The Louisville-based Moonshine University helps entrepreneurs looking to open their own distillery and industry professionals to improve their knowledge of the craft, science and trade of beverage alcohol.

Because of the knowledge-base at its fingertips the team at Moonshine is well-placed to gain key insights into the future of spirits. As such the team has identified emerging trends for the spirits category in 2021, and while there is obviously a US-focus we are already seeing some of these trends developing in Australia.

Clearly the on-going pandemic is shaping many aspects of life as well as our industry, and while Australia hasn’t been hit anywhere near as hard by COVID as the US it is still a massive factor.

The team at Moonshine has laid out its three key spirits trends to watch in the coming year:

Back to the Backyard

According to Moonshine “in times of crisis, consumers often look to spirits for comfort”. While the pandemic has seen many consumers turn to well-established international brands from the larger producers, there is still a huge level of support for local distillers.

“It’s something we say all the time in our classes: ‘own your own backyard,’” says Moonshine University’s Director of Spirits Education, Colin Blake. “That’s still the best move for craft distillers. Forget about expansion plans for now— focus on serving your community.”

Moonshine adds that smaller producers who focus on a hyper-local approach will have the best chance of not just surviving, but thriving in 2021.

“American whiskey is a perfect example of how craft is pivoting to offer more local appeal,” says Kevin Hall, Corporate Development, Moonshine University. “There is now more regional representation in the category than ever before and the timing couldn’t be better.”

This is being seen in spirits across Australia, gin, vodka and whisky producers are all increasingly the use of local botanicals, grains, barrels and products increasing in availability and popularity. Moonshine says in 2021 and beyond, it anticipates additional releases emphasising authentically regional takes on our favourite spirits.

The Premium Experience

This is arguably the latest trend within the ongoing global premiumisation phenomenon. During a time when so many have had to go without experiences, consumers are choosing to indulge in premium offers particularly across spirits categories and premium bar experiences.

“Premium agave spirits, gin, and rum in particular have seen a spike in recent months that we expect to continue into 2021,” says Blake. “This trend isn’t necessarily new, but it has definitely been exacerbated under current circumstances.”

Aged, sipping tequilas and mezcals in particular have been on the rise throughout the course of the on-going pandemic. Consumers have become more educated about the category in the last several years, and much more recently, they’ve also been driven toward becoming more adventurous with their palates — a trend that is likely to continue into the New Year.

The team said it expects aged and spiced rums, as well as innovative gins utilising unique botanical blends to see a bump as they deliver on demand for elevated experiences.

Moonshine’s experts predict that in 2021, consumers will trend beyond the small batch or single barrel releases and begin to take up more interest in experimental expressions of premium positioned products — think “grain-to-glass,” creative secondary maturations, innovative mash bills, unique blends, and the like.

At-home, but with a Hospitality Appeal

This isn’t as concerning at it might appear at first, particularly for those bars and distilleries who have pivoted successfully during the pandemic.

The on-premise have suffered during restrictions and lockdowns, and while the industry as a whole has been forced to adapt, with change comes new opportunities.

“Now we’re almost a year into life under a pandemic, and consumer behaviour has shifted,” says Hall. “Habits formed under this shared ‘new normal’ have been cemented. Consumers now expect their favourite businesses to offer pick-up and delivery options — including bars and distilleries.”

Most state and territory governments have relaxed licence regulations to allow takeaway and delivery options and while these will hopefully continue in 2021, businesses shouldn’t become too reliant on these options.

“Distilleries need to be just as creative with contact-free delivery and to-go cocktails as they are with nurturing relationships between consumers and their brand,” says Blake. “That authentic appeal to hospitality is so important for the longevity of that relationship.”

The team adds: “Consumers might be drinking spirits more at home, but make sure you’re doing what you can so that it’s yours they’re drinking.”

Andy Young

Andy joined Intermedia as Editor of The Shout in 2015, writing news on a daily basis and also writing features for National Liquor News. Now Managing Editor of both The Shout and Bars and Clubs.

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