Making a drink menu seasonal doesn’t require a wholesale overhaul, although some of the best cocktail-focused bars do just that a few times per year.
For the average bar, however, introducing a few new drinks for a limited time is one of the best ways to keep things fresh for your customers and to introduce them to new trends. Two recent menus are good examples.
One, from the Outback Steakhouse limited time moonshine promotion, brings on a hot category for a test drive. The Moonshine BBQ Menu will offer an array of food and beverages made with moonshine including three cocktails: Huckleberry Hooch, with Ole Smoky Blackberry Moonshine, muddled berries, orange, pineapple and cranberry juice; Watermelon Hunch Punch, with Ole Smoky Blackberry Moonshine, watermelon and lemonade; and Just Peachee, made with Georgia Moon Peach Moonshine.
Outback already serves some of its drinks in Mason jars, so the moonshine presentation fits the chain perfectly. But it’s only part of the seasonal promotion - the chain chefs have developed a new moonshine BBQ menu based on a moonshine BBQ sauce, featuring ribs, wings, chopped salad and apple pie. One of the drinks will probably stay on the menu after the promotion, but if sales pop, it’s possible for one of the others to stay aboard. Either way, including food and drink together in a coherent seasonal promo while bringing in a growing spirit category to create new drinks is a plan any restaurant can emulate.
Meanwhile, in Manhattan, the just-opened Bacchanal, with a bar program headed up by the creative Naren Young, has opted for a cocktail menu roughly fifty percent given over to aperitif drinks meant to open the evening rather than blow a customer’s head off after one.
The lower-alcohol cocktail has been gaining ground lately, and it makes great business sense; customers can drink more, will be more inclined to eat while sipping these less potent and more appetizing drinks, and the wealth of lower alcohol ingredients can get more play.
Young has put a White Negroni (Ford’s Gin, Aperol, Martini & Rossi Bianco and lemon oil) on tap, and uses Noilly Prat Ambre, amontillado sherry, maraschino liqueur, Dolin dry vermouth, verjus and other tasty ingredients that are usually background notes rather than primary flavors in drinks today. All well-crafted and prettily presented, they make the perfect opening for an evening at the type of restaurant Bacchanal plans to be.
Lower alcohol cocktails generally won’t mean new ingredients, or not too many: any self-respecting bar today has a variety of vermouths and maybe a sherry or two. Using fortified wines or amaro like Aperol or Campari doesn’t mean you need to do classic cocktail research for authentic old style drinks, especially if you customer base thinks Jerry Thomas plays for the Miami Heat. Lemonade, ginger beer, dry sodas, watermelon or coconut juice - add a couple of ounces of Aperol or maraschino or creme liqueurs and fresh fruit to those and a summer refresher is born, and your thirsty customers intrigued.