1. Cheap and Cheerful
The economy has got people drinking cheaper bottles of wine. But learning something along the way. As a sommelier in a high-end restaurant told me, “Maybe wine drinkers are learning that often what makes wine expensive is not only high quality, but things like fashion and availability.”
2. DIY Everything
Bartenders started the DIY trend a couple of years ago by making their own bitters. But now witness the portfolio of shrubs (syrups made from fresh fruit and vinegar) from Nopa’s Neyah White and the tonic water made with cinchona bark and assorted herbs and flowers from her backyard made by Pizzaiolo’s Cate Whalen. What’s next? Glass blowing?
3. Comfort Cocktails
Maybe it’s palate fatigue from all the elaborate mixes, all the crazy new flavors that are wielded by the irrepressibly creative and innovative bartenders in this town. Or maybe it’s just the more plain ‘60s cocktail culture depicted in the hit show "Mad Men". But drinkers and bartenders alike attest to a newfound preference for simple classic cocktails over the crazy concoctions of the mixology craze. Martinis, Manhattans, Old Fashioneds—the comfort foods of cocktails—are back. At least for now.
4. The Happiest Hour
Seemingly overnight, happy hours went from being uncool to being all the rage. When everyone was flush, no one needed happy hour, they were happy to go out for drinks anytime they wanted and didn’t care so much about the price. Now, it’s all about cheap drinks, specials, and a good buffet or $1 snacks.
5. iPhone Drinking Apps
The explosion of the iTunes application store has been good for drinkers with iPhones (of which there are many in SF). Wine programs like Snooth Wine, Wine Ph.D., and Wine Snob educate, help keep records, and locate bottles. A number of cocktail apps like Cocktail+ and iBartender provide recipes. And apps such as BeerSnob and iBeer help track, note and find hundreds of beers from around the world. But easing a hangover? I wish there was an app for that.
6. Farmer’s Market Cocktails
SF bars became famous internationally for their insistence on fresh juicing lemons, limes, and oranges in their cocktail creations. This can be seen in the creations of great new bars like Rickhouse and Heaven’s Dog. But nowhere has it shown more than in the quarterly events that the SF Bartenders’ Guild has done with CUESA at the Ferry Building, which showcases our best bar talent as well as the best of local farms.
7. Beer Dinners
We know that wine matches up well with a whole meal, from canapés to petits fours, but it’s surprising how well beer does in the same situation. But people are starting to figure this out which is why, winemaker dinners are old hat, while beer dinners are the new rage. Pubs like Monk’s Kettle and Magnolia host them often, but even high-end restaurants like Ame have gotten into the act in the last year.
8. Green Wines
Wine geeks have been getting into organic and biodynamic wines for a couple of years now, but several retailers have told me that the new green consciousness has been filtering all the way down to the average retail level. “Even a year ago, most customers had never even heard the term ‘biodynamic,’” one retailer said. “Now more and more people are asking about biodynamic wines.”
9. Social Media and Drinking
Twitter isn’t the only company that has started to make its own wine. In fact, social media has been used to promote everything from group tasting to their own wineries. Group online tastings like Twitter Taste Live have taken off, while the winery Murphy-Goode’s Web-broadcasted search for a social-media-savvy blogger to work for them for six months was an internet sensation. Every winery seems to have a Facebook fan club. Whether all this translates into greater sales is still unclear. But no doubt people are chattering about what they’re drinking.
10. Mezcal Rising
Tequila’s still hot, but some drinkers (like myself) have long been more excited by its agave precursor, mezcal. At this point, the best brands are often made by poor native farmers in the remote high-altitude mountains of Oaxaca using mules, native yeasts, and fire-heated stills. While artisanal mezcal has long labored in relative obscurity, that’s changing now. New brands like Sombra, Benesin, and Mezcalero popped up this year, offering more availability. And bartenders across the Bay at places such as Beretta to Elixir to Camino are assuring that people everywhere are tasting it.