Charlotte's Emerging Cocktail Trends in 2019

O-Ku's Ain’t Nobody Got Thyme For That.

KEEPING UP with the latest food and beverage news is one of our favorite pastimes, and although the year has barely begun, we’re already spotting some emerging cocktail trends. In 2019, we’re looking forward to the rise of unexpected flavors, reimagined mocktails, vegetable-infused spirits, flavored alcoholic seltzers, and unique food and drink pairings. To get the scoop on these trends and more, we’ve rounded up a group of talented bartenders, mixologists, brewers, and sommeliers who aren’t afraid to experiment with new flavor combinations and uncommon ingredients. Here’s what they expect to find on drink menus in the coming year.


Obscure ingredients and regional influences

Ingredients like turmeric, rose, tarragon, and celery root are some new flavors turning up in cocktails this year. “We’re experimenting with tamarind, earthy spices, Southeast Asian spices…and tapping into the Pacific Rim spices,” says Larisa Yanicak, lead bartender at O-Ku. Chorizo, jackfruit, anchovy, perennial grains, endive, and yuzu (a sour Japanese fruit) are some of the other bizarre ingredients you might find on bar menus in 2019. In anticipation of this trend, Yanicak created the Rye N’ Gosling cocktail with George Dickel Rye, warming spices, yuzu, and ginger beer. She also got creative with Ain’t Nobody Got Thyme For That, which has Lunazul Blanco Tequila, blood orange, thyme, rhubarb bitters, and Campari rinse.


Drinks that pack a nutritional punch

Expect a surge of gut-friendly, fermented, and probiotic-rich ingredients in cocktails like the Plum Tuckered at Angeline’s, which combines Wild Turkey 101, Grand Marnier, and a plum shrub that lead bartender Henry Schmulling makes in house to create a tangy, vinegar-infused drink. “It adds a whole other layer of complexity,” he says. “Vinegar, shrubs, and Kombucha are underrated ingredients for sure.” Upstairs at Merchant & Trade, his Headhunter cocktail includes combines brandy, cinnamon, and persimmon vinegar. “It challenges your perception of flavor in general. It’s kind of a journey for your mouth—vinegar can pull that out in cocktails, where people least expect it.”


Flavored alcoholic seltzers

If you enjoy sipping on Truly Spiked & Sparkling Water on hot summer days, you’ll be happy to know that variations of this poolside favorite will be turning up on more restaurant menus now. Bartenders are gussying up alcoholic seltzer with seasonal fruit purees, an herbal garnish, or a splash of citrus. And because it’s so easy to down more than one, we’ll see a wave of low ABV drinks with less sugar. “I’m over cocktails that are so sweet they make my teeth hurt,” Yanicak says. “We’re scaling back on simple syrups, and flavored vodkas I’m over. It’s so much better to infuse your own with something like cucumber.”


Mature mocktails

Virgin cocktails will taste more complex thanks to new non-alcoholic spirits like Seedlip, as well as house made syrups and tonics. “I recently started using oleo saccharum in my punches, and it adds a really elegant citrus flavor and aroma,” says Tamu Curtis, founder of Liberate Your Palate. “Oleo saccharum is essentially a citrus oil you make with sugar and citrus peels—primarily lemons and oranges.” 



The Beet It cocktail at Merchant & Trade.

Veggie- and mushroom-infused cocktails

According to Kimpton Hotels’ Culinary + Cocktail Trend Forecast, mushrooms are having a moment. Beverages like fungi Irish coffee, mushroom and thyme-infused vodka, and mushroom tea with sparkling wine are all making cameos on bar menus. Beets will continue gaining momentum as well, as seen with the Beet It cocktail at Merchant & Trade, which is topped off with Lenny Boy Beet Kombucha. “Beet Kombucha is my favorite,” Schmulling says. “Moscow mules were always too sweet, so I wanted something lighter and more refreshing. It’s an eye pulling color too…I think beets are getting used a lot for their color as much as their flavor.” At O-Ku, Yanicak has crafted a similar cocktail called Basil. Beets. Battlestar Galactica, which has Carolina Basil Rum, beet juice, ginger liqueur, and egg white.


Single-ingredient cocktails

“I think the big conversation in 2019 will be sustainability,” Yanicak says. “Restaurants are looking at alternatives to straws and napkins, and they really want to minimize their waste and carbon footprint.” For this reason, she’s creating single-ingredient cocktails. “With a carrot, after I juice it, I’ll make the syrup out of the scraps and garnish with carrot dust. Then I don’t throw anything away.”


Elevated beers

Dry-hopped sours, bright kolsch style beers, and fruit and spiced brews will all see a boost in popularity. “We recently released an Apple Pie Ale, “Bite Me,” that contains local apple cider, vanilla beans, and cinnamon,” says Scott Griffin, head brewer at Legion Brewing. “The spices of the beer work perfectly for the winter months, and the apple kept the flavor dry and tart so the beer remains drinkable even with our wild North Carolinian temperature fluctuations.” He also expects to see more breweries collaborating with distilleries. “Of particular interest is the sharing of barrels for second use,” he explains. “Several distilleries have been aging spirits in barrels used for a diverse range of beer styles, including even IPAs. Breweries have been using fresh spirit barrels to age beer for years.”


Natural winemaking 

Jaffer Kovic, owner of Dilworth Tasting Room, expects to see an increase in natural, organic winemaking. “I've spent many years in the Las Vegas, NYC and Texas markets to see trends go as fast as they arrive…natural winemaking is wonderful,” he says. “Blends of wines will always change to what the current winemakers moods are. I am interested in seeing more certified organic wineries come online.” 


Unexpected food and drink pairings

New combinations like oysters and gin, Latin cuisine and scotch, and champagne and fried chicken are all piquing our interest, but of course wine and cheese will always be the gold standard of food and beverage pairings. If you’re looking to wake up your taste buds or change up the basic wine and cheese routine, unknown varietals and rare cheeses are the way to go. “Currently I am digging on Arneis from Piedmont, Italy with Fontina d'Aosta and Robiola cheese,” Kovic says. And for sushi fanatics who’ve been pairing their rolls with prosecco, consider this one: “Rosé and nigiri combines the dry with the buttery-ness of the salmon,” Yanicak says.


Phasing out some flavors that have had their moment

When asked which trends are on their way out, most bartenders agree that “slushie” beers have run their course, and pumpkin spice needs to disappear from drink menus everywhere. “I’m over the mule trend—it’s played out,” Schmulling adds. “I would hope to see the basic stuff that’s been commonplace now be phased out. Start experimenting and pushing boundaries. Take old ingredients and turn them on their head. Or use trendy ingredients and use them in a manner no one else has.”

Categories: Food + Drink