The research behind the headlines has come from drinks giant Diageo – the owner of big brands such as Bailey’s, Smirnoff and Guinness – which claims that our palate for drink is maturing.
According to the world’s largest producer of beers and spirits, not only can we expect to see artichoke leaf mixers, truffled umami sours, and pu-erh tea sodas appearing on menus across the country, but drinks made with adaptogenic substances – that is, certain herbs or mushrooms thought to have health benefits – are also predicted to be big in 2022. Pu-erh is a variety of fermented tea traditionally produced in Yunnan Province, China.
With an estimated 6.5 million of us attempting to undertake the annual detoxing ritual of Dry January, is taking our health kick one step further with a pint of mushroom ale the future?
According to Matt Coles, strategic director at global drinks consultancy company Barfly, it could well be. “I think that in a few years drinks with extra health benefits are going to be what we’re all talking about,” he says.
“It’s the next step after no- and low-alcohol. You already see it now with people coming into the pub after doing sports. They don’t always want a pint – they want something healthier that is still going to be enjoyable and make them feel good.
“As for savoury drinks, I don’t think we’re going to see everyone tucking into one this year, but there is a growing minority of people that wants to explore more interesting flavour profiles instead of your typically sweet cocktails and mixers.
“There is definitely an appetite and a space for it in the market,” he adds, “but at the moment it is a small percentage of drinkers. We will have to wait and see whether it gathers momentum.”
Already on the market are burdock root spritzers and black garlic syrups, which are known to be full of antioxidants and good for heart health, as well as mushroom beer Fungtn, which claims to be the first alcohol-free beer range brewed with apodaptogenic mushrooms.
According to its website, the beer – which “does not taste like mushrooms” – will not only leave you hangover free, but also helps to contribute positively to mind and body thanks to its ability to “harness the power of functional mushrooms”.
Marc McGuigan, group managing director of brewing and distribution for Butcombe Pubs & Inn – which runs hundreds of pubs across the Midlands, West Country and the Channel Islands – is sceptical about its appeal.
“We’ve not yet had any requests for savoury drinks from patrons,” he says. “The conventional drinks are still our bestsellers by a big margin.
“I don’t like to say never, but while all sorts of new drink trends appear every year, I think it will be a very long time until they overtake our go-to favourites.”
According to Diageo, it is not just new flavours that young people are after. The company’s report states that they are also thirsty for environmentally aware drinks made from sustainable ingredients.
IWSR, which analyses global drinks trends, supports that suggestion, saying that it expects drinks companies to react to our increasing engagement in political, social and environmental issues this year.
“The consumer appetite for these more conscious products is only set to increase as food waste becomes an ever-bigger social concern,” the consultancy said.
“We definitely can expect more products to come that make use of otherwise wasted ingredients or previously underutilised produce.”
A number of unusual beverages are already beginning to tap into this growing social and environmental awareness. Hackney Brewery’s Toast ale is made using unsold surplus bread, while Leeds-based Northern Monk brewery created a “zero waste” farmhouse pear perry that is made from leftover food from UK supermarkets.
Then there is Served, the hard seltzer which reduces food waste by using wonky shaped fruits to infuse its drinks. Helping to give it greater cut-through, singer Ellie Goulding has a major stake in the brand.
“We are all more aware of the world around us and the impact we’re having on it, and of course that’s going to be reflected in the way we drink,” says Barfly’s Coles.
“More and more people are becoming interested in drinks companies with a more virtuous purpose, but especially the younger generation, the millennials and Gen Z-ers.”
Butcombe’s McGuigan agrees. “There’s a lot more interest in vegan, low-alcohol and gluten-free beers,” he says, but he adds that it’s “not just because of their impact on the environment, but also because we’re thinking more about our lifestyle choices and how much we are drinking.
“It used to be that the designated driver would sip a soft drink like Coke or lemonade, but now you can still enjoy a really tasty pint without getting drunk. The no- and low-alcohol market has been around for a little while now, but it is definitely still a growing area.”
With our consumption habits and palates changing – especially since the pandemic, as home drinking increased even as our overall alcohol consumption fell – it is certainly a challenging yet interesting time for drinks innovation.
But it seems the jury is out on whether we’ll be swapping our usual pint for a glass of mushroom ale when Dry January’s done – even if it does promise a hangover-free weekend.