2020 Spirits Trends: Where Are We Now?

At this point last year, no one could have foreseen that within a few short months we’d be facing a global pandemic.

Back in December, we predicted that 2020 would be a year focused on flavor and adventure. Now the world has taken to calling 2020, “The Year of the Lost Summer.” As we surpass the halfway mark for this historic year, it makes sense to consider how current events have affected spirits.

Though many bars, restaurants, and tasting rooms continue facing COVID-related restrictions, US consumers have not stopped drinking. Instead, Americans have taken to off-premise, getting their cocktails to-go and grabbing up bottles to enjoy at home. Curbside pickup, contact-free delivery, and ease of shipping restrictions in some states have made this transition easier, though plenty of regulatory and logistical obstacles remain.

Now that we’ve made it past the initial shock of our new reality, the question that remains is, “what will the spirits industry look like in a post-pandemic world?” Well, present trends can provide some insights.

At Moonshine University, it’s our job to stay abreast of trends in the distilling industry. Thanks to our expert faculty, we’re able to glean key insights into the future of distilled spirits. As we predicted in our 2020 Spirits Trends, flavorful botanical and agave spirits as well as innovative new expressions in the whiskey scene have continued to remain on trend, but recent events have caused some significant shifts in our understanding of these trends.


Re-Defining Comfort

“In times of crisis, consumers often look to spirits for comfort,” says Colin Blake, Moonshine University Director of Spirits Education. “Within the current climate, the need for comfort has taken on two meanings: comfort as it relates to what is familiar versus what is indulgent.”

Whether drinking just provides something to do or serves as an attempt to add some structure back into the day, a recent Nielsen survey found the biggest uptick in off-premise alcohol sales has been in tequila, gin, and RTD cocktails. At-home cocktail culture has allowed consumers to replicate a bar or restaurant worthy drink; meanwhile, RTDs provide that same experience in the convenience of a can.

While many consumers have been opting for brands they already know and trust, we expect to see more consumers choosing to treat themselves with novelty or premium offers (think peanut butter flavored whiskey or craft gin). According to data compiled by EY’s Future Consumer Index, that’s already begun happening. Despite budgeting elsewhere, their report found that consumers surveyed are now more willing to pay a premium for higher quality products like “luxury food and drink items”.

During a time when we’re being forced to sacrifice so many other life experiences, pampering ourselves with a sophisticated botanical spirit, unique whiskey, or premium bourbon seems a worthwhile expense. This, in addition to craft distilleries ability to draw on local loyalties, are reason enough not to count out craft spirits just yet.

“Though the ‘tried and true’ brands belonging to the industry’s largest producers have been getting most of the love lately, they cannot replace the sense of adventure that craft spirits create,” says Colin Blake. “During a time when many experiences are being taken away from us, that’s something the craft world can and should leverage.”


Greater Importance on Wellness

In our 2020 Spirits Trends lineup, we indicated that the “Sober Curious” movement would continue to remain important to consumers – and it has, but within its context.

Because so much about drinking alcohol is about the social experience that comes with it, lower ABV and even alcohol-free cocktails have increased in popularity during recent years. However, to accommodate social distancing, we’re now much more limited in our opportunities for interaction and gathering, putting less importance on that perceived need to be “present” among friends. This might help explain the uptick we’ve seen in off-premise spirits sales and downwards turn of lower-ABV offers, like wine, beer, and cider.

As the world continues to grapple with the right way to deal with this global pandemic, we’ll see more health-conscious consumers opting for low and no-ABV versions of their favorite drinks – especially as more options become available.

Current offers in the low and alcohol-free space tend to be tabled as premium or specialty, with a strong focus on delivering experience through flavor. This is also why we’ve seen such a huge spike in RTD cocktails, especially seltzers designed to be big on flavor and lower on calories and alcohol.

Seedlip, reportedly the world’s first distilled non-alcoholic “spirit,” comes in three naturally positioned variations each named for their representative taste profiles: the citrus-forward Grove 42, the herbaceous Garden 108, and finally the aromatic Spice 94. In addition to being guiltlessly alcohol-free, Seedlip’s products comprise sophisticated botanical blends designed to be enjoyed with tonic or in mock-tails – much like you would a great gin or other spirit. We anticipate a steady increase in low and no-alcohol offers as consumers seek ways to support health and wellness during these stressful times.

Of course, if 2020 has taught us anything it’s that no one has a crystal ball. Whatever the rest of this year brings, our educators will be standing by to help you train your team and prepare your spirits business for the future.

Interested in learning more about the distilling process and the spirits industry? Check out Moonshine University’s 2020 courses to learn from the best in the business.


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