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Master of Malt Blog

Tag: cocktail trends

Why you should embrace draft cocktails with Black Lines

Cocktails on tap are coming to a bar near you. We take a look at this burgeoning phenomenon with Black Lines co-founder Casey Sorenson. You may have ordered a cocktail…

Cocktails on tap are coming to a bar near you. We take a look at this burgeoning phenomenon with Black Lines co-founder Casey Sorenson.

You may have ordered a cocktail in a bar recently and been surprised to see the bartender make their way to a draft tap. But it’s a sight that you’re sure to see more and more of in the future. While draft cocktails are not a recent innovation, the popularity of them is rising and the trend shows no sign of slowing down in 2020. The quickfire service previously solely associated with events and festivals is featuring in highly-regarded venues such as Fare Bar & Canteen, TAYĒR + ELEMENTARY, Duck and Waffle and Amsterdam’s Super Lyan.

Some argue, however, that cocktails on tap compromise the craft and the theatre of bartending, while others simply fear that taste and quality of ingredients will suffer. So, we decided to talk to somebody from a company that has made kegged cocktails its business to give his side of the story. Enter Casey Sorenson, co-founder of Black Lines, a company that specialises in providing cocktails on taps for pubs, bars, festivals, events and more. 

Black Lines

Say hello to Casey Sorenson!

Along with Kuleen Khimasia, the duo founded the company in 2017 having met and become friends the year before. “Kuleen was running his own street food business and was looking at developing house cocktails on tap in his first permanent site. I was at Soho House, doing the drinks development there and had already done on-tap internally,” Sorenson explains. “We realised there was no one actually providing cocktails on tap commercially to pubs, bars, festivals, events. Nobody at the time had a platform people could buy from like they’d buy a keg of beer in the UK. It was a lightbulb moment”.

The duo understood not only that there was a gap in the market, but plenty to be said for draft cocktails as a drinks delivery system. “The clear benefits are speed of service, accessibility and price. But consistency is one people don’t often consider,” says Sorenson. “If you go into a pub without cocktails on tap and they don’t have that skilled bartender or cocktails is not at the forefront at their drinks offering, then you can order a cocktail from a different bartender and get a different drink.”

There’s a clear environmental benefit to draft cocktails too, with the need for less ice, energy and the reduction of beverage wastage often cited as factors.  It’s an aspect that Sorenson was conscious of when founding Black Lines. “The environment has been a big focus in the last five, ten years. When Kuleen and I set up the business we wanted to reduce our impact where we could,” Sorenson explains. “By working closely with some of the best independent British distilleries, we arrange for most of our spirit supply to be delivered pre-bottling in large containers that are later returned and refilled, meaning no waste packaging whatsoever and a heavily reduced carbon footprint”.

Black Lines

Part of the Black Lines range

Sorenson makes it clear, however, that the focus at the centre at Black Lines is one of quality. It’s a concern for those who are sceptical of draft cocktails that it’s an easy way for bars to utilise cheaper ingredients or water down their drinks. For Sorenson, that’s the biggest misconception about cocktails on tap. “When I host tastings with people or a customer might have one of our drinks for the first time they often say that they can taste the booze in there. There’s no reason why you should water a drink down just because it’s on tap and it doesn’t mean that we’re making a cheaper product,” he says. “Quality is ultimately what’s really important for us. We only work with good quality juice companies or spirit companies, like Chase Distillery or the East London Liquor Company”.  

Sorenson is not blind to the criticism and understands people’s fears of what you may lose by imbibing a draft cocktail. “We completely respect the craft and the theatre that goes into making cocktails at the bar. Seeing a bartender make a drink is really important. But there are certain places, like a rooftop bar, where you’re not going there to look at the bartender making a drink are you?” says Sorenson. “If you look at the studies that have been done on the most sold cocktails in the UK, there’s not a lot of those drinks that involve a lot of theatre. Take an Aperol Spritz – how much theatre can you really go into combining Aperol, soda and prosecco? The cocktails that we do haven’t retracted a lot of theatre.”

Black Lines

Could you tell the difference between a draft cocktail and a regular cocktail?

In fact, Sorenson makes a convincing argument that draft cocktails facilitate the best bartenders to make more signature drinks as it lightens their burden. “What we have done is imagine a bartender has an order for eight Aperol Spritz, one Manhattan and one Vieux Carré. They have time to focus on the latter drinks because with the Aperol Spritz on tap they can just pour them in ten seconds each,” he explains. “If you go to places like TAYĒR + ELEMENTARY, Fare, Duck and Waffle, they’ve got cocktails on tap because they’re still made with quality ingredients, they provide a consistent serve of the cocktails that they make a lot of and it means they can focus their love and attention on the really cool and classic cocktails that need it”.

The reaction within the industry is becoming more welcoming and this understanding of how cocktails on tap benefit bartenders as well as consumers is a key reason why. “When we started in 2017 it was a challenge, winning over the bartenders. Every place we went into, operationally it made sense to have a cocktail on tap but the bartenders sometimes feared that we were trying to replace their expert knowledge,” says Sorenson. “But they’re starting to realise that it’s actually there to work in synergy with them and can really work to their benefit. The industry reaction has really picked up in the last six to 12 months. The bartenders are really getting behind it and seeing our point of view. How many bartenders complain about making 30 Mojitos in a night? When you put a Mojito on tap they realise you’re doing them a favour”.

Perhaps another factor that makes bartenders accepting of draft cocktails is that the process of creating them is very similar to creating a drink in a bar. Along with quality spirits, Black Lines works with fresh ingredients: “An important part for us is we work with a local London juice producer. They juice their juice at about 4 am in the morning and then it gets to us at about seven. We’re really not having that juice out for very long, so the quality of the juice is kept,” Sorenson says. “We also don’t pasteurise our products, we use filtration because pasteurising cocktails will change the flavour. Filtration allows you to keep that flavour profile”. 

Black Lines

A Negroni being poured from a tap

The Black Lines drinks list covers much of the best selling cocktails in the UK, from the Aperol Spritz to the Mojito, as well as popular options such as the Negroni. “They’re the ones that cause an operational issue for a lot of venues in terms of keeping up with the demand when they have their peak periods of service as these are the drinks that consumers are going for,” Sorenson explains. 

The product development of recent additions such as the Pink Grapefruit Spritz and the Elderflower Collins and the Rum Punch demonstrates that Black Lines is conscious of emerging trends, however. The latter is interesting with so many expecting rum to have a huge 2020 on the back of a promising 2019. “The Rum Punch has been insanely popular, we weren’t expecting it to take off the way it did. In Boxpark it sells more Rum Punch there than we sell Mojito, which is quite interesting,” says Sorenson. “Then you’ve got The Pink Grapefruit Spritz, which is one of our vegan cocktails and also it’s lower alcohol than most cocktails. When you compare it to a beer, 8% ABV it’s not low alcohol, but for a cocktail it is. We do try and to keep in tune with trends when we develop cocktails. We know people are more health-conscious, we know more people that are vegan/vegetarian”. 

Black Lines benefits from a signature look, with intriguing artwork on each of the labels. The name of the brand actually comes from an abstract painting from 1913 by Wassily Kandinsky. The branding is unsurprisingly black and white, given the name of the company, which was chosen to contrast the overtly colourful nature of artwork you’ll see on taps typically in bars, particularly with craft beer. “We worked with eight emerging young artists to develop artwork for each drink and gave them a brief to come up with their own influence and style for each serve. We gave the history and flavour profile for each drink and then let them take their own view of how they wanted to put it across,” says Sorenson. “It really allows us to stand out and with more people coming into the space, we want to stand out. We wanted our artwork to be the opposite of what you would expect. If you saw a Mojito you’d expect to see like a highball with mint etc., and that’s great but we wanted to have something more eye-catching with more identity and character for each drink”. 

Black Lines

Black Line’s branding is based on signature artwork

Ultimately, Sorenson outlines that the ambition of Black Lines is to make fantastic cocktails accessible to more people in more locations. He stresses that part of his role is to be an educator and advocate for how cocktails on tap can help the drinks industry. “Our drinks really speak for themselves,” he said. “I could confidently say that if I put a drink in front of someone that didn’t know that it was from tap, they wouldn’t know the difference from a good quality cocktail being made by a skilled bartender. We’ve really got to get people to understand that they can have cocktails that are accessible, quality and consistent from tap. That’s what we at Black Lines need to get across”. 

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Christmas drinks trends with Edrington-Beam Suntory’s David Miles

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…

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.

Christmas drinks trends

Say hello to David Miles!

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”.

Christmas drinks trends

People are experimenting with traditional festive favourites like mulled wine

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”.

Christmas drinks trends

Having fun with your go-to dram is an easy way to improve your Christmas spirit

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”.

Christmas drinks trends

Pubs and bars will get into the Christmas spirit in more ways than one!

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”.

Christmas drinks trends

Simple but delicious serves like The Old Fashioned are an easy way to improve your Christmas drinks game

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!”

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Protein drinks with a difference from London Cocktail Club

Keen on continuing your New Year’s health kick? Sounds like you’re in need of some delicious non-alcoholic and low alcohol cocktails. Bartender and entrepreneur JJ Goodman – the man behind…

Keen on continuing your New Year’s health kick? Sounds like you’re in need of some delicious non-alcoholic and low alcohol cocktails. Bartender and entrepreneur JJ Goodman – the man behind London Cocktail Club – has you covered with these nutrient-rich (and protein-packed) serves…

Dry January is almost over, and there isn’t a soul across the nation who isn’t grateful for the sweet release of February. If you haven’t been been actively participating in a month-long abstinence, you’ve been at the mercy of friends and family that are, along with their elaborate ‘non-drinking’ plans. No, I don’t want to learn pottery, or try taxidermy, or have a crack at flower-arranging. Just take me to the pub please.

I’m joking, of course. Not only are there myriad health benefits associated with taking a step away from the sauce from time to time, but there are also plenty of fantastic non-alcoholic alternatives to decorate your glass with on designated dry (or dryer) days. Bartenders we are not, so we turned to London Cocktail Club founder (and author of brand new book, Kitchen Cocktails) JJ Goodman for inspiration.

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Diageo’s UK Bartender Of The Year talks future cocktail trends…

As we collectively hurtle towards 2019, our minds can’t help but wonder what the coming year has in store. We need not wonder. Diageo, one of the world’s largest distillers,…

As we collectively hurtle towards 2019, our minds can’t help but wonder what the coming year has in store. We need not wonder. Diageo, one of the world’s largest distillers, has enlisted Jack Sotti, UK Senior Ambassador for World Class and Tanqueray Gin, and competitor Daniel Warren, to report the trends from the cocktail competition’s global finals. Here’s what they had to say…

You might’ve heard of World Class, one of the world’s biggest cocktail competitions. As Sotti explains during a talk at London’s Black Rock bar, the final offers a snapshot of the biggest trends in the global drinking scene. “The UK, one of the biggest cocktail hubs in the world, often leads those trends,” he adds.

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Want to imbibe like Bond? London’s top bartenders show you how…

From the Vesper in Casino Royale, to his iconic Martini ‘shaken, not stirred’ in Diamonds are Forever, James Bond’s penchant for high-class tipples is something we can certainly get behind….

From the Vesper in Casino Royale, to his iconic Martini ‘shaken, not stirred’ in Diamonds are Forever, James Bond’s penchant for high-class tipples is something we can certainly get behind. We go behind the scenes of brand new cocktail compendium Shaken – Drinking with James Bond & Ian Fleming, curated by the folks behind London bar Swift…

If you’re a fan of James Bond, you’ll know he’s fond of dishing out some pretty specific drink specs to bartenders. Now, 65 years after he first became immortalised in ink, 007 has his very own recipe book to draw from.

The Shaken compendium, launched in collaboration with The Ian Fleming Estate and Ian Fleming Publications, contains 10 classics lifted directly from the novels – along with 40 brand new recipes that pay homage to the people, places and plots of the original novels.

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Savoury gin: Explore a boozy herb garden

Thanks to the rise in hyper-local gins and imbibers’ burgeoning fervour for bitter flavours – Negroni, anyone? – savoury gins are having something of a moment. From lemon verbena to…

Thanks to the rise in hyper-local gins and imbibers’ burgeoning fervour for bitter flavours – Negroni, anyone? – savoury gins are having something of a moment. From lemon verbena to loveage, sage to sorrel, we cast our eyes over the herbal delights that bring drinkers a taste of the countryside…

Gone are the days when cocktails were solely saccharine-sweet – in 2018, menus are peppered with all kinds of complex, herbal, bittersweet drinks, made with barks, roots, herbs and spices. Many, you’ll notice, are gin-based. So, what’s driving the trend for these vegetal tipples?

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What’s your flavour? MoM checks out modern liqueurs

Forget sticky screw-top lids and teeth-rotting syrups – small-batch, foraged, organic and homegrown are the buzzwords of today’s liqueurs. We chat with Tom Chisholm, co-founder of Aelder Elixir, to find…

Forget sticky screw-top lids and teeth-rotting syrups – small-batch, foraged, organic and homegrown are the buzzwords of today’s liqueurs. We chat with Tom Chisholm, co-founder of Aelder Elixir, to find out why there’s never been a better time to stock up your cabinet…

We’ve probably mentioned it once or twice, but Team MoM hit up a certain little whisky festival called Fèis Ìle earlier this summer – and in the rare moments we weren’t Instagramming our way around distilleries, interviewing Scotch whisky legends and stroking fine poochies, we got busy meeting and greeting fellow festival folks.

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These are the biggest cocktail trends in the UK right now…

Like keeping your finger on the garnish? As Bacardi Brown-Forman Brands’ bartender education roadshow Jigger, Beaker, Glass approaches the final leg of its UK-wide tour, Shervene Shahbazkhani shares four cocktail…

Like keeping your finger on the garnish? As Bacardi Brown-Forman Brands’ bartender education roadshow Jigger, Beaker, Glass approaches the final leg of its UK-wide tour, Shervene Shahbazkhani shares four cocktail trends to look out for now…

London has earned its place as one of the cocktail capitals of the world, but if you’re seeking a tastemaker outside of the M25, you need to be a little more discerning. While there are plenty of cracking bars elsewhere in the UK (that aren’t celebrated enough), by and large, the majority are still playing contemporary cocktail catch-up.

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Science your way to a heavenly whisky Highball

No matter how devoted to the dram, pragmatic drinkers will admit there’s little joy in warm whisky on a baking hot day. Let London’s top bartenders equip you with expert…

No matter how devoted to the dram, pragmatic drinkers will admit there’s little joy in warm whisky on a baking hot day. Let London’s top bartenders equip you with expert tips and tricks to finesse your summer BBQ staple: the whisky Highball.

As the mercury rises in the UK, our thoughts turn to park picnics, beach BBQs and other sun-kissed gatherings. Straight whisky and searing heat do not happy bedfellows make, so honing your Highball technique is imperative.

The good news? You don’t need loads of fancy kit to craft this super-simple apéritif. “You can make a Highball anywhere, from your own kitchen to the fanciest bar you can imagine,” says Sean Fennelly, head of Fitz’s bar at The Principal hotel. “It should be as satisfying in your local pub as it would be from the American Bar at The Savoy.”

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The past, present and future of alcohol-free imbibing

Whether you’re one of the millions of people attempting Dry January or you’re simply looking to scale back on the sauce this year, the age-old ‘what to drink when you’re…

Whether you’re one of the millions of people attempting Dry January or you’re simply looking to scale back on the sauce this year, the age-old ‘what to drink when you’re not drinking’ issue has never been so easily remedied. We take a look at the fast-growing alcohol-free drinks category…

There was a time where a sober night out would translate to an icy pint of Coke (from the gun) with a couple of lemon slices thrown in. You’d manage two, three at best – and as far as subtlety was concerned, it was like carrying a bald eagle with lasers for eyes that screeched ‘NOT DRINKING TONIGHT’ at every person you encountered.

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