The dark spirits and cocktails that every bar needs on its menu – Bar & Kitchen

The dark spirits and cocktails that every bar needs on its menu

It’s ‘whisky a go go’ and ‘a rum do’ as dark spirits surge in popularity.

The dark spirits category has been steadily evolving over the past couple of years, with innovative new flavours and styles shaking up the traditional spirits we’re used to.

The rum market in particular has grown in on-trade since 2019, and the UK is now the third largest rum market in the world (UK Rum Category Report 2022 – Campari Group UK). Much of this growth has come from brands creating interesting flavour combinations, such as Halewood’s Dead Man’s Fingers rum in exotic flavours like passion fruit, banana, cherry and mango.

Whisky too is following suit. The traditional image of a gentleman sitting in his leather armchair – cigar in one hand, neat whisky in the other – is beginning to fade, and a new age of whisky has arrived.

The rulebook has been rewritten and it’s certainly paying off , as whisky is now the fastest-growing spirit category. The whole whisky market is worth £1.5 billion, says a recent Kantor report.

While the markets for rum and brandy aren’t quite as big as whisky, they are both still in growth, and in the last year have expanded at a faster rate than the gin market, according to a recent report from Campari.

Just look at Jack Daniel’s, now available in a variety of expressions, including Jack Daniel’s Tennessee Apple, appealing to those who prefer something a little sweeter.

Jack Berry Lemonade

Spiced Mule Punch

Gelston’s Irish Coffee

Old Fashioned Twist

Raspberry Death Wish

Tennessee Apple Fizz

Glasses of dark spirit cocktails
“Whisky is now the fastest-growing spirit category, and the whole whisky market is worth £1.5bn”
- Kantor

Reasons behind the change

Driving this increased demand is a variety of factors, from innovation to premiumisation – but most importantly, versatility.

James Stocker, Marketing Director, Halewood Artisanal Spirits, says: “We’re seeing consumers looking to break out of the traditional ‘neat’ serves and explore the versatility of the liquid. This in part will be led by the growth in cocktail culture and consumer experimentation, as well as many more brands highlighting the wealth of ways in which the spirit can be served.”

Why you should be using dark spirits in cocktails

With more nights in, many consumers have become their own mixologists, and 29% of people say they make cocktails more frequently than they did three years ago, & Liqueurs Market Report 2022.

Moreover, when it comes to mixing, 53% of adults are drawn to dark spirits. So, it’s no longer enough for out of home venues to just offer whisky made for sipping and a rum and Coke – you need to and the products you stock.

Bar staff making cocktail

Train your team

Some dark spirits are made to be mixed, especially the new styles we’ve seen in the past couple of years. However, if you start pouring a 60-year-old single malt into a shaker in front of a traditional whisky drinker, it may not go down so well. Educating bar staff on the different dark spirits is key to customer experience. Not only will it ensure your mixologists make brilliant cocktails, but it will also allow them to talk to customers about the drink they’re choosing, as well as recommend one specifically for their taste.


Glass wear

When it comes to dark spirits, most cocktails are served in a highball or tumbler, over cubed ice. However, some may require a martini glass and no ice – or add some fun with a tiki glass, traditionally used for rum cocktails.


Add a flourish, add a garnish

How you present a cocktail matters. Consumers are much more likely to take a picture and share it on social media if it looks pretty, increasing your outlet’s exposure. But a garnish isn’t just there to be pretty. The peel of an orange or fresh sprig of mint enhances the overall flavour: first we see, then we smell, then we taste.


Make it premium

Consumers are always looking for something special. However, they are starting to feel the pinch as the cost of living continues to increase (CGA Mixed Drink Report). For many, the tightening of pockets can mean going out less but when they do, customers still want a premium, memorable experience, as noted by both the 2022 Campari Group UK Report and Trends 22 from Brown Forman.


Create some theatre

To cater for all audiences, venues should stock a variety of dark spirits, applying good, better, best principles that give consumers choice.

And when it comes to making cocktails, create theatre and engagement by doing it in front of the customer and engage them by explaining the ingredients and the spirit you’re using. This will add to the whole experience, making it more of an occasion – and one worth treating themselves to.

It’s an incredibly exciting time for the dark spirits category. With this new wave of styles, there is an opportunity to bring excitement to the cocktail scene, to educate consumers and challenge them to try something new.

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