, 10ml of honey syrup (made using equal measures of honey and water), a dash of orange bitters, a dash of Angostura Bitters and a pinch of smoked sea salt in a mixing glass. Then strain into an Old Fashioned glass over fresh ice and garnish with an orange twist.  

Courvoisier Espresso Martini

Embrace how delightfully mixable Cognac is by adding 35ml of Courvoisier VSOP, 15ml of Galliano Ristretto, 30ml of cooled fresh espresso and 10ml of sugar syrup into a cocktail shaker. Add ice and shake for 8 seconds and then fine strain into a Coupette glass filled with cubed ice and add three coffee beans to garnish.

Christmas 2020 drinks trends

Embrace the mixologist in you this Christmas!

Roku Winter Punch

For those who are able to safely entertain, a winter punch is the perfect serve. To make this gin-based delight, you want to brew 15ml of Roku Gin, 25ml of lemon juice, 25ml of honey (adjust to taste), 4 large pinches sencha green tea, 180ml hot water, two 10cm long grapefruit zest and 5mm of thick ginger cut julienne for 5 minutes in a preheated teapot. Serve in your chosen teacup.