Forget wining and dining, or beer and bar snacks. This year consumer tastes are for food washed down with spirits. Spurred on by this demand for culinary and cocktail combinations, a unique experience is coming to a city near you – thanks to a collaboration announced today between the largest global producer of spirits, Diageo, and the world’s favourite foodie experience, IMG Taste Festivals.
More than 500,000 people attend Taste Festivals every year across the world, in cities such as Moscow, Milan, Sao Paolo, Sydney, Hong Kong and Amsterdam. Now they’ll be immersed in a food and drink extravaganza like no other. Both partners have ambitious plans in place: to redefine the connection between food and drink globally. And they seem to be bang on-trend – with an increasing mainstream interest in flavour profiling and experimentation of spirits with meals.
So, what are these boundaries that are being pushed? And why is combining spirits and food so in vogue right now? Well, according to Brazilian chef Alex Atala – who runs the world-renowned D.O.M restaurant in São Paulo – “consumer bravery and courage” seems to be stronger than ever in 2018. While endorsing the new Diageo/ IMG collaboration at a launch event in London, Chef Atala said that in Latin America food and cocktails have always been a good marriage and now other countries are catching on. He believes this is down to the changed meaning of luxury; it used to signify owning material things, while now luxury can be real-life experiences.
Beautifully created by one of Latin America’s hottest young chefs, Manoella Buffara, oysters with salted strawberries and frozen lime were served alongside a glass of Tanqueray No. TEN Gin, Mediterranean tonic, white port, clementine peel, cinnamon and malic acid. Not a lemon slice in sight. Diageo’s Commercial Manager, Global Partnerships, Mark O’Hora, says its consumers that are clamouring for these new experiences:
“Diageo is all about innovation and pushing the boundaries. We see this as the start of something very exciting. The audience is driving that it needs to be more than a drink, it needs to be more than a plate of food. They want to understand where the ingredients have come from, how it’s made, what’s been used in the drink. We know that over half a million people are flooding to the Taste Festivals anyway. If we can enhance their experience by getting them involved in something they haven’t tried before, like whetting their appetite for discovery, then fantastic.”
If consumer curiosity is behind the new Diageo/ IMG venture, people going to the Taste Festivals around the world this year are unlikely to be disappointed. They can enjoy immersive experiences, such as entering a replica of Johnnie Walker’s original grocery store and learning how to build cocktail ingredients to enhance the natural flavours of the spirit. Or perhaps they’ll discover the Ketel One Vodka Kitchen where they can learn the secrets behind a quirky Bloody Mary mix; secrets they can take home and impress their friends and family with.
Above all, Justin Clarke, Senior Vice President and Managing Director of Culinary at IMG – the events company behind the global Taste Festivals - hopes the new experiences will change people’s flavour stereotypes.
“This is a ‘bigger than a single brand’ story and I think that a company like Diageo can shift people’s perceptions around particular drinks, categories and cocktails. With us and our connection with our consumers, I think we can really do something that changes mindsets and cultures,” says Clarke. “The social media generation has an honesty and a sharing mindset that is driving the innovation and the demands for being inspired. By being inspired, that’s a great opportunity to look at food and drink in a way that has creativity at its heart. And by collaborating with chefs and bartenders, and seeing what comes of it, that’s a great journey to go on.”
Next up on the menu – offering another glimpse of what people who will attend Taste Festivals this year might enjoy – were mussels accompanied by an exhilarating concoction of Johnnie Walker Black Label whisky, peppermint tea, green herbal liquor, celery bitters and sweet potato shrub. It’s exactly this fusion, or this blurring of the lines between food and drink, that Diageo’s Global Cocktailian Lauren Mote believes is turning the drinks industry on its head.
“We are really passionate about sustainability and innovation. Bartenders call it root-to-flower while chefs call it nose-to-tail (where they’re using every aspect of everything). Now we are starting to take notes of what the chefs have been doing all these years. And rather than having these two separated departments of cooking and making drinks, the chefs are really involved in the cocktail planning and the bartenders can be quite involved in how we develop menus. I think it’s a wonderful opportunity to bring these two things together. It’s never really happened before - food and beverages have never really been paired together in this way.”
And if dreamy, creamy cocktails are more up your street, the milky mix of Zacapa 23 rum, almond and rice milk, oloroso sherry, French brandy, chocolate bitters and grated nutmeg might be considered a dessert in its own right. And the perfect way to end the start of the new adventure between these culinary and drinks giants – poised to change tastes and palates across the world.
By Tessa Parry-Wingfield