Cocktail innovation: spices and savoury notes are the flavour profiles to watch on both coasts of the US

Cocktails are critical offerings in the on-premise in Los Angeles and New York City, but it’s the sophistication of savoury ingredients that’s gaining traction.


In both Los Angeles and New York City, cocktails are amongst the leading drinks choice in the on-premise, and this preference can be seen across account tiers, from neighbourhood bars to ultra-premium locations. Consumers’ cocktail choices are increasingly influenced by the culture of their city. The L.A. market lends itself well to tropical offerings, such as Tiki drinks, while NYC drives a feeling of nostalgia, and classic cocktails are frequently ordered and celebrated in New York.

Brandy Rand, IWSR’s COO of the Americas, notes, “while each city has different spirits categories leading cocktail innovation, it is the spicy and savoury flavour profile that is trending in both locations, reflecting changing consumer palates and influence of cuisine on what we drink.”

Spicy cocktails are menu must-haves year-round in L.A., and New Yorkers are using fresh ingredients to add exciting twists of flavour to their cocktails as well. “Pepper extracts, infusions and in-house tinctures, especially jalapeno, adds the kick consumers have come to expect from the culturally diverse L.A. market,” notes Rand. Jalapeno peppers feature prominently in New York as well, alongside pepper infusions, habanero peppers and dried chilis.

Spicy flavours aren’t new to innovation in the spirits category; IWSR has tracked the growing appeal of the chilli flavour profile since as far back as 2015, with spirits brands embracing spicier variants to increasingly appeal to millennials. At the time, however, it was the shot ritual that fuelled interest in spice flavours, giving younger legal drinking age consumers an extreme experience to indulge in and celebrate in together. Bartenders were upgrading this concept by infusing tequilas with hot peppers and offering those as shots, and new brand innovations have mimicked this spicy trend. Even milder spices, such as cinnamon have shown staying power in spirits, most notably with brands such as Fireball.

The current trends of moderation and “less but better” […] are driving today’s drinks market forward

Bartenders now, however, are approaching the flavour profile with increasing sophistication. “This taps into the current trends of moderation and “less but better” that are driving today’s drinks market forward,” remarks Rand. “Fresh ingredients, such as ginger, are being used to add texture and flavour to cocktails. While the trend towards spicy and savoury notes are the flavours to watch in both L.A. and NYC, classic and simpler cocktails are becoming increasingly preferred by consumers, and it will be interesting to see how bartenders marry the two trends as they continue to innovate cocktail offerings.”

The insights from this article are taken from the IWSR’s US Bartender Strategic Study, which covers findings from interviews with bartenders, menu analysis, and on-premise consumption metrics, from across account tiers in 15 US cities.


Read more about the US Bartender Strategic Study here


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