Like fashion, food, architecture, and literature, cocktails reflect the period in which they're poured. So what will we be drinking this year? Post-pandemic, we're a little less fussy, but at the same time more tuned in to quality over quantity. We've examined our drinking habits, found joy in embracing the good old days (or, well, the '90s), learned to love agave-based spirits, and can't seem to get enough of riffs on the Negroni. We checked in with bartenders and tastemakers around the country for their picks on what's pouring down the pike—here are the drinks, spirits, and serves coming to a shaker near you in 2023.
The Negroni Sbagliato
Now that the Negroni is the most popular cocktail, the next logical step is riffs on this Italian classic. Invented in the early '70s in Milan, the Sbagliato (Italian for "mistake") subs out gin for prosecco, bringing the alcohol punch down. Late in 2022, the drink exploded, thanks to House of Dragons actress Emma D'Arcy announcing it was her favorite cocktail. Look for it on a drinks list near you, and expect riffs on the riff as well.
"We kept the historical reference of the Sbagliato, an Italian bitter paired with sweet Italian vermouth, however, we decided instead of prosecco to create something with more texture, body, and complexities," says Nathan McCarley-O'Neill, head bartender for Major Food Group's Torrisi Bar and Restaurant. "We added Lambrusco, an Italian sparkling wine made from red grapes. The carbonation within it is lighter than you will find with prosecco, allowing the Sbagliato to really shine, showing red fruits, currants, and cherry."
Pucker Up for More Sours
There's nothing like a classic sour—be it a Margarita, a Sidecar, or a Whiskey Sour. They're simple to make, super versatile, and thoroughly quenching. Which is why they're due for a victory lap in 2023.
"Trending classics will probably be the sour, whether that be a whiskey sour, pisco sour, or even a sour with a base of amaro," says Mitch Mandujano, bar manager of Ernesto's in New York. "The possibilities are endless; it can be enjoyed during the warmer and colder months. It's a versatile cocktail that could be on the up and up, all you need is a celebrity saying they want prosecco in it!"
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The Return of 'Tini
"Put on your platform mary janes and cue the Friends theme song because the '90s are back!" says Bridget Albert, bartender and senior director of external communications for Southern Glazers Wines & Spirits. "The Espresso Martini will continue to shine with tasty twists, including the use of Scotch, local cold brewed coffee, and flavored liquors," she says. "This cocktail will also clear the dance floor for the popular cocktail of the same era, the Apple Martini! It will come back to life with a base of fresh ingredients and the use of high-quality apple spirits like Normandy's Calvados."
Last year, we saw three-ingredient cocktails make a splash. In a way, it was a response to the long stretch where we couldn't dine or drink out of the home due to the pandemic. Simple to make at home and easy to remember, pared-down recipes saw a revival as home bartenders embraced the ease of unfussy drinks.
"After a decade of complicated concoctions and vintage cocktails, the tasty simplicity of drinks from the latter 20th century are enjoying a revival," says Natalie Bovis, founder of The Liquid Muse in Santa Fe, N.M. "The public's current obsession with Espresso Martinis is a perfect example."
For 2023, expect to lean into simplicity even more. "The two-spirit cocktail has been gaining in popularity the last few years," says Schneider. "The idea goes back to cocktails like the Rusty Nail with Scotch and Drambuie. But bartenders are getting creative with drinks like the Ferrari, which is equal parts Fernet Branca and Campari, or the M&M, which is mezcal and Montenegro Amaro."
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Salty, Briny, and Boozy
Found yourself craving a little olive juice in your Martini? You're not alone. Salt isn't just for rims anymore. This year, expect to embrace the briny, savory side of cocktails. "Dirty martinis and tequila have been trending. The palate of many of our guests is gearing towards brine and saline on a fast track," says Amy Racine, beverage director for JF Restaurants. "Caviar vodka and oyster shell vodkas are on the market, many variations of dirty martinis, and the use of saline solution—basically, salt water—in cocktails for an umami spin are popping up slowly, as well."
Photographer Bryan Gardner; Food Stylist Laura Rege; Prop Stylist Paige Hicks
Agave All the Way
In 2022, we all discovered a new love and respect for artisanal tequila and mezcal. This year, expect that curiosity to embrace other agave-based spirits, too. "I think tequila and mezcal will remain extremely popular in 2023," says Kathryn "Pepper" Stashek, bar director for Cool World in Brooklyn. "But we'll also start to see more lesser-known agave-based spirits, like raicilla and sotol, showing up, both for sipping on their own and used in cocktails."
You'll also see agave-based spirits showing up in unexpected places, swapped out for traditional spirits in classic cocktails. "We've already been seeing the sales of agave spirits take off, and there's no indication of slowing down in 2023," says Joshua Scheid, bar manager for Rex in Philadelphia. Scheid says to look for updated classics like tequila Lemon Drops, mezcal Negronis, and anejo Old-Fashioneds on cocktail menus.
In 2023, expect that performance in cocktail creation will harken back to the Tom Cruise Cocktail era. "As experience takes over mere Instagram moments, and cocktail enthusiasts want more than just great-tasting and good-looking drinks, bartenders are being the show to the guests," says Gui Jaroschy of Unfiltered Hospitality in Miami, Fla. He cites drinks he created for Union New American in Tampa, like the Biscotti Espresso Martini, Naked & Dirty, and New American Appletini as examples. "All feature tableside flair that enhances the look, aroma, and experience of the cocktail so guests seated anywhere in the restaurant get the feel of what's going on behind the bar," he says.
A Sober Trend: Low- and No-Alcohol Drinks
Gone are the days of Shirley Temples and cran-and-soda combos for those who want to forgo alcohol. Expect to see growing respect and thoughtfulness in non-alcoholic cocktails. "For so long, people who didn't drink had to be content with whatever they got," says Derek Brown, bartender and owner of the mindful drinks consulting company, Positive Damage in Washington, D.C. "We know almost a quarter of consumers don't drink, and that over 80 percent of people buying non-alcoholic products also drink alcohol. So, it's no longer a select few. Non-drinkers and drinkers alike want adult sophisticated cocktails, spirits, beers, and wines." Brown expects that non-alcoholic distilleries, small production wine alternatives, and niche non-alcoholic distillates will continue to grow.