A few weeks ago, QSR's sister publication, Rmgt, spoke with Andrew Freeman  about food trends that are going to rock and define 2012.
Freeman heads a high-end hospitality agency that, for its fifth year, released a preview of the hottest trends and predictions in food and restaurants.
But what about drinks?
Never fear. Freeman’s list also turns an eye toward beers, cocktails, and spirits, informing breweries and bars of what’s on its way up in 2012.
The 2012 drinker, versus years past, has one overarching theme: he is looking for value and unique experiences.
"Value doesn’t mean the best price,” Freeman cautions, “but the best experience for the price. That means paying more for something that is truly unique. People want something that is different, that they can’t get everywhere.”
Like a Victorian duke coming of age, beer is growing increasingly sophisticated, while wine takes the peasant road of becoming more mainstream.
Cocktails, meanwhile, will move to less timely preparation and focus more on simple, yet precisely crafted, combinations, Freeman says.
With the public’s insatiable desire for food trucks growing at the rate of Santa’s cookie appetite around Christmas, it was only a matter of time before drinks tested out their drive.
Cocktail trucks are slowly beginning to rove streets as spirits brands seek to build recognition. The Leblon Cachaca Caiprinhas Truck  has multiple locations nationwide, while the BrewTruc  rolls its alcoholic vapors around San Francisco.
Freeman, however, says cocktail trucks will not repeat the boom of food trucks due to legal issues.
“Some of these trucks serve primarily as promotional vehicles rather than as independent business operations,” he says. “The serve to promote a brand rather than to make money. Where it’s legal, they will be popular but more as a novelty – [like] evening meet-ups and parties.”
More trucks will make use of alcoholic beverages in alternative forms, Freeman explains.
Gone are the innocent days of childhood when you exchanged $1.50 for an idyllic snow cone out of the ice cream truck; now, alcohol-themed ingredients and dishes will be peddled out of truck windows. Think boozy ice cream trucks with whiskey popsicles or a Manhattan-flavored snow cone.
Another trend will be an enlivenment of drinks available on tap. Now, barrel or not, mixed drinks are joining the tap.
Vintage beers are also coming of age, says Freeman. Drinkers itching for a taste of the past are reaching for the 1999 J.W. Lees Harvest Ale at the Modern in New York, for example.
Luxury beverages are also rising in the ranks. Spirits enthusiasts are more willing than ever to sip rich, deluxe brews and wines, and pay for them an ounce at a time.
While trends such as vintage beers and luxury potions will decorate high-end bars and wineries, the standard tavern does not have to lose out.
“I do think that the average bars will need to watch these trends and get creative if they want to compete,” Freeman says. “Come up with an inspired or a classic pairing of two drinks and sell them together. Boost sales and raise the average drink price.”
He suggests introducing well-crafted drinks made in large batches, as the ability to serve a great drink quickly and in large quantities benefits both bar and guest.
And there’s always the classic combination of pairing a drink with a chaser. These so-called double hitters–a cocktail or shot followed by a beer as a chaser–should also gain acclaim in the near future.
Classic drinks are often just waiting to be reinvented; to that end, Freeman says everyone in 2012, from bartenders and artists to pastry chefs, will reinvent cocktails in solid form. Their masterpieces will come to fruition in sorbets, popsicles, and artistically layered boozy jellies.
One of the influences for the solid-form cocktail comes from new technologies or ingredients that alter texture, such as hydrocolloids and lecithins, Freeman says.
“Chefs used to be limited primarily to gelatin or agar and agar or a few others,” he explains, “but now, a multitude of ingredients exist that allow them to play with solidity.”
The movement is further enhanced by the rising popularity of classic cocktails; the rise of the mixologist willing to invent alternative forms of cocktails; and the pastry chef who has long danced with sorbets, jellies, and pate de fruits, but can now up his tempo by incorporating alcoholic flavors.
“This is manifested in cocktail jellies, spirited ice creams and sorbets, or even spiked milk shakes,” Freeman says. “Delicious and fun, too.”
Other drink trends include breweries that add fruit to beer and restaurants that proffer mini cocktails to whet the appetite before the real drinks and meal arrive.
“[Drinkers] also want relationships with their bartenders–think Cheers–and the idea that drinks can be personalized for them,” Freeman says. “[This] builds loyalty and enriches the experience.”
Reporting by Sonya Chudgar
Photo by Gary Soup