Micro-distilled/artisan spirits, locally produced beer/wine/spirits, onsite barrel-aged drinks, regional signature cocktails and culinary cocktails using fresh ingredients including botanicals are this year's top alcoholic beverage trends according to the National Restaurant Association’s What’s Hot 2015.
To find out what Northwest Indiana and Southwest Michigan spirit producers see happening around the Region we asked local brewers, distillers and area restaurateurs:
“Call this one a hunch, but I have a good feeling that 2015 will be the beginning of an American brandy trend,” says Nick Yoder, Marketing/Distiller at Journeyman Distillery in Three Oaks, Michigan. “It may not come out in full force until 2016, but 2015 will lay the seeds with former Balcones distiller Chip Tate shifting his focus to brandy. Tate turned Balcones into one of the most respected and coveted craft distilleries in America and that will likely follow him into brandy. We’re happy to be out in front of this trend with our Fine Girl Brandy, distilled using Vidal Blanc grapes from St. Julian Winery.”
All craft beers are very seasonal says Bob Sima, brewer at St. John Malt Brothers Craft Brewery in St. John. “Coming up we’ll be seeing a lot of IPAs and fruit summer shandies as well as lighter ales, pilsners and lagers,” he says.
Spring and summer translate to lighter brews such as German-style Hefewizer says Kevin Clark, owner and brewmaster at Bulldog Brewing Co. in Whiting.
“We also have a limited realease beer, French Saison, which is aged in a chardonnay barrel,” he says. “We have a German Kolsh on tap right now and we just completed a Kentucky Common beer that is brewed with rye, corn and barley. It has a little rye/bourbon and caramel spicy note which gives a brown character to it. It’s a mild beer.”
Coming up in time for Pierogi Fest, Bulldog will be offering their first sour beer.
“It’ll be perfect for the food and the season,” says Clark.
When it comes to selecting the artisan brews served at Craft House, the family friendly bar/restaurant he co-owns in Chesterton, Ken Chapman looks for the unusual.
“I look for different such as beers that aren’t available all the time,” he says. “We have KBS which is made by Founders Brewing Co. which is only available once a year.”
Even rarer, last week Craft House had Blushing Monk, also from the Grand Rapids based Founders, on tap. A dessert beer, Blushing Monk is made with raspberries and a Belgian yeast strain, and was last released in 2011 which means it hasn’t been available again until recently.
Chapman says he also listens to his guests when making his decisions on what to put on their brew list.
“They might say I tried this great beer, I don’t know if you can get it, but it’s really good,” he says. “So I try to get it. I also have knowledgeable beer reps who can tell me what’s on the market. We want to make sure everyone gets to taste many of the great beers which are being made here in Indiana and also Michigan and other places.”
Tim Foley, owner of the Bread+Bar by Bit of Swiss in Benton Harbor, sees flavored vodkas as being on the way out except for Deep Eddy, a grapefruit flavored vodka, which is hugely popular in Texas and moving northward.
“Flavored bourbons like cherry, maple and cinnamon are in,” he says. “We’re also seeing people drinking more on the rocks. We can always make Cosmos and Appletinis but we’re doing more cocktails like one we have where we infuse rosemary into the simple syrup and use it for a tequila and grapefruit cocktail. It’s nice to have something so fresh, fresh on the menu.”
Foley also notes that the days of lots of ice cubes in a drink are waning.
“No more filling up a cocktail with a bunch of ice cubes,” he says. “We have one big ice cube, either round or square about one inch by one inch. People like that because it doesn’t water a drink down and it keeps it cold.”
Cider is having its moment says Yoder noting that hard cider sales grew by 75.4% from November 2013 to November 2014 which represents one of the fastest growing segments of the industry.
“This has spilled over into the distilled spirits side and apple cider liqueurs are gaining steam,” he says. “Our O.C.G. Apple Cider Liqueur, which originally started as a tasting-room only product, entered distribution for the first time in 2014 and was instantly a huge hit.”
Beyond hard cider, there's now hard root beer too.
"We started carrying Not Your Father's Root Beer," says Nikki Mehta at Cask-N-Cellar Liquor Store in Highland. (There are also Cask-N-Cellars in Schererville, Lake Station and Hammond.) "And it's selling like crazy. It tastes just like root beer and it's delicious."
Mehta also says that craft bourbond are also extremely popular. "People really like craft spirits and beers," she says. "They're the favorite right now."
15 years ago, there were just a handful of wineries in Northwest Indiana and Southwest Michigan, but now there are a couple of dozen or so and it keeps growing.
“Years and years ago Molly Pitcher Wines was located down in Lakeside and known for their Cherries Jubilee,” says Merchant noting that Michigan wines used to be mainly made from concord grapes. “They were known for their sweet wines. And while there are still very good fruit wines, they are often more complex rather than just sweet.”
Yoder says other hot trends to look for include barrel-aged gins.
“They’ve been around for a while but it really seems like they’re taking off now,” he says pointing out that they age their Barrel-Aged Bilberry Black Hearts Gin in new American oak barrels for around eight months. “Aging the gin in barrels softens the pine blast from the juniper and adds even more complexity with notes of oak, vanilla and cinnamon. “
Smoke may not be getting in your eyes, but it certainly more part of what we’re drinking. Heavily-peated Islay scotches have been around forever, but now to cocktails are using smoke infused spirits and ingredients because of their bold flavors says Yoder.
“There’s a general shift to very obscure styles of beer,” says Chris Moersch, who with his family runs the Round Barn Winery, Distillery and Brewery in Baroda and the Round Brewery and Public House in downtown Baroda. “Even things that six months ago I hadn’t heard of.”
One of those is Kentucky Common Beer, a sour mash beer in the way that Jack Daniels is a sour mash whiskey.
“In Louisville and Kentucky during Prohibition, 90% of the beers made were Kentucky Common Beer,” he says. “Instead of fermenting it, we age it in our Jack Daniels barrels. That’s our take on Kentucky Common Beer. It seems like often the newest trends go back to the basics.”
For a map of winery and brewery destinations in the area, go to nwi.com/digital/graphics