Time for Spring Menus

Warmer weather and longer days bring spring cocktail menus.

As the days lengthen and the clocks move ahead, many bars and restaurants switch to spring drink menus. What makes it onto a spring menu is often regional, but today the seasonally changing menu plays a major role in establishing a place’s cocktail bona fides.

There are lots of reasons for a contemporary bar to change menus when the seasons change, temperature being one of the biggest motivators. Winter’s more robust drinks don’t provide the thirst-quenching quaffability as lighter, crisper, and more refreshing offerings when it’s warmer outside. There’s also the culinary desire to include fruits and vegetables. Local ripe berries or fruit, for instance, or swiftly pickled fresh ramps.

Bars are under pressure today to provide novel beverages to keep steady customers interested and to allow bartenders the opportunity to stretch. And at operations where the bar is tied to the kitchen, drink creators may need to complement beverages with changing food menus. Spring can easily be considered the most important menu changeover, as customers anticipate warm weather and turn away from the brown spirits so important to winter drinking.

At Chicago’s Sable Kitchen & Bar, four changes are undertaken each year in order to keep the operation innovating and developing new cocktails. The seasons are a smart way to measure the changes in terms of the different ingredients that become available. At Blue Duck Lounge and Blue Duck Tavern at the Park Hyatt Washington in Washington, DC, the cocktail menu changes four times as well: big changes in spring and fall, and tweaks in summer and winter. The changes reflect both local drinking patterns and seasonality in alliance with the kitchen.

It’s a bit early for this spring’s menu but last year Gin & Tonic variations featured prominently at the Blue Duck. The venue featured gins infused in house with strawberries, green almonds or cardamom, and cilantro served with housemade tonics flavored with rhubarb and espelette, lime and pink peppercorn, or balsamic vinegar.

The spring menu wasn’t all gin, and one of the best sellers was the Palisades, made with bourbon, whole grapefruit syrup and basil. Other seasonal changes included the Lady Bird (gin, rosemary, pineapple, verjus and house grenadine); and 1872 (Bombay Sapphire, Lillet Rose, Averna, Carpano Antica, Campari and thyme.)

Of course, for many areas, seasonality has more to do with the calendar than with produce or weather, but even so, changing it up after the darker and chillier time of year makes sense for lots of reasons. Most of all, however, approach your menu as a reminder to your customers that keeping up with seasonal changes matters to you just as it does to them. So what do your plans include?