Cocktail trends: Moving with the times

Trends rely on different groups of people to evolve and gain traction. Angel Brown tracks the movement of cocktail fashion


COCKTAIL TRENDS ARE indispensable to the modern spirits business – they can make and break brands’ fortunes. But like swirling winds, trends can seemingly appear out of nowhere, shift direction, grow in strength or peter out. If a brand manages to catch the breeze, it can be carried along to untold success. But to create a trend or exploit one early enough, brands need to get a read on how they come about in the first place. What is the process by which trends are created and percolate down to the mainstream?

Everett Rogers is the American sociologist who in 1962 created the theory of Diffusion of Innovation, which unravels the way in which people adopt trends. The DOI separates people into five groups depending on their adoption of a trend, which can be applied to cocktail trends.

The innovators are the blue-sky thinkers – they make up just 2.5% of the population and are as far from the mainstream as possible. They are the ones responsible for new ideas. These are the leaders, the likes of Sasha Petraske, father of the 21st-century speakeasy Milk & Honey, or Tony Conigliaro, who blurred the lines between gastronomy, science and cocktails. While some of these ideas may succeed, others will fail depending on how well the idea resonates with the rest of the industry.

Early adopters are what you would think of as trendsetters as they establish and popularise the trend rather than create it and represent 13.5% of the population. They are well-connected on social media and have a wealth of cultural knowledge. They were the first group of hipsters and were into nitro coffee before Nescafe had even heard of it. Experiences and rare and new consumer goods are their cultural capital. Early adopters are so over prosecco and anything else that feels like yesterday’s fashion.

The early majority are 34% of the population and they represent a large group of the mainstream but are still well ahead of the curve. You’ll notice them more readily – they are essentially communities which embrace trends as a lifestyle choice. By the time trends have made it to the mainstream, they are less relevant to the early majority and are transitioning to something else. In terms of cocktails, right now this group would be drinking Negronis, not Mojitos.

The late majority also take up 34% just as the early majority group but are more conservative. They like to feel safe in numbers and are more open to later-entry, mass-marketed brands that have replicated the trend. Take the Pornstar Martini – the cocktail that was created in London back in 2002 and is now a fixture in mainstream bars around the world. This is when we see trends hit the biggest following. Think of the current G&T boom – its comeback was so big it’s no longer at the forefront of innovation, but neither is it dwindling just yet.