Spirits flavour innovation in 2023 focuses on playfulness and new experiences

IWSR investigates the flavours driving spirits innovation, from saline notes to twists on nostalgic serves


Though consumers in many markets remain concerned with health, moderation and the economic environment, they’re also looking for unique experiences and fun moments, as well as continuing to seek the comfort of nostalgic serves and flavours.

Drinks creators are taking advantage of this playful mood, producing new liquids that subvert category norms, and that promote both connoisseurship and accessibility. These liquids appeal equally to knowledgeable consumers looking for experiences, as well as to newer recruits, who are led by brand names and flavour descriptors rather than traditional liquids.

Some bartenders are also shifting to higher-strength serves in the on-trade, and are revisiting the classics to revivify core spirits, or to experiment with dispensing methods and adjuncts that add complexity and mouthfeel. A savoury counter-trend is also emerging through the use of saline flavours as well as savoury serves of classic cocktails.


After a stressful few years, consumers are prioritising fun and escapism, from nostalgic serves with a twist to decadent flavours inspired by comforting treats. Dessert-flavoured products have increasingly come to market, including launches such as Stambecco Tiramisu, Baileys Pavlova, Eggo Sippin Cream and ‘Shmallow Toasted Marshmallow Bourbon. As well as encouraging and enabling new and playful serves, these products all hint at familiar flavours.

Nostalgia continues to play a strong role as consumers explore frivolity, with a strong preference for the familiar. The George pub and restaurant in London has taken nostalgic foods as inspiration, from its Sticky Toffee Old Fashioned, to its Gibson served with a side of pickled onion Monster Munch.

Strong, with a twist

Changing lifestyles and wellness goals have been driving a strong trend for moderation, with consumers choosing to limit their alcohol intake, switch between full and no/low alcohol options, or seek out products with functional benefits. This will continue to drive product innovation, however, there’s also a push towards stronger serves, especially for out-of-home consumption.

Offering more punch, mouthfeel and satisfaction, high-strength serves offer bartenders a canvas for experimentation and refinement. Bartenders are increasingly refreshing classic options such as the Negroni, Old Fashioned, Long Island Iced Tea and the Martini, for example by changing the core spirits, using unconventional adjuncts, testing new methods of dispense, or adding complexity such as experimentation with mouthfeel. Opting to experiment on classics rather than create new serves from scratch is also helping on-premise operators control costs.

London’s Hacha Bar was an early pioneer with its Mirror Margarita. A consumer desire to drink clean and all-natural has helped to push more savory serves as well, such as recent innovation with the Martini. In the UK, Apricity offers an asparagus martini; Three Sheets makes an Earth Martini, made with beetroot and olive oil; and, keeping with earthy notes, Isabel Mayfair uses avocados in its martinis, which also use agave syrup, lime juice, and black lava salt. In LA, Thunderbolt makes a Liquid Picnic martini using a gin base, with rosemary, tomato and black pepper.

MSG is also being used as a key ingredient for adding an umami, slightly cheesy flavour to a range of cocktails, with the Martini a key one. Bonnie’s in Brooklyn offers a MSG Martini, via an MSG olive brine, and is said to sharpen and bring out its savoury notes.

Category metamorphosis

As consumers look for unique experiences, brands are responding by creating entirely new liquids that bridge categories. In some cases, this innovation is led by a desire to take brands into different serves, making it relevant to a wider group of consumers and to more occasions.

Monkey Shoulder Fresh Monkey, for example, is a blended grain spirit comprising several new-make spirits that bridge the gap between rum and whisky. Intended by the brand to “challenge category norms”, it both sought to take the Scotch brand into serves that typically use rum, as well as create “endless cocktail possibilities” for bartenders.

Meanwhile when Axia spirit launched, it claimed to have created a white spirits category with the first extra-dry mastiha spirit. Not a gin, and not a vodka, it’s made from mastiha resin from mastic trees, which is double distilled to give citrus and vegetal notes. It’s said to have 30% fewer calories than other white spirits.

Some products offer a lower-strength option and sweeter taste profile, while still showcasing a key ingredient or flavour. Kranebet Botanic Juniper Liqueur for example is said to offer a slightly sweeter twist on traditional London Dry Gin, and is recommended used in traditional gin serves such as with tonic or in a Negroni.

Saline Flavours

A savoury counter-trend is emerging, with products increasingly focused on saline flavour notes. Salt has appeared as a key ingredient in a number of launches over recent years, from Mermaid Salt Vodka to Guinness Salt & Lime Ale. This trend is becoming more popular, as salted gins, whiskies and other seemingly unlikely categories embrace it as an adjunct.

Currently, salt is being championed as a key cocktail ingredient. A saline solution – a liquid way of adding salt both more thoroughly, evenly and more subtly than say, salting the rim or simply sprinkling salt in – has become a common addition to a number of serves. Rather than being overtly salty, the solution helps to amplify the other flavours in the mix. From the Temple Bar’s Salt and Pepper Martini in New York, to the Poisoned Apple (rye whiskey, tawny port, vermouth, orange bitters and saline solution) at Jason Atherton’s London bar The Blind Pig, salt is currently being added to everything from daiquiris to Old Fashioneds.

More detail and examples of flavour innovation are included in Radius, the IWSR’s innovation tracker. Clients can log in here.

You may also be interested in reading:

No- and low-alcohol category value surpasses $11bn in 2022
Consumers choose to drink less to save more
The 8 drivers of change for beverage alcohol in 2023 and beyond

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