Curious what consumers like? Go to the source.
The Sun Wine & Food Fest is a multiday consumer show at Mohegan Sun, a sprawling Connecticut casino. Hundreds of attendees sampled 1,000+ varieties of wine, beer, spirits and food, while celebrity chefs like Marcus Samuelsson and Alex Guarnaschelli cooked live in the expo hall. It was a wide-reaching display of food and alcohol trends.
Much was what you’d expect. Consumers still love cab sauv, California red blends and rosé. Hoppy or hazy IPAs were everywhere. People preferred brown spirits that were softer, smoother and less spicy. Other trends better represented what’s just now emerging — or what’s increasingly behind consumer choices. As I walked the expo hall and attended tastings, here are 7 noteworthy trends I observed.
1) Brut IPAs Go National
Sick of juicy hazy New England IPAs? The west coast has brewed up the perfect alternative. Brut IPAs are made with brut Champagne yeast. The wine flavors come through: Brut IPAs are crisp, balanced, light-bodied, dry, with light fruit flavors and floral hop aromas. In other words, the opposite of NEIPAs.
The style originated several years ago on the west coast and has grown since. Signaling that Brut IPAs are moving eastward, both New Belgium of Colorado and Two Roads of Connecticut poured their versions at the fest. The New Belgium reps described the beer as, “an outcry against New England IPAs. This is back to the basics. There’s no end in sight to New England IPAs, but the pushback has begun.”
2) The Nutrition Trend is in Full Force
Consumers today care more about what goes into their bodies. This well-established trend has already penetrated alcohol through lighter wines, sparkling seltzers and low-cal cocktails. Now it has expanded with more health-conscious beverages.
FitVine, a brand I first saw years ago at WSWA, continues to grow. Sponsored by CrossFit, these wines contain less sugar, carbs and calories. Yet they still boast enough flavor to please a calorie-counting vino-lover.
Craft beer has also become more conscious of its dietary drawbacks. Hence newer brands like New Belgium’s Mural. This Mexican-style ale is only 110 calories, with 0 grams of sugar. Other major breweries have recently released lighter craft options, targeting active-lifestyle consumers who prefer their beers more flavorful than the traditional low-cal go-to, Michelob Ultra.
3) Eco-Friendly Wine
On the topic of consumers with a conscious, numerous wines at Mohegan Sun were certified organic or biodynamic. This trend has gained steam in recent years and seems poised for greater consumer awareness.
Brands like Vincent Lataste explicitly advertised their organic qualities on the labels, while the Terroir Wine Group only brought wines that were organic or biodynamic. “Consumers have definitely become more conscious of organic,” says Emma Otero of Terroir Wine Group. “And it’s also becoming more of a movement because of the need for more wines to find a niche.”
4) Bourbon-Barrel Aged Wine
Elsewhere in wine, more brands sought crossover drinkers by tapping into the brown spirits boom. Bourbon barrel-aged wines were among the more popular pours at Mohegan Sun. These included 1000 Stories, with a bourbon barrel-aged zinfandel, carignan and red blend, as well as Beringer Bros. with their cab sauv, red blend and chardonnay, all aged in bourbon barrels.
While these wines may not yet perfectly capture the flavors of bourbon, rising interest in the style likely means that better-balanced versions are just around the corner. One drawback, of course, is that these by nature are on the boozier side, usually around 15% ABV.
5) Approachable Sour Beers Remain Hot
A trend that started a few years ago shows no sign of slowing down. Approachable sour craft beers were common throughout The Sun Wine & Food Fest in 2019.
Revival Brewing poured their Pinky Swear Raspberry Ale, a 4%-ABV Berliner Weisse made with raspberries, blueberries and Greek yogurt. The first of its sour style from the brewery, Pinky Swear sells out faster than Revival Brewing can produce it, the reps report. It’s light, flavorful, easy-drinking and super crushable.
Stony Creek brought their Red Heron Hurricane, a collab with NOLA Brewing of New Orleans. This 5%-ABV sour was brewed with hibiscus, passion fruit, lime and blood orange juices for flavors that mimic Hurricane cocktails.
6) Wine Labels Go Bold, Simple or AR
In the ever-crowded category, wines stood out at SWFF2019 with boldness, like the successful Freakshow or Apothic brands, or the simplicity of just using a country or state’s initial.
The wine industry has also led the charge with augmented-reality labels, with more on display at Mohegan Sun. Trend-starter 19 Crimes was on hand, while the aforementioned Beringer Bros. also came to life when you pointed your phone’s AR app at the label. Look for more AR technology on the labels of wine and other alcohol categories as brands compete for the increasingly splintered consumer attention span in 2019.
7) U.S. Craft Mexican Beer
New Belgium’s Mural (a collab with Mexican craft brewer Cerveceria Primus) was not the only U.S. Mexican craft beer. Stony Creek sampled their La Garza Mexican lager, which tasted like a craftier Modelo.
Part of the reason behind these cross-cultural brews is the recent significant sales growth of Mexican imported beer. These brews have built followings across vastly different demos, proving that the country’s brews transcend cultural appeal. Everybody loves Mexican beer — especially Millennials, who appreciate the distinct flavors and authenticity.
Do not be surprised to see more American breweries release homages to the beers of Mexico. After all, like with the IPA explosion, breweries must make what consumers like to drink.
And the award for best culinary use of whiskey goes to:
Normally we sip Maker’s Mark, but shout out to the chefs at Jasper White’s booth for this fiery display of bourbon gastronomy:
Nothing like pan-roasted lobster with bourbon beurre blanc to wrap up a wine and food fest!