December 18th, 2019 | By Mike Kostyo
The fastest-growing cocktails on menus this year are a mix of old and new favorites featuring a wide range of flavors and spirits.
From “the best pizza joint in every state” to “the top 10 types of nuts” and “92.5 things you are doing wrong on your menu” — let’s face it, a lot of lists are nonsense. They’re opinions masquerading as facts, or “listicles” based on a quick Google search, all designed to get readers to click on a link and start arguing in the comments … “how dare you say cashews are better than pistachios!”
So how do you come up with a list of the top 10 cocktails of the year that actually means something? For this list, we dove into the data in Datassential’s MenuTrends database, which has over 100,000 menus that are updated every year, all from a restaurant base that is balanced against the census to make certain it’s an accurate depiction of the U.S. dining landscape. It’s a wide range of concepts, including both chains and independent restaurants in every segment, from fast food to fine dining. From this database, we looked at only those restaurants that serve alcohol, and ran the numbers on which cocktails have grown the fastest on those menus in just the past year, to see what has truly been trending on the American drink menu.
These aren’t necessarily the most prevalent or common cocktails on menus. In fact, some of the cocktails on this list are only one or two percent of menus today, but their rapid and substantial recent growth means they could become the next big thing on menus and retail shelves in the years ahead. A few of these trending cocktails will almost certainly follow the path of drinks like the Negroni, which was on less than one percent of menus a decade ago and can be found on seven percent of them today — huge growth for a cocktail. In fact, Negronis will almost certainly hit one out of every 10 cocktail menus in the next few years according to Haiku, our machine learning prediction engine.
While the Negroni has been on the list of the top 10 fastest-growing cocktails in past years, it was edged out this year by other options, including a variation on the drink. In fact, this year’s list of the fastest-growing cocktails represents a wide range of flavors, spirits and influences. For many years the list was dominated by Whiskey, but this year Gin and Tequila show up numerous times (though, interestingly, Vodka isn’t featured in any of the drinks on this list). The “everything old is new again” trend also continues to make its mark on drink menus, with a number of cocktails on this list gaining new life on menus as bartenders play with craft spirits and unique flavors.
You may already have a few of these on your menu, while others may inspire your menu in the year ahead and beyond. So here’s a look at the fastest-growing cocktails on menus in 2019 — what’s driving them, how operators are adapting them, and recipes for every single cocktail to make it easy to keep your menu relevant in today’s fast-moving trend cycle.
Recipes by Mike Raven
- Old Fashioned (+19 percent on menus)
What’s in it: Whiskey, bitters, sugar.
Behind the trend: It’s almost amazing that the Old Fashioned is growing at all on drink menus, considering that it’s already on 22 percent of them. For a while, the OldFashioned was so classic and well known that it often wasn’t even named on the drink menu, but now it’s finding its way back onto the menu to show off the new generation of craft Whiskeys, Ryes and Bourbons, or brand new variations on the drink (indeed, they’re often called the “New Fashioned”). Fruit or tea infusions, dark flavors like maple, smoke, barrel-aging, unique bitters — you name it and you’ll find it in today’s Old Fashioned options on the menu.
The trend in action: At the Harry Caray’s Italian Steakhouse location in downtown Chicago, the Nitty Gritty Old Fashioned is made with George Remus Bourbon, Angostura bitters, Demerara syrup and an Amarena cherry garnish. To give patrons a true taste of Chicago, it’s also the only cocktail menu that includes a full story about its origins, referencing Frank Nitti, the “the notorious enforcer of the Al Capone gang” who once lived in the building that now houses the restaurant.
#10 Old Fashioned
For over 200 years, this cocktail has remained relevant in the imbibing community and, as you can see, has made the Top 10 again! Here is an original recipe from the Pendennis Club, where it is thought to have been invented.
2 oz Bourbon or Rye Whiskey (try it with Redemption Rye Whiskey to make an upscale version of this cocktail)
¼ oz Simple syrup (or a sugar cube)
2 dashes Angostura bitters
1 Orange slice
1 Lemon twist
1 Maraschino cherry
Muddle the bitters, simple syrup (or sugar cube), orange slice, lemon twist and cherry in the bottom of your serving glass. Add the Bourbon, then the ice, and stir to chill.
- Boulevardier (+20 percent on menus)
What’s in it: Whiskey, Sweet Vermouth, Campari.
Behind the trend: It’s no surprise that the Boulevardier has been rediscovered on menus, as it’s basically a take on the popular Negroni, simply swapping out the Gin for Whiskey, Rye or Bourbon. Like in the Old Fashioned, the new generation of craft Whiskeys often show up in modern Boulevardiers, but a number of operators also swap out the Campari for another Italian amaro or bitter liqueur. The Boulevardier still tends to be a high-end cocktail on many menus, featuring premium ingredients and high prices to match, but that’s likely to change as it makes its way onto more chain and national menus.
The trend in action: The Crafted at Westin cocktail menu features natural ingredients and fresh local flavors at the hotel brand’s locations around the world. At JP Charlotte, the restaurant inside the Westin Charlotte Hotel in Charlotte, North Carolina, the Boulevardier is transformed into an after-dinner drink with the Espresso-Infused Boulevardier, featuring espresso-infused Hennessy, Sweet Vermouth, Campari and orange bitters.
Its creation is ascribed to Erskine Gwynne, an American-born writer who founded a monthly magazine in Paris called Boulevardier, which appeared from 1927 to 1932. This cocktail is a cousin to the Negroni in that it uses two of its components, but substitutes Bourbon or Rye for the Gin.
1 ½ oz Bourbon or Rye Whiskey (try it with Jim Beam Black or Jim Beam Rye Pre-Prohibition style for a smooth drink)
1 oz Campari
1 oz Sweet vermouth
Pour ingredients into a mixing glass and fill with cracked ice. Stir well for 20 seconds and strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Garnish with a cherry or a twist of orange peel.
- Aperol Spritz (+23 percent on menus)
What’s in it: Prosecco, Aperol, soda water.
Behind the trend: The growth of the Aperol spritz on menus has been incredibly rapid — it was only found on about 0.3 percent of menus six years ago. There are multiple reasons for this growth, including the fact that U.S. consumers are far more open to bitter flavors in drinks, it offers a new refreshing option for summer menus, and it has an Instagram-ready orange hue that makes it instantly recognizable. For operators, it’s also endlessly customizable, with numerous menus swapping in Champagne or Cava, adding a dash of other liqueurs, or offering an entire spritz menu in the summer.
The trend in action: Eataly has gone all-in on the Aperol spritz in the summer, prominently featuring the drink at summer-inspired pop-ups in cities like New York and Chicago. At the brand’s Chicago location, an Aperol spritz cart served up complimentary tastings every Thursday this summer, while the Swim-Up Spritz Bar served variations on the cocktail.
#8 Aperol Spritz
Here is an easy peasy way to make a cocktail favorite, with this recipe from Aperol.
Fill a wine glass with ice.
Add equal parts of Prosecco DOC followed by Aperol and combine.
Add a dash of soda.
Garnish with an orange slice.
- Paloma (+23 percent on menus)
What’s in it: Tequila, lime juice, grapefruit soda.
Behind the trend: This year the Paloma hit 10 percent of drink menus in the U.S., partly due to the growth of grapefruit as a flavor overall on menus. Grapefruit is almost a mandatory flavor in the wide range of sparkling seltzers that are available today (many of which are used in Palomas), while grapefruit radlers have also been growing on menus. Now there are nearly as many Paloma variations on menus as you’ll find in Margaritas, with smoky Palomas featuring Mezcal, colorful Palomas featuring blood orange or pomegranate, or spicy Palomas featuring fresh peppers or spicy syrups.
The trend in action: At Majordomo, the Los Angeles restaurant from David Chang that opened last year, the cocktail menu includes an upscale take on the Paloma made with Cimarron Tequila, grapefruit four different ways, and moshio (ancient Japanese sea salt).
This is a classic cocktail made with some variations, but here is a solid recipe.
1 ½ oz Blanco or Reposado Tequila (try Tres Generaciones super premium tequila for a step up)
1 oz Fresh grapefruit juice
½ oz Fresh lime juice
½ oz Agave nectar
Splash Soda water
Combine all ingredients in a cocktail shaker and strain into glass over fresh ice. Add a splash of soda and Garnish with a grapefruit peel.
- Passion Fruit Margarita (+24 percent on menus)
What’s in it: Tequila, passion fruit juice or syrup, lime juice, orange liqueur.
Behind the trend: Margaritas are the single most prevalent cocktail option on the American menu, so it’s no surprise that new variations start trending all the time (you’ll read about two more Margarita options that are growing on this list), but you may be surprised that passion fruit, in particular, has seen so much growth. In fact, passion fruit has been slowly and steadily growing across the menu in everything from juices to desserts, and it scores well with consumers (68 percent of consumers who have tried passion fruit say they love or like it, according to our FLAVOR database). While passion fruit Margaritas are still on only a small percentage of menus overall, operators are menuing both frozen and on-the-rocks versions, while a number of major chains have added it to the menu in recent years, like the Spicy Passion Fruit Margarita offered by Buffalo Wild Wings.
The trend in action: At Cooper’s Hawk, the fast-growing chain winery chain based in Illinois, the signature Cooper’s Hawk Margarita is a passion fruit Margarita made with Cazadores Reposado Tequila, Cointreau, sour and passion fruit, all combined with sparkling wine to incorporate the brand’s beverage of choice.
#6 Passion Fruit Margarita
This is an easy-to-make, crowd-pleasing cocktail. Using Monin Passion Fruit Purée makes it even easier!
1 ½ oz Premium Silver Tequila (try Jose Cuervo Especial to kick up the flavor)
½ oz Orange liqueur (use Grand Marnier for superior flavor)
¾ oz Monin Passion Fruit Purée
2 oz Margarita/sour mix
Fill serving glass with ice. Pour ingredients into mixing glass in order listed, with 2/3-cup ice. Cap, shake and strain into serving glass. Add garnish and serve.
- Aviation (+24 percent on menus)
What’s in it: Gin, crème de violette, maraschino liqueur, lemon juice.
Behind the trend: After this cocktail being a little-known “bartender’s handshake” for years, in 2013 Google declared that the Aviation cocktail had become the number one cocktail search trend; and, indeed, it has been slowly and steadily growing on menus for the past decade. Part of the reason is the wider availability of crème de violette and Aviation-brand Gin, though Aviation cocktails on menus across the country feature every brand and style of Gin you can imagine. But it also helps that the drink has a striking purple hue at a time when purple-colored foods are popular with consumers (think purple produce and butterfly pea flower drinks). You’ll also find it in a number of airline lounges as an on-theme drink alongside the Paper Plane.
The trend in action: At Vito’s Chop House in Orlando, Florida, the cocktail is turned into an experience in the Smoking Aviator, which combines Aviation Gin, St-Germain, Combier, agave nectar, cucumber and mint, and is served tableside in a smoking box.
The Aviation was said to be created by Hugo Ensslin. The recipe was found in his 1916 book, Recipes for Mixed Drinks. He was the head bartender at the Hotel Wallick in New York, in the early 20th century.
2 oz Gin (try Sipsmith London Dry Gin for a superior Aviation)
¾ oz Fresh lemon juice
½ oz Maraschino liqueur
1 bar spoon Crème Yvette (or crème de violette)
Add all ingredients except garnish to cocktail shaker filled with ice. Shake vigorously until well chilled. Double-strain into a chilled coupe. Garnish with maraschino cherry.
- Gin & Tonic (+26 percent on menus)
What’s in it: Gin, tonic water.
Behind the trend: Another Gin-focused cocktail that has been growing on menus, the simple-to-make yet complexly-flavored Gin & Tonic is seeing a resurgence due to the wide range of both craft Gins and tonics available (not to mention the number of bars making their own tonic), plus an interest in botanically-driven cocktails and spirits overall. Numerous bars across the country feature a full Gin & Tonic menu, featuring variations that celebrate particular flavor profiles, such as spring Gin & Tonics with floral flavors or smoky/spicedGin & Tonics for winter, and cuisines, such as an Asian-inspired matcha Gin & Tonic, or a mint and preserved lemon Mediterranean Gin & Tonic.
The trend in action: Last year AC Hotels by Marriott teamed up with photographer Nigel Barker and Bacardi to debut a custom-designed Gin & Tonic glass, after three years of development. Guests at the brand’s hotels can order AC’s signature Gin & Tonic in the custom glass, which is designed to “heighten the taste, aroma and palate experience for the drinker.”
#4 Gin and Tonic
There are three very important ingredients in a good G&T. First, you use a good Gin —no, a greatGin!I prefer a London Dry. Secondly, and as important, you must use good tonic water. I prefer Q Tonic Water. Thirdly, it’s about the ice: A tall spear of clear ice will make all the difference in this cocktail by not diluting the flavor of your priceless ingredients. To put a twist on it, use Hendrick’s for a cucumber thrill.
1 ½ oz Premium Gin (Boodles London Dry Gin makes a great cocktail)
5 oz Q Tonic Water or Q IndianTonic Water
1 Lime wedge
Fill a highball glass with ice and add your choice of Gin. Then pour in the Q Tonic Water or Q Indian Tonic Water, depending on the Gin. London Dry Gins should get the Q Indian Tonic Water and more subtle Gins should get Q Tonic Water. Gently stir and garnish with a lime wedge. Recipe provided by Q Mixers.
- Cucumber Margarita (+31 percent on menus)
What’s in it: Tequila, cucumber, lime juice.
Behind the trend: It’s almost hard to believe that there was a time when featuring cucumbers in cocktails was a little too “out there” for the average consumer. Today cucumbers can be found in cocktails across every segment, reflecting a trend towards more savory flavor profiles in drinks. The cucumber Margarita continues to show up in more and more menus across the country, adding a fresh flavor profile to the sour beverage. It’s often complemented by fresh, herbal, floral flavors like elderflower or basil (“garden margaritas” featuring fresh cucumbers and herbs appear on a number of menus), or spicy flavors like jalapeño.
In action: At Bonefish Grill, Patrón’s Perfect Cucumber Margarita features Patrón Silver, fresh lime, English cucumber and a hint of St-Germain, and the glass is rimmed with both salt and pepper.
#3 Cucumber Margarita
Use your imagination when creating this cocktail for your menu; use this recipe, or make a standard margarita and use cucumber-infused Tequila.
1 ½ oz Silver Tequila (recommended with 1800 Silver 100% Weber Blue Agave Tequila)
1 ½ oz Fresh lime juice
½ oz Agave nectar
3 oz Cucumber juice**
Fill a cocktail shaker with ice. Add all ingredients and shake until well chilled. Strain into a rimmed glass and garnish with the cucumber slice.
**The trick to making this drink taste so fresh is the homemade cucumber juice. To make the juice, peel cucumbers and blend them until they’re completely pureed. Then pour the puree through a fine mesh strainer and into a bowl to remove any excess pulp.
- Kentucky Mule (+93 percent on menus)
What’s in it: Whiskey, ginger beer, lime juice.
Behind the trend: Like the Boulevardier, the Kentucky Mule takes a cocktail that was already trending (in this case, the Moscow Mule) and adds Whiskey. While the Moscow Mule’s growth on menus has plateaued, the Kentucky Mule saw a bump in growth in the past year. Also sometimes called a Whiskey Mule or Bourbon Mule, this cocktail features all of the variations you’ll find in Moscow Mules today: flavored Whiskeys, craft ginger beers or house-made ginger syrups, and sometimes other Southern-focused flavors like peach or pecan.
The trend in action: At Hopcat, the Michigan-based restaurant and bar chain that now has 17 locations, the brand takes the Kentucky Mule a step further with their That’ll Do Donkey cocktail, which features Old Forester Bourbon, ginger beer, butterscotch schnapps, hard cider and lime.
#2 Kentucky Mule
With the popularity of Bourbon, no wonder the Kentucky Mule is in the Top 10.
2 oz Bourbon (Try Russell’s Reserve Bourbon, a ten year-old 90 proof from Wild Turkey’s Eddie Russell)
½ oz Fresh lime juice
Ginger beer to top
Add the Bourbon and lime juice to a Moscow Mule mug or a highball glass. Fill the mug or glass with ice and top with ginger beer. Add mint sprigs for garnish.
- Spicy Margarita (+100 percent on menus)
What’s in it: Tequila, lime juice, triple sec, jalapeño.
Behind the trend: Margaritas account for three of the top 10 fastest-growing cocktails on menus today, but spicy Margaritas top them all, doubling their menu penetration in just the past year alone. It seems like consumers just can’t get enough spicy flavors, with a wide range of national chains adding super spicy peppers like ghost peppers and Carolina Reapers to the menu, while spicy-sweet and spicy-sour combinations are even showing up in the kids’ candy aisle. Spicy Margaritas on modern menus can get their kick any way you can imagine, whether it’s spicy spirits, muddled peppers, infused syrups or cayenne pepper in the drink or on the rim (or a combination of all these options). Some operators let customers choose their preferred spice level, while others combine the trend with other options, like the numerous jalapeño-cucumber or spicy passion fruit Margaritas found on menus today.
The trend in action: Dos Caminos, with locations throughout New York, has a wide-ranging Margarita list (they were voted the “Best Margarita in NYC” at the Margarita Rumble, after all),which includes a Jalapeño Margarita with Milagro Blanco, muddled jalapeño and cucumber (combining two of the fastest-growing cocktail trends), fresh lime, triple sec and agave.
#1 Spicy Margarita
There are many different ways to make your Spicy Margarita. Here is just one suggestion.
2 parts Silver Tequila (try Jose Cuervo Tradicional Tequila Plata to make this a top-shelf cocktail)
1 part Fresh agave nectar
1 part Fresh lime juice
2 slices Jalapeño pepper
Muddle 1–2 slices of fresh jalapeño in the bottom of a cocktail shaker with the lime and agave nectar juices. Add the Tequila and a handful of ice. Shake and strain into a margarita glass over ice, with or without salt. A spicy salt can also be added for more kick. Garnish with thinly sliced jalapeños and a lime wedge.
So there you have it — the fastest-growing cocktails of 2019. How many of them are represented on your own menu? How many will be in the years ahead? How will you tweak them? As consumers start to see these cocktails more often, they’ll expect to see them on their favorite menus, too. Until, of course, new trends start to edge them out. In fact, you may already be asking yourself, “What will the fastest-growing cocktails of 2020 be?”
Mike Kostyo is the resident Trendologist and Managing Editor on the Market Intelligence Team at Datassential, a leading supplier of trends, analysis and concept testing for the food industry. For questions about any of the data in this article, the databases mentioned, or Datassential’s reports on alcoholic beverages, contact Kostyo at firstname.lastname@example.org