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Published on September 5, 2022

What is the Third Wave of Flavour in alcohol?

What is the third wave?

When speaking of the third wave of flavour, many people think of coffee. The first wave started when Italy introduced the world to coffee, especially the espresso, which became massively commercialised through instant coffee, enabling anyone to be able to create a cup of brew quickly with the intention of getting a caffeine boost. The second wave started in the late 1960s in places such as Starbucks where they started to source, blend and roast, making coffee more expensive with syrups and foam. When the third wave of coffee hit, artisans started to refine and deliver specialty coffee to the consumer, giving the fullest and distinct flavours. Coffee has become less of a commodity and more of an experience, focusing on the quality of beans and less on the caffeine hit. 


The same has happened in the world of alcohol. Alcohol, mainly spirits, are being refined in a renaissance of flavour as people seek better quality in their drinks without disguising the flavour with too many additives. Venues are leaning into this; however, not quick enough. We must learn that  the right product does not need heavily flavoured mixers and syrups to mask the taste, the spirit can do all the hard work for you. 

‘Psychophysics suggests humans have physiological limitations in perceptual ability and can identify no more than three or four flavours notes in mixtures’ (1) demonstrating the need for spirits to go back to simplified flavoured palettes. The alcohol industry has come leaps and bounds over the centuries; however, recently distilleries and makers have started to deviate from dumping a ton of artificial flavours into batches and have started to focus on the flavour that is already present. They have developed and emphasised high quality sourced ingredients and taken care when bringing out all the natural flavours and aromas. 


Take whisky as a case study. We are now in the ‘golden era of whisky’ where drinkers are more interested in the provenance of their drinks and their ingredients – hence the rise in premium products. ‘Palates have become more sophisticated as a result of a burgeoning gin market, which introduced us to a variety of flavours and botanicals. The whisky bar world is becoming more accessible, too, in how they advertise their bottles and engage with their customers’ (2) as well as cocktails which played a key role in the rebirth of whisky with neater styled, whisky-led drinks are becoming more prominent as the quality of the spirit has increased. 

Invest correctly 

  • Investing in spirits that concentrate solely on refined palettes. By investing on the correct spirits for your venue and customers, your ROI will show it.  

Introduce niche 

  • Introduce your customers to niche products and allow them to taste and discover what they like. Customers do not always know what they want, so guide them to the best, premium products that you believe in. 

Limit accessories

  • Limit your cocktail menu and use the 4:2:1 ratio in cocktails with no more that 3/4 ingredients. Make sure to use garnishes that compliment the spirit. 

Seasonal choices 

  • Pick complimentary spirits for the season. Classic flavours are not always right for the season you are in. Make sure to do your research on the best flavours for the time of years. 


(1) Lee, K., Paterson, A., Piggott, J. and Richardson, G., 2001. Origins of Flavour in Whiskies and a Revised Flavour Wheel: a Review. The Journal of The Institute of Brewing, 107(5), p.287.

(2) Masing, A., 2020. The Evolution Of Whisky: How An Old Spirit Became Cool Again. [online] The Journal. Available at: <https://www.mrporter.com/en-gb/journal/lifestyle/rise-of-scotch-whisky-whiskey-1162776> [Accessed 30 August 2022].

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About the author

Chloe Lewis

Chloe looks after all copywriting and proof-reading for Drink Warehouse UK, working with the Marketing team to deliver educational content to all our customers. She has spent many years in the hospitality sector, moving from behind the bar to now helping venues to stock their own. You can find more from Chloe about beer, cider, spirits, wine, non-alcoholic, soft drinks and RTDs all over our blogs, website, social media and Set The Bar magazine. 

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