A Guide to Seasonal Beverages | Food Newsfeed
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Blueberry Bramble at the Second Line, based in Memphis, Tennessee.

A Guide to Seasonal Beverages

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Tips to create a beverage menu that goes beyond the traditional spices and flavors to upend competitors.

By Mary Avant October 2014 Bar Management

Tips to create a beverage menu that goes beyond the traditional spices and flavors to upend competitors.

Classic cocktails, soft drinks, iced tea—some beverage options may be hits all year round, no matter what the weather, season, or holiday. However, thanks to guests’ increasing interest in what they’re consuming, many restaurants are taking cues from everything from the weather to the farmer’s market to create seasonal drinks.

And though each season has its traditional drinks—lemonade in the summer, hot cocoa in the winter—concepts are flexing their creative muscles to deliver flavors and ingredients that are hard to find elsewhere and only on the menu for a short time.

Winter

Hot coffees and cocoa may be many consumers’ drinks of choice come the cold months of winter, but Hard Rock Cafe prefers to incorporate spices like cinnamon, herbs like rosemary, and fruits like pomegranate to evoke a Christmastime feeling with a twist around the holidays, says Cindy Busi, worldwide director of beverage.

In fact, Hard Rock’s Pomegranate Prosecco cocktail is one of its signature holiday drinks and a beverage consumers crave all year round, she says, though they can only get it during the holiday season. “It drives that consumer demand of, ‘I want it and I want it now,’” Busi says.

At California-based Lazy Dog Restaurant & Bar, Chef Gabe Caliendo creates a seasonal Mason jar cocktail that changes quarterly, exploring a spiked latte with Fireball and Jameson whiskeys, as well as chilled coffee with chocolate-covered espresso beans in the winter.

And in an effort to play on consumers’ childhood memories of sitting in front of a crackling fire or enjoying hot chocolate after a day of romping around in the snow, Dunkin’ Donuts took a fresh spin on the classic beverage, introducing Salted Caramel Hot Chocolate last winter.

Spring

After the holidays pass and consumers have had their fill of peppermint-flavored beverages, hot cocoa, and New Year’s champagne, drinkers begin seeking lighter, fresher flavors as temperatures start to unthaw.

This is right around the time when thyme begins to bloom, inspiring Lazy Dog’s Caliendo to whip up a Thyme Cucumber Lemonade Mason jar cocktail that takes advantage of the visually intriguing, flowering herb. He also plays with herbs like lemon verbena, rosemary, and basil, while Chef Kelly English at Memphis, Tennessee–based concept The Second Line incorporates herbs such as lavender and lemongrass into cocktails.

Blackberry is a major spring flavor focus at Santa Monica, California’s 41 Ocean, thanks in particular to the fact that in-season blackberries often serve as a natural sweetener for cocktails, which molecular mixologist Rob Floyd makes from ingredients like basil, vodka, and citrus.

Playing on consumers’ growing taste for sweet fruits come spring, quick-service coffee and smoothie concept Maui Wowi Hawaiian rolls out a seasonal coffee flavor each spring called Pacific Passion, which CEO Mike Weinberger describes as a lighter, refreshing roast that’s perfect for the first warm days of the year.

Summer

Transitioning into the summer encourages many concepts to menu refreshing beverage options, many of which feature vegetables, herbs, and fresh fruits like cherries, peaches, apricots, and grapefruit. At Los Angeles hotspot Eveleigh, head barman Dave Kupchinsky mixes grapefruit, rosemary, lemon, gin, and Campari for a cocktail he calls Rosemary’s Baby.

Core summer ingredients for Hard Rock include peaches, watermelons, blueberries, mangoes, and lemons that integrate into hand-pressed lemonade, Busi says. She muddles many fresh fruits to flavor Hard Rock’s lemonade varieties, then pairs them with complementary spirits—such as wildberry or mango-pineapple rum—for a cooling adult beverage.

Lazy Dog’s summer Mason jar cocktail uses a combination of moonshine and peaches. The concept also offers classic margaritas, Strawberry Basil Mojitos, and a trio of sangria flavors like White Peach, Black Current Rosé, and Pomegranate Red.

Strawberry is another no-brainer flavor come summer, and while Tennessee-based The Second Line uses the muddled fruit in a number of cocktails, it also saves the strawberries’ preserved liquid to make entirely different cocktails and beverages later in the season, chef English says.

Flavored iced teas are big hits at both limited- and full-service concepts, with Dunkin’ Donuts launching its Iced Green Tea for the 2014 summer season, and Tropical Smoothie Café incorporating the flavor into its summer Citrus Green Tea Smoothie, which blends green tea, orange, lemon, and fresh basil.

Milkshakes are also natural sellers come summertime, and they have long expanded beyond chocolate and vanilla. The Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf, for example, menued LTOs like the Mud Pie and Caramel Brownie Ice Blended drinks for summer 2014.

Fall

For consumers wary of pumpkin, chai teas are becoming bigger sellers in the fall, Lazy Dog’s Caliendo says. He creates his own chai tea by infusing black tea with cinnamon, cloves, and black peppercorn. For early fall, the concept also experiments with a non-alcoholic Peach Chai Tea Cooler, which guides guests into the transition from warm weather to the cooler, light-jacket temperatures of fall.

Ginger, basil, and rosemary are other flavors Hard Rock’s Busi says customers start to crave as it cools off in fall, while Weinberger says black raspberry smoothies are a seasonal favorite with Maui Wowi customers.

Savory flavors are strong sellers, too, 41 Ocean’s Floyd says, with flavors like kale popping up in cocktails and drinks come the hearty months of fall and winter. In addition to blood oranges and figs, Eveleigh barman Kupchinsky plays with more savory seasonings like allspice and cloves.

At Hard Rock, Busi says the brand not only takes on-season ingredients and the weather into consideration when creating fall beverages, but also the brand’s charitable efforts. When celebrating Breast Cancer Awareness Month in October, the brand rolls out a lineup of pink cocktails, donating a portion of proceeds to help cure breast cancer.

This story will run in the winter 2015 edition of RestaurantBev magazine.