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National Restaurant Association - Cheers! Top bar trends from the NRA Show

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Cheers! Top bar trends from the NRA Show

Look for pepper-flavored spirits and beer, South Africa wine and fruit infusions on restaurant bar menus. Craft brewers, distillers and wineries showed off the latest beverage alcohol trends at the National Restaurant Association's BAR event, along with importers, distributors and affiliated businesses throughout the NRA Show.

Here are a few hits we discovered on the exhibit floor:

The next, great reception wine

“Chenin blanc is kind of our secret weapon,” says sommelier Jim Clarke, marketing manager for Wines of South Africa. “It’s great for parties where you want one red and one white. It has enough body to appeal to chardonnay drinkers, the aromatic generosity that a sauvignon blanc drinker likes, and the freshness a pinot grigio drinker would enjoy.” Instead of offering three different white wines, you can have offer one that appeals to many white-wine drinkers. New to the NRA Show, Wines of South Africa highlighted about 10 wineries and distributors at the BAR event. In addition to chenin blanc, the brands offered unique blends and award-winning pinotage. “There’s never been a better time to enjoy pinotage,” Clarke says. Quality wasn’t as high in the 1990s when pinotage first was available in the United States, but now it’s “a good bet” because it’s been vetted four times through the distribution and importation process, he says.

Back to basics

“Moonshine is everywhere,” Chef Leith observes. That’s because it has a rustic, small-batch feel to it, says Karen Korell, director of operations, Grand Teton Distillery. “It’s the surprise big hit of the Show,” she says. Grand Teton’s moonshine products are made with real fruit infusions and are proofed high enough for cocktails. Any cocktail made with clear liquor can be made with moonshine, she says. One example of a twist on a traditional cocktail was Dutch’s Spirits’ moonshine mule.

Some like it hot

The BAR event featured several beers brewed with peppers, pepper-infused tequila and an ancho-chili whisky. “Everybody’s leaning toward the spicy side,” says restaurant consultant David Leith, soon to open the Green Bean restaurant. The pepper-infused grain spirits make great cocktails, such as an ancho-whisky Bloody Mary, and the beers could glaze bratwurst and other sausages, he says. Heat is also popular among garnish makers, says Pat Trevino, vice president, marketing and business development, Twang Partners. The family-owned company from San Antonio specializes in big flavor, Trevino says. “We’re from South Texas!” Twang highlighted margarita salt made with hatch chilis from New Mexico, as well as sweet-heat combos, such as mango chili and watermelon-jalapeno cocktail rimmers.

Ribald rhizomes and other ginger-flavored concoctions

From mixers and elixirs to beer and spirits, ginger was a common flavor among exhibiting companies. Indianapolis-based Wilks & Wilson offered ginger simple syrup that can be mixed with club soda for a DIY ginger beer. Making your own ginger beer saves time, improves consistency and efficiency and cuts down on back-room stock, says Krista Miller, vice president of sales.

If you thought St. Louis was just for beer, think again. OTT Enterprises introduces Big O Ginger liqueur made with hand-chopped ginger, whole spices, turbonado sugar, citrus, and vodka and brandy made just for OTT with Missouri wine. The family-owned company has a great track record in Missouri, Southern Illinois and two other states and wants to expand, says Bill Foster, CEO and chief ginger chopper. “We’ve gotten to the point where we don’t have to hand-label bottles anymore,” he says. “That was our only barrier to expansion. Now that we have these lovely screen-printed bottles, we can grow.”

Small-scale brewing

“Anybody who has a bar, restaurant, supermarket, hotel or club can have their own brewery” with BrewMaster’s fully automated, self-cleaning brewery, says Brian Watson, CEO and brewmaster. The BrewMaster brews five U.S. barrels at a time and 10 half-barrel kegs a week and takes up just 100 square feet.

Spiced wine: It’s not just for Christmas anymore

If you’ve ever spent time shivering at an outdoor holiday market, you likely warmed up with a glass of gluhwein. But Waldetau, a 90-year-old family company from Bavaria, offers iced versions in blueberry and baked apple, in addition to traditional spiced wine. Heinz Bahr’s grandmother created the recipe for Waldetau’s Klassik version, a blend of fermented berries and spices, rather than grapes. “We are really successful in Europe, and we want to conquer the U.S. market.” Based on restaurant and sommelier interest, we say “Prost!”

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