How Will We Drink in 2019? Shanghai’s Top F&B Experts Respond

When it comes to drinking and eating in Shanghai, 2018 was a banner year. But there’s more to come. If nothing else, Shanghai is a city that pushes forward, especially when it comes to new and innovative ways of having a good time.

We wanted to know what 2019 has in store for vibing and imbibing, so we turned to a few of our friends in the industry – from renowned bartenders to experts and media figures – to look into their crystal balls and tell us: what can we expect for the Shanghai dining and drinking scene in 2019?

Read on for their answers.

SHINGO GOKAN
& STEVE SCHNEIDER

Co-Owners, The Odd Couple

Owner, Speak Low & Sober Company 
(Shingo Gokan)
Owner, Employees Only (NYC, Singapore)
(Steve Schneider)

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As a founder of bars listed in The World’s 50 Best Bars and Asia’s 50 Best Bars, what trends do you see informing Shanghai’s high-end cocktail scene in 2019?

Shingo: Trend… that is always a tough question. Collaborations between two odd bartenders; upbeat and fun music; high-volume; late night bars. Is that too obvious?

That’s an explanation of the new concept at our newest project, The Odd Couple. But I do think that Shanghai will see more and more focus on collaborations between different styles, music, cool interiors, fun vibes. And always good HOSPITALITY.

What should current and aspiring Shanghai bar owners and mixologists be on the look-out for if they want to be recognized globally?

Steve: There are many mehods I’ve seen throughout the years, some of which I agree with and others which I do not. Competition always helps in meeting others from all over, from online videos, blogs, or any other form of media. I’ve seen campaigns with social media playing a big influence, as well as hosting and/or giving masterclasses or guest shifts.

Personally, at this point in my career, nothing matters more than earning my keep at the shop and performing up to par night in and night out with my guests and staff. People will recognize good, hard work. Start locally and build relationships.

ELYSIA BAGLEY

Editor, DRiNK Magazine

drink magazine elysia bagley thirsty work

As one of Asia’s leading media authorities in the bar scene, what have you seen defining the Shanghai beverage industry in 2018, and what do you see happening in 2019?

A focus on wellbeing has definitely been a big part of the last year. By wellbeing I mean that of the planet, bartenders, and clientele alike. Crafted low alcohol options are holding more substantial places on menus, with more consideration for people who want the social benefits of visiting a great bar, but at the same time are more health and habit conscious. The days of needing to get wasted at the bar to be cool are no more; rather, people want a great drink in great surroundings, with or without the booze. I definitely think there will be continued growth in terms of that focus.

Crucially, I think this coming year will be focused on a very important topic across the bar industry: sustainability is the name of the game in 2019. Venues in Shanghai are finally starting to make vital moves towards becoming more sustainable – eliminating plastic straws; finding alternatives to high-waste ingredients, tools and supplies; making their own low-waste products; developing ways to recycle their materials. I’m quite confident we’ll see more and more consideration of this. With that comes a lot of creativity and innovation, so I’m very excited to see how bars start to think outside of the box and push new concepts to their clientele.

JACKIE LO

2018 DMBA Best Bartender in China Winner

Congratulations on your recent award for 2018 DMBA Best Bartender in China! As a female bartender, how do you see the bar scene developing in China in 2019? How do you see the role of female professionals in the beverage industry?

I’ve always treated my job with a normal heart and couldn’t even imagine that I’d be nominated for 2018 Bartender of the Year! I’m so happy for my work to have been recognized.

With new bars opening every month in Chinese cities, China’s bar industry is going to get more lively. That hustle and bustle is going to be both good and bad. On the one hand,  there will be more professionals studying their craft and managing their businesses well. On the other hand, the market might grow so fast  that the number of world-class bartenders can’t keep up.

In the past year or so I’ve been invited to work in dozens of different cities across China, for drinks and for meetings, and I can see that there are more and more women entering the bar industry. They are working very hard to prove that they are equal to men in their own right. In the end we bartedners are the same! We stand at the bar, and we give the best, most professional service we can.

RYAN MCLEOD

Founder & Producer, Peddlers Gin

We bet 2018 has been quite a ride, launching and making Peddlers Gin Co. a recognized made-in-China craft gin brand. What do you think 2019 has in store for China-made alcohol brands, and what do you see changing in the new year for Peddlers and other local spirits?

We see 2019 as being a huge year for Peddlers and the craft spirits movement in China. As with all artisan, handmade products, I think we’ll see a growing interest in the story and people behind the brands, what inspires them and where they source their ingredients.

I think we’ll also see increasing collaboration between bars and brands looking for innovative ways to introduce new customers to cocktail culture. To stay relevant to existing customer bases, brands will need to offer new product varieties. At Peddlers, we’ll be focused on offering different kinds of experiences to our customers – whether that’s at bars, hotels, online, working in partnership with chefs, artists and musicians, or giving people the tools they need to make their own cocktails at home.

LOGAN BROUSE

Owner, Logan’s Punch and Tacolicious

You’ve been one of Shanghai’s most successful bar entrepreneurs in the casual drinking scene since the opening of Logan’s Punch in 2014. Fresh off opening another casual concept, Tacolicious, in 2018, what are the bar and drinking trends for this segment that you see coming to Shanghai in the coming year?

That’s a great question. While pondering this over many shots of Fernet Branca one of the things that I think will be a defining trend of 2019 will be a move towards sustainability. If you’ve noticed, plastic straws are making an exit from the top booze joints in town and I think this trend will continue next year, with bars that strive not only for greatness in their drinks but also greatness in the way they help the environment.

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My secret desire is that we can move away from the trend of WeChat/Instagramable photos of things that only look good on camera and more to products that look and taste amazing. Think ugly beautiful drinks like a Manhattan or a Vesper.

CRYSTYL MO

Academy Chair, World’s 50 Best Restaurants
Partner, Bon App

crystyl crystal mo bon app drinking trends china drinking

How do you see the Shanghai high-end food and drink industry growing in 2019? Do you think China will gain more attention on a global scale or will it continue being a subdued presence on the popular world’s best lists?

Although the local economy has slowed down a great deal in the past few years, Shanghai is still a bright spot in the world of F&B and there is still a lot of opportunity.

Nevertheless, it’s hard for China to make it onto global lists for a number of reasons including visas, lack of promotion, lack of celebrity chef/bartender culture here. In order to make it onto global lists, global travelers have to come here. Many global gourmets don’t view China as a top destination for drinking and dining. It feels easier and more accessible to go to Japan, Hong Kong, Singapore or Thailand.

What I’m hoping to see more of is locals opening their own innovative concepts, whether in restaurants or bars. I harp on this all the time, but I want to encourage more young chefs (and mixologists) to have the guts and the vision to roll out original menus and concepts. Of course that usually means they need financial partners who are willing to invest in them, because not many young chefs have a lot of cash lying around. It also means they have to be willing to fail because we all know that even the most experienced and talented people in this industry fail, and sometimes spectacularly. While I’ve seen some Chinese chefs open their own venues, it’s often Western cuisine and we don’t see enough innovation in Chinese cuisine.

In terms of ingredient trends, we’re seeing more imported products than ever, more easily available here and that’s actually something I’m disheartened by. What we need for the planet, for our health, and in order to support domestic farmers and producers (our local community) is to eat locally and to eat plant-based. Yes that requires a lot of hard work on sourcing and researching, and even lots of trips to farms around the region and country. Yes that requires altering recipes and learning new recipes based on local, seasonal ingredients. Yes that requires not offering the exact same consistent menu through all four seasons. Yes that requires getting people’s minds around the idea that a delicious and luxurious main course doesn’t necessarily equal a giant-piece-of-meat course. Is it worth it? In my opinion it’s the only responsible way forward.

HANNAH KEIRL

Brand Ambassador, The West Wind’s Gin
Sustainability Advocate

You’ve only just arrived in Shanghai a little over a year ago, and it’s great to see you’re surfing this crazy city with positivity and great entrepreneurial attitude, making an impact as a sustainability advocate and craft spirits importer. What gaps you wish to see filled in the new year and what are the trends you see informing in the China bar scene in 2019?

I’m loving the growth of craft spirits and cocktail culture in second and third tier Chinese cities! I’d love to see more education available for the consumer. Locals are hungry to learn! Craft Gin has been a global movement for the past 6-7 years, and I 100% see that taking off in China now. I also hope going into 2019 that we’ll see more and more guests experimenting and experiencing the joy of both unique gins and craft spirits.

I’m pleased to see the number of bars and restaurants offering either alternatives to plastic straws or no straws at all. I hope that we can take on the global trend of sustainably and be conscious enough to at the very least reduce, reuse and recycle plastics in bars and restaurants and as consumers. I look forward to seeing more draught cocktails (which cut down on a huge amount of waste), and seeing more closed loop cocktail menus. There is so much creativity in cocktails and adapting to seasonal menus as well can reduce our overall impact on the environment. At Spirits Box we are hoping to continue to advocate these at our events, and with our partners!

MICAELA PICCOLO

Asia Pacific Brand Ambassador, Maison Ferrand

As Maison Ferrand Brand Ambassador, we see you constantly traveling the world! What do you see happening to craft sprits in Shanghai in 2019, and what will China’s bar industry be developing into compared to the rest of the world?

I believe we are going to see new bar openings with a real commitment to concept – like Tiki bars, Cafe + Cocktails, dive bars, live music, etc. We started to see a wave of that in Shanghai, and that will trickle into the other cities as the year goes on. Cocktails and beverages are more serious than in western counterpart restaurants which makes the Chinese market standout in so many ways. One particular place it really shines is in the nightclubs and lounges, like Club 3 1/3 and UP Shanghai. You can go late, listen to great music, and know that the drink you order was crafted by a solid bartender with solid ingredients, and it will taste delicious.

In China, cocktails are going more mainstream faster than in any other country we have seen. With the advantages of streaming menus via WeChat through a QR Code, cocktail home delivery kits, and apps like BottlesXO, we’re seeing a huge boost in demand for cocktails at home or “on the go”. You can’t order a Long Island Iced Tea with your delivery order sandwich when you’re in NYC, but in Shanghai that’s easy!

CROSS YU

Owner, E.P.I.C.

E.P.I.C. has been on the radar since 2014 while many other cocktail bars seem to have struggle with longevity. What do you think will make the difference in terms of staying relevant and competitive in 2019?

At E.P.I.C., we’ll be keeping our signature style, while keeping things interesting by inviting  guest bartenders from places like Taiwan, Singapore, and Hong Kong. I myself would would like to do some pop-up shifts elsewhere in the city. I think that this kind of collaboration and cross-promotion is something you’ll see more of in Shanghai in 2019.

PHOEBE HAN

Owner, Healer

What trends do you see informing Shanghai’s cocktail scene in 2019? Do you think that baijiu and other local Chinese spirits become more popular on the Shanghai and global bar circuit?

I think that Chinese spirits like baijiu are going to gain popularity in 2019. Baijiu is pretty much the same as spirits from other countries. It’s just from a different culture, and the flavor is different. It’s still a special drink nonetheless, that can be incorporated into Western or Chinese-style cocktails.

Many people are too quick to form an opinion, deciding they do not like something when they haven’t tried it yet. Hopefully drinkers will be keep getting more open to experimenting and trying new things!

XIAOYI LIU

Food & Beverage KOL
Blogger, Restaurant Hunter

As an opinion leader and influencer, bars and restaurants want to know: what will please KOLs and Social Media fanatics when going to F&B establishments? Will the trend of gimmick and instagrammable food and drinks continue or will there be a shift to something new?

As a diner, I’m only looking for one thing: good food. When someone’s trying too hard to grab eyeballs I’m always slightly doubtful, I don’t usually go to 网红店 unless some trusted friend(s) convince me to. But I understand in this digital (Instagram) age, we all judge restaurants through someone’s camera lens before we actually go dining in there.


Oxalis, “an example of a young chef figuring things out for himself

So my suggestion to restaurateurs is simple: make sure the food is of good quality and looks delicious, don’t copy paste from others, it takes a while to find one’s own voice; but stick to it. It’s not every restaurant’s mission to become a 网红 restaurant but surely you can start from being a delicious one.

Le Comptoir de Pierre Gaganiare, “a solid example of big names going casual”

For 2019 trends, it seems like people right now are seeking quality but are not willing to pay too much. We might see established chefs expanding with more causal spin-offs to sustain the money-leaking fine dining business, or upcoming young chefs opening up causal places that offer refined food. Personally, I am more interested in the latter; that’s where the future is concerning this industry.

For the drink side of things cocktail will remain strong. It’s cool and relatively cheap. But, with all these little wine bars springing up in Shanghai, I hope that the wine market will continue to grow, too.

THILO FUCHS

CEO & Co-Founder, BottlesXO

We see the trend towards consumers wanting to know exactly what they are drinking and putting into their body continuing. Convenience is not enough anymore, and the hunt for the cheapest bottle is over; now people want a connection to the makers of the product, and to know their story. That has been the core concept of BottlesXO since the beginning and we only see it continuing. Advances in technology will take us further towards total transparency in this regard.

Sustainability and the trend toward well-produced products will also continue, as part of a general shift towards a more conscious lifestyle in China, from products to deliveries. This is no longer just about food safety but about minimizing our impact on the planet more generally, while still being able to live a hedonistic lifestyle.

Finally, we’ll see an increasing curiosity to explore perfect pairings of wine and cocktails with Chinese food, moving away from the dogma that says that these beverages are always best enjoyed with Western cuisines. We’re going to be doing our part in doing the reverse in finding great pairings with Chinese cuisine and working with chefs to create fully immersive, integrated Chinese tasting experiences using quality, traditionally “Western” wines and spirits.

And that’s a wrap – let’s cheers to a great 2018 and an even more exciting, innovative and thirsty 2019!

Whether you’re feeling inspired or just thirsty after all that knowledge, we feel like you might need a drink. BottlesXO delivers a range of high quality wines, craft beers, and cocktail sets to wherever you are in Shanghai and Suzhou. That’s instantly, chilled and ready to drink. Click here to download the app and start ordering.