Laura Hayes

With close to a decade in the business and more than 3,500 clients in D.C., Maryland, and Delaware, Chris Schmid, director of wine and spirits for Prestige-Ledroit Distribution Company, can confidently discuss what denizens of the District drink. Below, he identifies four local beverage trends that just might inspire your next order.

1. Mezcal’s meteoric rise has paved the way for more Mexican spirits.

“Obviously Mezcal is crushing it right now,” Schmid says. “That’s opening the door to several other esoteric spirits.” Most of them aren’t used in cocktails at high-volume bars because of their price point. You’re more likely to sip them neat at bars that boast collections. (Think of Jack Rose Dining Saloon’s whiskey library.) “The modern consumer is less loyal to brands and more loyal to a category,” Schmid explains. Some other Mexican spirits to sample include sotol from Chihuahua, bacanora from Sonora, and raicilla from Jalisco. Espita Mezcaleria currently carries six raicillas, five sotols, and one bacanora. 

2. Low-alcohol cocktails that won’t knock you out

“I’ve started to see dedicated sections on cocktail lists devoted to low-alcohol drinks,” Schmid observes. Many of these low-alcohol cocktails swap heavy hitters like bourbon and rum as lead spirits for lower-proof vermouths, amari, and wines. Spritzes made with Campari or Aperol are catching on in D.C. Find some reduced proof cocktails at Maxwell Park, The Reading Room at Petworth Citizen, Petite Loulou, and Hazel. 

3. Gin and vodka are starting to mimic each other.

“Gin is proliferating on shelves at a rapid pace, much like flavored vodkas used to,” according to Schmid. “Now there’s a gin for everyone. If you don’t like juniper, there’s one flavored with rhubarb for you.” He says American consumers are drifting away from juniper-heavy gins to ones with more subtle citrus notes or sweet aromatics. More countries are also getting into gin production. “When you used to go to a liquor store, there were six types of gin. There are now rows devoted to them.” At the same time, “botanical vodkas” are entering the market. “They should be called gin,” Schmid says. “Judging by Tito’s sales, vodka is nowhere close to dying out, but at the end of the day it should be flavorless.” 

4. The rapid resurgence of American brandy

American brandy is one of the nation’s oldest categories of spirits, predating bourbon. “All of the classic cocktails like the Old Fashioned could have and should have been made with brandy,” Schmid says. “But an epidemic in France impacted the market and whiskey flourished.” Brandy—a spirit made from wine grapes—is much more aromatic. Schmid says California has produced brandies for the past 20 to 30 years, but now producers from other parts of the country are entering the market. They include Copper & Kings from Kentucky and Catoctin Creek from Virginia.