Here are just a couple on my radar:
Flavor Trend: Pear
Last year's pomegranate explosion is now commonplace, and the new fruit of the day is pear. It's interesting to me, because I think of pear as a "grown-up" taste, somewhat gentle and not particularly sweet. I think this is indicative of a wider trend of consumers moving toward more sophisticated flavors. We're seeing it in almost every category, especially craft beer.
Absolut Pears vodka
Grey Goose La Poire vodka
Clear Creek pear brandies
Scottish & Newcastle pear ciders (confirmed rumor)
Pheasant Valley Organic Pear wine
Non-alcoholic: Coke's Peartiser (UK only) | Nantucket Nectar's Pomegranate Pear
Press on pear: Honolulu Advertiser | Pear Bureau Northwest PDF | New York Magazine
Marketing Trend: 4-D Marketing
Also known as experiential marketing, 4-D marketing focuses on bringing the consumer into the marketing experience rather than just marketing to them. The internet certainly helps in this regard, as companies both inside the drinks industry and out leverage new technology to help spread their message. Examples include:
Specialty glassware isn't new among drinkers, but bringing it to the general public is. Sam Adams recently launched a specially designed beer glass intended to be used with their classic Boston Lager.
Brewing competitions: Several major breweries have been running nationwide (or regional) brewing competitions, in which consumers can submit their own homebrew recipes for a shot at having them mass-produced. Contests aren't traditionally very experiential, but when you get to create a beer and have it put on the market, it takes things to a whole new level. [Sam Adams' Longshot 2007 | Anheuser Busch's You Choose It, We'll Brew It '06]
Open Source Beer Project: Flying Dog has taken a totally unique approach to 4-D marketing by allowing consumers to help shape their next beer. Participants get to modify an actual Flying Dog recipe; we'll see what comes of hundreds of beer geeks fighting over flavors!
Interactive packaging: This one appeals to my designer sensibilities. In addition to the rise of alternative packaging like Tetrapacks and boxes, which aren't really experiential in and of themselves, some winemakers are going the extra mile. Rosenblum Cellars has started featuring a peel-off wine label that allows consumers to bring home information about the wine they enjoy (perfect for restaurants or dinner parties). Less experiential but equally flashy is Coors' new temperature label.
So there you have it, short and sweet. I don't know how often I'll run this particular column, but expect to see it at least once a quarter. Let me know if you dig it, and feel free to share any trends you seem to be noticing.