Admit it; you’re already planning your spring cocktail menu. Even in the Midwest where winter can linger until Memorial Day, bars and restaurants are readying, or at least thinking about, how to give loyal customers something new as spring approaches.
But for most places, truly seasonal changes are more about attitude than products this early in the year. But here are a few tips for changing out the menu so that the long slide from dark and boozy to light and quaffable goes smoothly.
1. Beer cocktails. The boom in niche spirits and their various flavor profiles is the latest hot trend at bars, but how can drink-makers ignore the amazing array of expressions and flavors coming from America’s craft brewers? Thy shouldn’t, and one way to really enliven a spring menu is to find great drink combinations based on the hoppy extravagances now widely available. Better, go with the limited time offerings of the seasonal brews and plan a new beer drink each month as spring wears on.
2. Freshly pickled garnishes. The farmer’s markets of the country are about to burst with the first spring offerings, like ramps, garlic scapes, morels and other earthy delights. The simplest of Martinis becomes something fresh and enticing with a lightly pickled scape or ramp dangling from the edge of the glass. Many of the Italian amaros and bitter liqueurs of France are perfect matches for these savories as well, and a slice of fresh morel can enliven any straightforward gin or vodka concoction.
3. Lighter and minimal. The dark, strong, bitter and astringent drink that appeals so much in the winter may not have the same appeal as the seasons turn, and one way to lighten the menu is to employ some of those better vermouths and amaros and aromatized wines as the primary ingredient in a cocktail and let the strong spirit be the modifier instead. A reverse Manhattan or other standard cocktails featuring one of the many interesting vermouths routinely available in the market now can be a refreshing and palate pleasing way to address the advent of spring.
4. Savory notes. Winter calls forth the spicy cocktail, but spring suggest green herbs – rosemary, lime leaf, lemon grass, mint, sage, anything that adds a fresh spike of herbal tang to a drink. Broken and slapped rather than muddled into a drink, fresh herbs can add a layer of flavor and provide a much needed counterweight to citrus.
Of course, any new drink depends on what your customers favor, so if they still clamor for the dark and powerful winter drinks they’ve learned to love, then go easy on the menu changes. Today’s trend to change the drink menu along with the food doesn’t always need to be revolutionary; sometimes, little tweaks work best.