An Eye on the Future – with Jakob Sundin

After a two-year hiatus due to the pandemic, the drinks community was finally able to return to New Orleans for a 20-year anniversary celebration of the industry’s leading conference Tales of the Cocktail®. We had a chat with Jakob Sundin, On Trade Specialist at Purfict and co-founder of The Bartenders’ Choice Awards, about how the industry is doing and the biggest cocktail trends at the moment.

You have recently returned from Tales of the Cocktail. What are the five biggest global cocktail trends right now?

Something that’s become prevalent in recent years is drinks being presented in a minimalistic, stylistic way, often with thin and delicate glassware. There’s hardly any garnish – just a large ice cube and perhaps a stroke of paint on the side of the glass. What’s also interesting is that these drinks all look relatively similar, but they certainly don’t taste the same.

The second trend is technique. The approach of creating drinks on a molecular, laboratory level started with just a handful of bars globally that were incorporating such techniques. Nowadays, there’s almost a bar in every major city that has adapted this approach. Bars often use sophisticated methods to clarify and distill ingredients with a rotovap distiller. There’s a lot of fermentation, centrifugation, clarification, and forced carbonation used to create sophisticated artisan cocktails inspired by ready-to-drink beverages.

Whether it’s gin, botanical rum, aquavit, or flavored vodkas, one thing is for sure; there is an evolution in the way spirits are made and flavored.

Then there’s locality. For example, in countries like Sweden, where citrus fruits don’t grow naturally, bars have started to use substitutes like malic acid instead of imported citrus. Facit in Umeå, with Emil Åreng, is the world’s first bar to exclusively use Swedish ingredients and produce. The industry is also working closer to producers. Röda Huset in Stockholm works with their ice supplier, who helps them freeze individual pieces of vårbrodd (sweet vernal grass) for their minimalistic-looking drink kolagräs (cola grass). 

Takeovers, or guest appearances, are another strong trend. Pretty much all the bars on the list of The World’s 50 Best Bars visit each other, arrange pop-ups and takeovers for publicity, and associate with premium spirits brands for promotion and vice versa. 

Another trend is botanical spirits and brands finding innovative ways to incorporate unique ingredients into their spirits. With a rotovap, you can work at a much lower temperature to extract unique flavors that are lost in traditional distillation. Creative people and innovation have helped push the industry forward. Whether it’s gin, botanical rum, aquavit, or flavored vodkas, one thing is for sure; there is an evolution in the way spirits are made and flavored.

What is your takeaway from Tales of the Cocktail? 

It was such a pleasure to connect with so many familiar faces. The pandemic has hit our industry hard, so it was wonderful seeing parts of the industry come together again and being able to travel. Sadly, many iconic bars closed their doors in the past couple of years due to the pandemic. But we had an opportunity to celebrate some of them during the conference, at an event hosted by Pernod Ricard USA.

The conference celebrated its 20th anniversary this year. How is the drinks industry doing?

We’ve been through some extremely challenging times and have made it out on the other side. This is proof that our industry is made up of dedicated people who won’t give up. More initiatives for positive change are being pushed, moving the industry in the right direction, both in terms of evolving the craft and creating a respectful environment. And now that we can finally see the light at the end of the tunnel, and since the industry is built by the most passionate and resilient people – who will never stop believing in what we love the most – I’m confident the industry will emerge in a better place than before.