Savoury mocktails, sustainable whiskeys and more flavours of gin than you can point a cocktail shaker at are all heading to a bar near you this summer. From George Clooney’s new line in potent Mexican mezcal to daring distillations that don’t fit any spirit category, Belinda Beckett checks out the top tipples that will be quenching our thirst for adventure in 2019.

Mezcal Mania

If you’ve ever been to Oaxaca in Mexico, the home of this intoxicating cactus juice, you almost certainly brought home a souvenir bottle with a worm floating in it to creep out dinner guests. With or without the larvae of the maguey moth – a delicacy since Aztec times – it always tasted pretty disgusting. However, since George Clooney started promoting mezcal under his Casamigos brand, this peasant farmer’s agave hooch has gained respectability as an artisan product. QuiQuiRiQui Mezcal by Waitrose, the first supermarket to stock it, is flying off the shelves faster than a mariachi band can play La Cucaracha.

Unlike tequila which is produced only from the blue agave in factories, mezcal is handcrafted from 30 varieties in boutique distilleries called palenques. Pre-roasting in traditional firepits gives the liquor its smoky flavour and, at upwards of 45% ABV (alcohol by volume), it really is firewater. Sip it neat the traditional way with a slice of orange, make it into margaritas or experiment at London Mezcal Week (July 15-21), a ‘celebration of agave spirits, art, music and Mexican culture’ promising to make us all mad for mezcal.

Sip Tip: You won’t be tripping while you’re sipping. Despite the similar name, it doesn’t contain psychedelic mescaline which comes from the peyote cactus.

Cannabis Concoctions

Although you won’t be able to buy these over the Spanish bar counter anytime soon, they’re all the rage in Canada, Uruguay and the 10 US states where marijuana is legal. Bud-infused beverages are such a burgeoning market that Coca-Cola, Tanqueray Gin and Johnnie Walker Whisky are all thinking about adding some weed to their mix. If you’re headed across the Atlantic this summer, try a Cannabis Quencher. In mango, hibiscus, strawberry and Old-Fashioned flavours, the strongest packs a whopping 100mg of psychoactive THC per bottle – equivalent to an average-sized joint – but only contains 20 calories, making it a must for diet junkies too.

Savoury Cocktails

We’re not just talking about the olive in your Martini and the salt round the rim of your pisco sour. Bar tenders are becoming as inventive as Michelin chefs and shaking up the cocktail scene with umami infusions and garnishes that blur the line between liquids and solids. If you’re bored with espresso Martinis wait till you try a fungi Irish coffee!

Infusing spirits with the flavour from fats is very now in the spirits world. How about bacon-washed Bourbon or chorizo-infused vodka? Bone broth and anchovies are other trending cocktail ingredients but if that sounds revolting, what are they really but a deconstruction of the Worcester sauce you put in a Bloody Mary? Talking of gastronomy, food pairing is no longer just about wine. Apparently whisky goes brill with Latin American cuisine, gin’s king with oysters and Champagne is the secret soul mate of plain grilled chicken.


Unless you’ve spent the last decade in an alcoholic coma you can’t have failed to notice that gin is IN and a whole lot more ‘ima-gin-ative’ than ‘It’s got to be Gordons’ days. A gin-nami of cheffy new brands are jazzing up the juniper-infused spirit with everything from seaweed to frankincense to wood ants (said to taste lemony).

In the UK, where the number of artisan distilleries has doubled over the past five years to cash in on a £2bn market, the government has added a bottle of ‘Mother’s Ruin’ to the ‘notional weekly shopping basket’ that measures the Consumer Price Index.

However Spain, home of the gintonica, drinks everywhere under the table except The Philippines and America, and produces some interesting gins of its own: Gin Mare, infused with olive, Wint & Lila, a 10-botanical combo starring coriander and angelica, purple COOL gin flavoured with violet, and Puerto de Indias’ strawberry gin, bottled in Sevilla with berries from Huelva, spirit from Cordoba and corks from Jerez. Even good old Larios packs coriander and orange peel for a mild botanical buzz.

Free Spirits

If you’re a single malt Scottish purist look away because hybrid spirits are kicking time-honoured distillation methods into touch. Wine-based gin, vodka-infused cognac and whisky blended with tequila – ¡Por Dios! – are among the new crossbreed concoctions vying to pep up our jaded palates.

Unbound by the regulations governing Scotch, Cognac and Tequila production, these category-defying mashups are being rolled out in city pubs and clubs faster than you can get your twerk on. Try Grey Goose VX (stands for Vodka Exceptionelle), ‘a nuanced marriage of vodka and aromatic Cognac’; LeSutra, Grammy-winning music producer Timbaland’s vodka+sparkling wine combo; and Rebel Rabbet’s Exile, a series of 12 different hybrid spirits being released by the London Distillery Company in boutique batches over 2019.

But hybrid liquor isn’t that new. Madeira, port and sherry wines from Jerez were being fortified with grape spirit centuries ago to help them travel better in the cask on long sea voyages.

Make it a Mocktail

Designated drivers limited to designer water or a holier-than-thou Virgin Sunrise have had their prayers answered. A slew of breathalyser-beating brews are slaking our thirst for interesting, non-boozy libations, allowing bartenders to shake up their repertoires without a drop of the hard stuff.

Seedlip, the world’s first distilled non-alcoholic spirit, is just one newcomer solving the problem of what to drink when you’re not drinking. Based on non-alcoholic recipes from The Art of Distillation, written in 1651, it comes in citrus, spicy and floral flavours distilled from all sorts including bark, hops, hand-picked peas and even hay! Like gin (but more expensive) it should be mixed with tonic or ginger ale, say its Lincolnshire makers. Launched four years ago, Buckingham Palace is one of their best customers!

There’s also a growing addiction to Aperol Spritz, a low-alcohol cocktail of Prosecco, soda water and Aperol, Campari’s less-bitter sister. Aperol was first produced back in 1919 but the Spritz version has sprinted into the Top 10 of Drinks International World’s Bestselling Cocktails list. The Tizer-coloured drink contains rhubarb, gentian and cinchon flowers and at just 11% BVA – less than half Campari’s – it’s the perfect one-for-the-road drink… providing one is all you have.

Thinking Outside the Straw

Sustainability is today’s buzzword and the drinks industry is paying it more than just lip service. Scotch whisky production has met its renewable energy targets four years ahead of schedule. Companies like Toast Ale and Been a Slice are brewing beer from upcycled bread. And the new eco-consciousness is filtering down to grassroots level as bars make zero waste their cause du jour, banishing plastic straws, tablecloths and ice machines, growing edible garnishes and turning lemon peel into lemonade.

HIMKOK bar in Oslo cut glass bottle waste and the carbon footprint from shipping by distilling its own spirits for house cocktails; Jimmy’s in Aspen Colorado banned bottled water and created its own composting programme to deal with 75 per cent of its waste; and London’s Long Arm is the British capital’s first fully sustainable pub/microbrewery powered by fish: leftover grain feeds the fish, their waste fertilises the kitchen garden and they end up in a dish on the menu. Simples!

Top Cocktails

If you thought mojitos still ruled on the Costa you’re way out of date. The rum, mint and sugar concoction we glug by the gallon come summer was busted down two places to number 12 in Drinks International magazine’s 2019 Top 50 Classic Cocktails rankings. The piña colado is also passé at number 26 in a list chosen by 127 mixmasters from 38 countries.

In fact, most cocktail drinkers are the Old Fashioned type. The whisky+Angostura bitters-based retro cocktail favoured by Don Draper in Mad Men has topped the rankings for five years. The Negroni, a punchy blend of gin, red vermouth and Campari, comes in second place, followed by Whisky Sour, Daiquiri and Manhattan.