Nostalgic Drinks: A Revival of Retro Spirits

Nostalgic Drinks: A Revival of Retro Spirits

Posted by Spirits Kiosk on 1 Apr 2023

The world of spirits and cocktails is ever evolving, with new trends and innovative creations constantly emerging. However, there has also been a growing fascination with the past, and nostalgic drinks are making a comeback.

Since 2020, the industry has witnessed a resurgence of retro spirits, forgotten products and classic cocktails, all re-imagined and revamped to appeal to a new generation. There’s even been a slew of once defunct Scotch distilleries being exhumed from their “ghost” status and brought back into production. 

The age-old expression may be “Out with the old, in with the new,” but it seems the opposite may be true right now…

For the month of April, we are exploring the idea of the nostalgia in the spirits world. Through our post on Insta, the weekly blogs and the parallel deep dive content over on  Spirits Beacon we’ll be looking closer into the how the trend is playing out, the spirits and cocktails that have resurfaced, and how they have been updated for today's discerning drinkers.

Retro Spirits: A Blast from the Past

We all know trends are cyclical in nature and love it or hate it, eras resurface. Just look at the return of flared trousers, textured fabrics and the return of the groovy 70’s vibe in interior design right now!

Nostalgia is also sweeping the drinks industry, with retro cocktails back in vogue.

If your eyes roll at the idea of making a Harvey Wallbanger, Tequila Sunrise or Grasshopper – fear not. Not all drinks are back and those that have tend to get an update. Clarified punches, clear Pina Coladas and now they are being made with the best part of a thousand new craft spirits that weren’t available first time around. Even if they are the same recipes, craft distilling has seen to a notable step up in class…

The revival of these drinks is driven by a mix of curiosity, nostalgia, and the desire for unique experiences. But they are also based on understanding that quality is timeless, and a good recipe is just that. Have you tried a well-made Cosmo lately? What about a Jungle Bird? 

Stay tuned for more on those in the coming weeks but here’s a spoiler alert – they are DELICIOUS!

The same timeless tastiness is true for spirits. Many brands have lived in the shadow of their former glory in the years since they were popular. They may not be cool anymore, but they haven’t changed and they remain as good to drink as they ever were.  BeefeaterAbsolut CitronJack DanielsJohnnie Walker are all mainstream brands that don’t get the plaudits they deserve.

It’s not just the brands either – entire ways of drinking are being re-popularised and with them the type of spirits and liqueurs that match the moment. The comeback of Aperitivo style drinking means it’s never been a better time to be into Vermouth in the UK!

Take the story of  El Bandarra as just one example if the change in perspective (and fortune) that’s happened. Their vermouth was originally created in the late 60’s and sold to bars and local restaurants by the barrel. It gained traction in the 70’s as aperitivo and tapas culture exploded, and the distinct hand painted and colourful lettering aesthetic of Barcelona bars became synonymous with outdoor drinking and warm evenings with friends.

Like many others, it became anonymous once more as the apero hour lost its "cool" but in 2014, two brothers decided to take the family recipe and revive it by creating a brand that pays homage to the nostalgic golden generation of vermouth. El Bandarra was re-born into what we know today. It’s the story of a brand, sure, but it’s also the story of the vermouth and aperitivo revival too. Retro is in right now. Nostalgia for these bygone eras is strong and the drinks that are being enjoyed once more are as delicious as they ever were.

Other styles of spirits have become mainstream over the past few years too. What started with the first re-incarnations of Old Tom Gin in the late noughties, soon also saw Navy Strength Gin and Cask Aged gin genres return to mass consciousness too. 

Mezcal has gone from relative anonymity to cult status, Calvados is back in vogue and the interest in once forgotten, now treasured styles could never be stronger.

This has lead to a few of the most interesting new releases in the past few years too, where intrepid brand owners are re-imagining products that were lost to the archives of time. Many of them are Liqueurs.

Dr. Hostetter’s is one such example. It was a brand that had a long legacy from the mid 1850’s through to 1955 when it disappeared (ultimately succumbing to neglect and changing consumer preferences). It was revamped and re-created last year and re-launched here in the UK.

There’s a few minor tweaks to the recipe here and there to update it, but the core idea is still the same and it brings back the visually iconic bitters so that a new generation of drinkers can discover it. 

It might capture the current zeitgeist by tapping into a sense of nostalgia – but it stands up as a product because it still captivates drinkers. It tastes great!

In the great race for innovation that sweeps our shelves with new and novel ideas, what’s often forgotten is that bringing something back can be as effective at delivering these amazing drinking experiences we all crave as chasing that new frontier, that new process, that new recipe…

And that’s what this month is all about for us here at Spirits Kiosk. A celebration of the past in a hope that we can all rediscover what made the drinks, the cocktails and the moments we all shared in the past so special. It won’t be the same, nor should it be. Just like El Bandarra and Dr Hostetter’s, to be great it needs to work for today and not be a pastiche.

We hope that our series of social media posts, newsletters and upcoming blogs acts as an invitation to think about some of our favourite brands in a different way and appreciate the bigger context in which they sit. To give you a sense of what went before and how you can tap into that in a modern way, through brands we love now, and via cocktail recipes adapted to suit modern preferences.

Along the way, you’ll find that there is a lot of the old in the new, and that a lot of the new ideas having already been played out in the once or twice before... You’ll see that it’s fine to buy kitsch brands, indulge guilty pleasures and champion the OG’s of the spirits world. You may even treasure them for being the shared social and cultural icons that they are.

So whether you are discovering these drinks for the first time or it all feels super familiar, it’s time to revel in the fleeting nature of it all and the cyclical nature of ideas, trends and flavour preferences. It's time to say cheers to the past, present, and future of nostalgic drinks!