As summer nears its end, here are a few observations to start thinking about when it comes to your fall beverage program:
1. It’s time to think about autumn, if you haven’t already. It’s a great time to incorporate all those craft whiskies that are being offered from local producers into your drinks. But before taking them on, a caution: what’s the point of putting on your menu a locally-made spirit if it isn’t? There’s a lot of chatter in the whiskey world about who is and isn’t a distiller, and the key target of this mostly negative chatter is the non-distilling producer, or NDP, someone who buys spirit from a usually anonymous source and then bottles it under their name. Some do it because they are legitimate distillers whose stuff isn’t ready yet, while others are just trying to catch the lift of the latest trend. Be warned, and always ask the right questions before taking on a “local” spirit. First question: “Why doesn’t the label say this was distilled at your facility?”
2. Autumn is also a great time to incorporate drinks using wine reductions, either alone or made with seasonal fruit and herbs. They offer a small step before getting to the commitment of offering house-made cordials, and promise great flexibility as flavoring agents. Plus, they’re fun and intriguing for customers.
3. Now would also be a good time to investigate adding new dark spirits to your menu, to bring in new flavors and take advantage of those spirits available for only a short time. About to emerge from Kentucky, for instance, are a handful of interesting seasonal one-offs: Woodford Reserve’s annual experimental whiskey, Evan Williams Vintage Bourbon and Old Forester Birthday Bourbon, among others. Plus on its way is a younger version of the powerhouse high-proof George T. Stagg. If you stock any underperforming brown spirits, especially bourbons or ryes, now’s the time to check out the brand new, and the fairly new, like the wheated Larceny and the new Jim Beam Signature Craft.
4. Apples, cider and pears coming in should mean you’re looking to applejack, Calvados, Armagnac and other spirits that match perfectly with those autumnal scents and flavors. Much neglected by the broad swath of cocktail world, these spirits deserve a place in your autumn and winter menus, in both cold and warm drinks, if serving winter warmers if something you do. And by the way, if you’re not serving at least one quality winter warmer for those chilly nights around the corner, why not? I don’t mean the standard and poorly crafted Irish Coffee and its off-shoots, although if more restaurants took that drink seriously, it would be a welcome change. But toddies and hot ciders and other options aren’t just for the ski slopes; when Brits were putting together concoctions in the 18th and 19th century in public houses and inns, it was as likely as not a mug of beer and spices, sizzled with a hot iron poker straight from the fire. Sounds tasty even now.