A Look at 2018: Several Shots in the Dark

Back in the day, a publication I used to write for would approach me in December ask me to put together a list of several New Year food predictions. It was fun to assemble. I knew going in that most of what I thought would happen would be wrong, and a couple of them were going to be wildly off the mark. I’d usually hit the mark on one or two of them, and that was good enough for me. Keeping expectations this low made the forecasting process quite liberating.

I bring this up because it’s January, I hadn’t done any low-pressure prognosticating in a while, and I had an itch to see if I still have no idea what I’m talking about. Also, the relaxed pace of the week between Christmas and New Year’s left me grasping for legitimate, ready-to-go story ideas. These two reasons, particularly the latter one, is why you’re reading this prediction-filled post today. As you peruse each prognostication, please don’t take any of my lackluster clairvoyance as gospel. While these food, drink, and travel predictions try to look like educated guesses, at the end of 2018 they’ll most likely look like they were hatched by someone with a junior high education.

Case in point: I’m going on a limb and saying that aquavit will be the trendy spirit of 2018. The Scandinavian spirit has a lot of appealing elements going its way. It shares a bit of its DNA with gin, which had a minor craft renaissance back a couple of years ago. Its typical base spice of caraway or dill gives it a uniquely earthy flavor that stands out compared to other spirits. It’s the unofficial drink of Vikings, which is simply cool. More importantly, it’s emerged to the shadows to find shelf space in an increasing number of bars in the last couple of years, as more knowledgeable bartenders seem eager to turn their patrons on to the Nordic nectar. Because of this last component, 2018 feels like the year that the stuff may find shelf space in even the most average of bar programs. It will probably be hidden behind an industrial-sized jug of Smirnoff vodka at those places, but that’s probably a moot point.

Let me follow that far-reaching prediction with a layup: Food halls are going to be as strong and hip as ever. There is a caveat here, though – cracks are starting to form in its facade, and it is starting to feel like Peak Food Hall may be a year or two away. When that happens, the pretenders that rushed into the concept chiefly to separate funds from the hipster set will fade, leaving the market to long-established joints or the newer venues that have built up cred and clientele at a deliberate, less flashier pace. Until then, we’ll have to continue dealing with food halls of all shapes, sizes, and relevance experimenting with fermentation and overusing the word “curated.”

Going back to a more brazen prediction – and jumping into the realm of travel – the Twin Cities will be considered a trendy destination in 2018. Hear me out on this one. Minneapolis is hosting the Super Bowl in 2018. It’s the first one they’ve hosted since 1992, and the first one they’ve hosted in the shiny new stadium they built last year. The two cities have built several gleaming hotels in preparation of the Big Game, and these new venues will most likely be marketed hard in pursuit of tourism and the conventioneer dollars once the game transforms into a memory. There’s plenty to market here, too: they have the enormous Mall of America, their restaurant scene has sufficient buzz, they have a ridiculously large live theater scene – only New York has more theater per capita – and Prince’s nearby estate Paisley Park is now open for tours, making its transformation into funky Graceland inevitable. All the elements are in place to make it a stellar alternative to Chicago for Upper Midwestern tourism.

One trend I am convinced will happen is a larger market presence of Georgian wines. I’ve written about them before, and they’re fascinating. They’re also far from newcomer status – they’ve been around for around 8,000 years according to traditional lore and archaeological findings. For the first time in their lengthy history, they have enough product and marketing power to seriously push out toward the masses. This couldn’t come at a better time. Their unique, skin-on style of winemaking yields funky-hued wines spilling with characteristics more common in cider than wine, something that seems bound to attract hipster imbibers hunting down the next drinkable thrill. It’s not a stretch to assume some places will start serving Georgian wines as a way to court this demographic.

2018 also feels like the year people turn their back on kale. I gotta be honest here; I’m not doing a jig over this one. I like the stuff, especially when it’s roasted and sprinkled with a touch of sea salt. However, I’ve been hearing grumblings about its ubiquitous presence for a while now. These grumblings are significantly more noticeable than similar complaints around brussels sprouts, even though kale tends to get onto the plate in more creative ways. Such eye-rolling will get to its organic tipping point within 12 months, resulting in a backlash. It’s probably for the best. There’s only so many kale chips I can eat.

After that paragraph, it feels almost hypocritical to predict a rise in vegetarian and vegan options coming our way. But there’s enough evidence to predict an upsurge may be happening, too. If you’re an optimist, you may see this potential trend as an honorable way to expand the concept of healthy eating to the masses. If you’re a cynic like me, you’ll think the trend stems from corporations looking at vegetarians and vegans and realizing there’s a market to be had. If this latter wasn’t true, McDonald’s probably wouldn’t have test marketed the McVegan burger in Scandinavia last year. But they did, and it was so successful, they’re turning it into an official menu item in Sweden and Finland. Even though the McVegan isn’t close to coming to the U.S. yet, it can still probably be interpreted as a toe dip before a full-fledged dive takes place.

Again, most of these predictions will be horribly wrong and possibly subject to ridicule. Those that are right are purely due to happenstance, so I will not be accepting any robes and wizard hats from any of you. Happy New Year!