I need to sing praises of the cocktail and wine scene in Kansas City. Not just because it’s my hometown, or because my alma mater nearby just won the NCAA Championship (Rock Chalk, Jayhawk). For a mid-sized city in the Midwest, the culinary, cocktail and wine culture stands up well to other major markets. Kansas City, as many people might not know, has been a drinking town for centuries. But it’s no surprise to the locals that our town is tops when it comes to a great cocktail (and wine) scene. That’s why I had to make it the second stop on our Liquid Insights Tour, Southern Glazer’s extensive, coast-to-coast educational initiative that explores and identifies the latest trends in mixology and wine.
Like Houston, there are many people in the industry who got their early start at trend-forward cocktail and wine bars and who still keep in contact and help collectively keep offerings fresh (even if they work at different concepts). To start, I immediately noticed many different variations on the Manhattan… much more than in years past. Variations on this cocktail were designed to make it more approachable, less “boozy” with a softer/rounder flavor profile than a traditional version, often incorporating ingredients like amaro, dry curacao and in one instance - cognac.
This is the first time in this year’s tour I saw 3 oz. wine pours, as well as an overall wine pricing strategy at one location to both sell a lot of wine and make money by building in good value on by-the-glass and by-the-bottle offerings that drives velocity. Are consumers more educated about retail prices for a bottle of wine post-COVID? You bet and on premise business owners know it. This is also the first time I’ve seen the simple (but delicious) ingredient of “burnt sugar” used at a few different places, by essentially dry cooking sugar until it caramelizes and then diluting it down, adding a richer flavor than just simple syrup. Since this reminded me of the burnt sugar birthday cakes my grandmother use to make for my family and our cousins when I was a kid, I’m really hoping this trend translates to other markets!
Similar to Houston (trend alert) there were more Espresso Martinis (or variants thereof), uses of butterfly pea flower, as well as the use of QR codes to see additional beverage offerings. Nick and Nora classic glassware – especially the coupe – is now nearly ubiquitous. Highly crafted and high-priced non-alcoholic cocktails appeared on menus once again in KC, and “operational ease” using partial or fully pre-batched drinks continued to be common.
Do two cities make a trend? Possibly. Do we have many more glasses of wine and cocktails to sip to be sure? Absolutely. Stay tuned as we plan stop three. Straws out!
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