Philly will always have a great beer scene, but recently there’s been lots going on in the world beyond brew. From wine to spirits to sips without any booze at all, here are eight trends to watch develop in the local drink scene for 2018.
Lambrusco becomes the new rosé
Heard of Lambrusco? This sparkling Italian red wine took a big hit to its reputation in the ‘80s, when the sickly sweet Riunite (on ice..so nice) sullied its name for generations to follow. But it’s finally making a comeback.
Today’s vintages of can be dry and complex, one reason Tria wine director Michael McCaulley said he thinks the varietal will stay on the upswing. They’re a favorite of Kensington Quarters beverage manager Tim Kweeder, who’s been trying to make them popular for a while — last year hosted a whole “Lambrusco Festival” at his Fishtown spot.
Nostalgia drives simpler cocktails
Good news for people who like sipping drinks instead of watching people make them: The complicated creations that seem to give “mixologists” a boner are on their way out.
This year will see the continued rise of classic, straightforward booze combos, where the spirits themselves are on display. Forthcoming West Passyunk cocktail bar Thirsty Soul will follow that pared-down mantra, for example, and it’s even being embraced in Rittenhouse. The Love, the new Stephen Starr-Aimee Olexy joint, serves a throwback Irish coffee and a soul-warming hot buttered rum.
Grower champagne gains fans
Bubbly is for more than special occasions, especially the type produced by small, independent operations that raise and use their own grapes.
Jordan Fuller, beverage manager at Barclay Prime, sees what’s being called “grower champagne” picking up speed. “These smaller houses make limited wine, so they have to be creative,” Fuller said. The trend takes the idea of champagne to a new level of expression — similar to that of Burgundy and Bordeaux — that that reflects year-to-year variations and expresses small village terroir.
Overseas spirits come to town
Philly has lots of local booze, but bar shelves are also getting more global.
Rittenhouse bar Southgate has been introducing Philadelphians to the versatility of soju, the Korean distilled spirit that’s equally good in concoctions both spicy and sweet. SuGa on Sansom is about to begin importing Baiju, the clear, funky-tasting liquor that hails from China. (Made from fermented sorghum, it’s the most widely-consumed spirit in the world but still rare in the US.) Then there’s Japanese sake, which is available in more variety than ever before, thanks to places like coZara and Royal Izakaya.
Booze gets a healthy sheen
Whether alcohol consumption is good or bad for you is a topic of great debate, but if you’re gonna indulge, it’s getting easier to choose healthier drinks.
Chestnut Street Indian bistro Veda is infusing cocktails with spices like turmeric, which brings “a boost of health benefits,” said beverage director and sommelier Harsh Dayalani. Lansdale’s Boardroom Spirits offers several bottles with beneficial ingredients, like vodka made with fresh ginger and brandy made from carrots or beets.
Nonalcoholic drinks take off
Whatever the science says, more and more bars are recognizing that not everyone who goes out wants to get drunk — or even tipsy. Instead of being forced to choose between soda and juice, people who abstain (for whatever reason) can now find creative non-boozy options on menus across Philadelphia.
Nicholas Elmi’s ITV and Royal Boucherie were early adopters, and interesting spirits-free sips can also be found at high-end spots like V Street, Townsend and Bar 210.
The coffee game heats up
In other nonalcoholic liquid news, there’s nothing groundbreaking (groundsbreaking? sorry) about opening a cafe serious about java in Philly these days. Which means newcomers have to work hard to stand out — either by roasting their own or offering more than just a great cup of joe.
“Gone are the days of simply ‘wanting to open a coffee shop,’” said Kenneth Kouba, coffee manager for Parliament, which opened its first Center City spot last November. He expects plenty of future entrants onto the scene, but noted they’ll probably need “a strong roasting or culinary component to them in order to remain viable.” Viz Ultimo Coffee, which will serve only home roasts at its new outpost in Rittenhouse.
Celebrity vintners try to muscle in
Can wines that rely just on star power make a splash in the dubious Philadelphia market? Kaitlyn Caruke, head sommelier at Walnut Street Cafe, thinks so — even if they’re not all that good. Of the celebrity-produced brands proliferating across the region, she said, “we can only hope they make great wine, as they already come with an audience.”