In kitchens across the country, chefs are gearing up for their fall menus, and at those restaurants where seasonality is key, that means apples and pears, pumpkin and grapes, late tomatoes and peaches. There’s also a growing interest in preserving; extending the time when cucumbers and radishes and other vegetables can still be said to have been provided by local growers.
How do those and other flavors affect the fall beverage menus? Well, there’s one phenomenon that’s hard to overlook: pumpkin ales and beers. Retailers all across the country are already stocking up even as the big gourds are only now becoming available, as brewers extend the season for the madly popular brew. Some tell me they start fielding calls in mid-August from shoppers wanting to be alerted to the first arrival. Pumpkin brews have grown as a popular sub-category quite organically without any one major brewer bashing down the doors. It may be already too late in terms of the smaller breweries that tend to sell out, but there’s still time to step up and make the cut.
There are other ways to highlight your beverage program as seasonally adept. If you can’t or don’t have the facilities to make your own preserves – peaches, for instance - surely there are small purveyors with whom you already do business or whose wares you admire made with great local fruit. Adding local ingredients to a drink and menuing them is the smartest and simplest way to get both customer and media attention for your drinks. But don’t stop at the obvious; savory drinks like Bloody Marys or even Martinis are perked up and personalized with such dashes as pickled caperberries or pearl onions or even baby cucumbers.
Speaking of tomato-based drinks, tomato water - the liquid that covers the cutting board after a ripe and fleshy tomato has been cut up – should be plentiful these days if you can get your cooks to collect it. That fresh juice is fragrant and intensely flavored, a revelation if included in a gin Martini recipe, or with dry vermouth or sherry as an apéritif cocktail on its own.
Wine doesn’t provide as many logical choices as do beers and cocktails, but don’t be too hasty to shed them if your operation loaded up on rosés this summer. Leave a few on year around, especially any rosé cavas, which have grown enormously in popularity in the last few years. If sangrias do well in your operation, extend the season by creating fall recipes using local fresh fruits as they arrive. And now that a broader range of quality the lightly sparkling Italian red Lambruscos are becoming easier to get in the US, consider adding one or more of them – they match well with those slightly more intense fall flavors that chefs will start to include more as the days shorten.
You needn’t turn your whole beverage menu upside down every season, but a few little tweaks will let your regular customers know you’re keeping things lively and let newcomers know you’re open to the new.