Experts at Moonshine University, the nation’s premier educational distillery, have announced the top trends set to shape the spirits industry in 2021. Driven by the long-term effects of an on-going pandemic, this year’s forecast is shaping up to be focused on authenticity in the form of appeals to community, premium experiences, and hospitality.
• Back to the Backyard: In times of crisis, consumers often look to spirits for comfort. Though the “tried and true” brands belonging to the largest producers have been getting most of the love lately, craft distilleries shouldn’t be counted out just yet. With strong connections to their communities, smaller producers will find success in the New Year by utilizing hyperlocal approaches that spotlight regional expressions.
“It’s something we say all the time in our classes: ‘own your own backyard,’” says Moonshine University’s Director of Spirits Education, Colin Blake. “That’s still the best move for craft distillers. Forget about expansion plans for now— focus on serving your community.”
Craft American whiskey provides a window into how brands are already using local appeal to create success. In Texas, for example, craft distilleries are making whiskey and bourbon with an authentically Texan flair. Dark and bold, these spirits are products of the unique environment in which they are produced. As experimentation across the United States continues, we anticipate more regionally distinctive spirits to crop up in 2021 with craft producers leading the fray.
• The Premium Experience: After a year of difficulties and robbed experiences, consumers are more likely than ever to indulge in premium spirits. The premiumization trend that has been seen in many categories over the past few years got a strong boost in 2020 that we expect to continue into 2021 as consumers seek authentic, elevated experiences from the comforts of home.
“Sipping tequilas and mezcals will offer adventurous new taste experiences, while high-end gin and rums will be crucial for re-creating sophisticated bar-and-restaurant-worthy cocktails,” says Blake.
In 2021, consumers will also trend beyond small batch or single barrel releases and begin to take up more interest in experimental expressions of premium positioned products— think “grain-to-glass,” creative secondary maturations, innovative mash bills, unique blends, and the like.
• At-Home, But With A Hospitality Appeal: With COVID-related limitations restricting the number of visitors to distilleries, bars, and restaurants, the industry has had to discover new ways to reach consumers— but with change comes fresh opportunities.
“Now we’re almost a year into life under a pandemic, and consumer behavior has shifted,” says Kevin Hall, Corporate Development, Moonshine University. “Habits formed under this shared ‘new normal’ have been cemented. Consumers now expect their favorite businesses to offer curbside and delivery options— including distilleries.”
In many states, regulations have been relaxed to allow for formats friendly to current circumstances, but the permanency of these allowances is a matter of state and local governments— either way, our experts anticipate the trend will at least continue into 2021. In the meantime, distilleries are encouraged to be attentive to hospitality, even as their customers enjoy spirits at home.
“Distilleries need to be just as creative with contact-free delivery and to-go cocktails as they are with nurturing relationships between consumers and their brand,” says Blake. “That authentic appeal to hospitality is so important for the longevity of that relationship.”
Of course, if 2020 has taught us anything it’s that no one has a crystal ball. Whatever the rest of this year brings, the educators at Moonshine University will be standing by to help train and prepare spirits businesses for the future.