AN AD­VEN­TURE IN AL­CO­HOL

Closer, bet­ter, harder, stronger. The op­tions for what to drink has evolved and the range is ex­pand­ing at a rate of knots. And the best thing? It’s all on our doorstep

Food and Travel (UK) - - 200 th Issue -

Last night as the Food and Travel team met in the pub, we mused on how it has changed. There were 12 taps serv­ing lagers and ales, six bot­tled craft beers, 15 whiskies, 12 gins, ten wines by the glass and a happy-hour sign ped­dling two Aperol spritzes for £10. Twenty years ago the same pub – while sup­port­ing lo­cal brew­ers – of­fered a quar­ter of this range. Our choice of tip­ple is wider than ever.

That said, we are drink­ing less. ‘Al­co­hol con­sump­tion has been in steady de­cline over the past ten years,’ says Re­bekah Ken­drick of the Wine and Spirit Trade As­so­ci­a­tion. ‘Drinks com­pa­nies have had to en­sure their prod­ucts are re­spon­si­bly pro­duced, sold and dis­trib­uted.’ We are drink­ing less but drink­ing bet­ter.

Wine

The world of wine is ex­pand­ing. An in­crease in out­put from the New World and the ‘New-New World’ has re­sulted in com­pet­i­tive prices from es­tab­lished pro­duc­ers. ‘It has be­come easy to find thrilling, con­fi­dently made, good-value wines from South Africa in par­tic­u­lar,’ says lead­ing wine writer Dou­glas Blyde. It was once as­sumed that lat­i­tudes be­tween 32 and 52 de­grees, and 28 and 46 de­grees in the North­ern and South­ern Hemi­spheres re­spec­tively would garner drink­able grapes, but we’ve seen styles from In­dia, China, Is­rael, Canada and Kenya as they make use of al­ti­tude.

Bri­tish wine is also boom­ing. In the past decade the num­ber of hectares planted with vines has grown 135 per cent, ac­cord­ing to English Wine Pro­duc­ers, and over the next year we will plant one mil­lion vines, in­creas­ing yield by two mil­lion bot­tles an­nu­ally, but this is still only 1 per cent of the sparkling wine we con­sume. Even the French are in on the act. Tait­tinger bought land for vine­yards on the Kent coast last year. The re­gion has the same chalky soil as in Cham­pagne, so pinot noir, pinot me­u­nier and chardon­nay – the cham­pagne va­ri­eties – grow well.

Spir­its

The UK gin re­nais­sance has been the most pro­nounced. In the past year, we’ve seen 28 new brands. Sales topped £1bn in 2016 and ex­perts at­tribute its rise to the pop­u­lar­ity of the aper­i­tif and the fact that more pro­duc­ers are mak­ing it as the re­turn is high and it only takes nine months to dis­til. Whisky brands are pro­duc­ing a wider range, ex­per­i­ment­ing with beer and sherry casks.

Craft beer

This brew­ing style is de­fined by small-scale pro­duc­tion us­ing the finest in­gre­di­ents. ‘It’s an ex­ten­sion of the qual­ity food rev­o­lu­tion in the Noughties,’ says Mike Hill of Uto­beer. Gor­don Brown’s pro­gres­sive beer duty was in­tro­duced in 2002, help­ing smaller brands up pro­duc­tion and get into su­per­mar­kets. Craft beer now has 12 per cent of the mar­ket from a stand­ing start 20 years ago.

Softies and wa­ter

UK brand Fever Tree pi­o­neered the pre­mium mixer: the fastest-grow­ing area of the soft­drinks mar­ket. Hav­ing launched in 2005, it’s worth £1.8bn, just less than Britvic, which launched in 1845. Wa­ter is also in flux. As they wise up to cor­po­rate re­spon­si­bil­ity, restau­rants are in­stalling taps from brands such as Grohe for fil­tered still and sparkling wa­ter at a frac­tion of the cost of bot­tled.

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