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How to Craft the Ultimate Seasonal Cocktail Menu for Your Bar

Seasonal cocktail lists bring more than just fresh flavors to the bar — they also capture the attention of prospective guests, and excite your regulars, keeping the revenue flowing for your bar. Here are some tips on how to create the ultimate seasonal cocktail menu for your bar, and the factors to consider before diving into research and development.

Why Seasonality Matters

Drinking with the seasons has been a trend in cocktail bars and restaurants for decades, but seasonal serves bring more to the table (or bar top) than just fresh, trendy ingredients — they’re also good for business. With 59% of consumers being more likely to purchase a menu item if it’s described as seasonal, not capitalizing on seasonality can be at the detriment to any bar or restaurant’s bottom line.

In terms of growing your bar’s brand, changing your drink menu with the seasons offers periodic opportunities for bringing guests into your establishment. Your regulars get a chance to renew their love for your bar by tasting the limited-time drinks and bites, and the buzz generated from the menu could inspire new guests to visit — after which, they’ll hopefully be converted into regulars!

This buzz is fueled by both word of mouth from your business’s local community, and by leveraging your bar’s social media handles to bring the seasonal offerings to life. Using platforms such as Instagram—a platform that rewards timely messaging with high-quality images—is a great way to engage and reach both regulars and prospective customers. Give your followers (i.e., potential guests) a behind-the-scenes look via Instagram stories and posts into how you developed the new menu, building anticipation for the launch of the seasonal offerings — guests love to feel like a part of the process! You can also consider running a contest, or giveaway to increase your bar’s social media engagement. There are endless options to promote your bar by integrating seasonal menus into your bar concept, but these are just a couple examples.

In addition to the potential of gaining more customers for your bar, and therefore increasing the bar’s revenue, there are also savings to be had by developing seasonal cocktail menus which use abundant, in-season ingredients. In the fall, squash, quince, mushrooms, figs, apples, carrots, and beetroots are just a few ingredients that can be bought at an affordable price due to their abundance. While creating bespoke cocktail ingredients with these seasonal foods may seem labor-intensive, the trade-off of having lower food costs and keeping your bar on-trend will always be worthwhile.

Now that you understand a few of the benefits that a seasonal cocktail menu brings to your bar, it’s time to decide how far you want to go with seasonality as it’s a spectrum.

Crafting a Seasonal Menu That Fits Your Bar

Seasonality is relative. A seasonal cocktail menu from the mid-90s or early 00s looks much different than the ones you’ll find at most cutting-edge cocktail bars today. At the beginning of the contemporary cocktail renaissance (the late 80s, 90s and 00s), bartenders often used the ingredients that were at their disposal; meaning seasonal drinks relied heavily on the bottles on the back bar, and various simple syrup recipes (cinnamon syrup, ginger-honey syrup, raspberry syrup, etc.).

Today, the world’s best cocktail bars take a culinary approach to creating seasonal ingredients for recipes, making layered infusions, ferments (lacto-ferments, natural ferments, kombuchas, fruit wines, etc.), pickles, acidified cordials, and other refined cocktail components that were rarely found behind the bar in eras prior. What was considered hyper-seasonal during those decades (cold-weather drinks, such as toddies and Irish coffees; or hot weather drinks, such as simple spritzes and Collins’), is now considered minimally seasonal (they are fitting for the weather, but don’t require any custom ingredients being crafted). Moderately seasonal cocktails can include drinks that call for a simple seasonal ingredient to be added, such as a syrup or infusion (a spiced syrup for a toddy or Old Fashioned), but don’t require significant preparation or labor. Hyper-seasonal serves require a bit more thought, refinement, time, and labor than they did in the past, and can often include cocktails that have sourced ingredients directly from local farms, like beets-infused with Don Julio Blanco for a Margarita riff — a trend that an increasing number of consumers look for when ordering food and drink.

Before diving into R&D for your seasonal cocktail menu, though, you’ll want to be sure you strike a fine balance on this spectrum of seasonality as every bar, and what they can manage on the day-to-day, is different. Here are a couple factors to consider that will help guide how seasonal your menu should be:

Seasonality During the Colder Months

Late spring and summer, and even early fall, are the seasons where bright berries, peppers, tomatoes, and other vibrant foods are at their best; and these flavors are highly sought-after by guests, meaning that bars and restaurants will often source these ingredients for seasonal menus. But as the colder months approach, seasonality can get a bit trickier as there are fewer fresh, in-season foods to work with. While root vegetables, squashes, and other local foods that are grown in greenhouses are viable options, a great way to lean into seasonality during the late fall and winter is by preserving foods from warmer seasons through pickling, various preserves, ferments, infusions, and other culinary techniques.

Here are a few thought-starters for ways to make ingredients that are thought of as out-of-season, seasonal during the colder months:

Fresh, in-season ingredient examples:

Final Thoughts: Be Creative, and Think Outside the Box

When it comes to seasonal drink-making, don’t be afraid to express your creativity in unique ways and utilize the talented personnel you have around you. If you have a creative and talented chef who loves finding ways to utilize surplus ingredients or off-cuts from the kitchen, then explore ways to integrate those foods onto your cocktail list (you also save money!). Maybe the back of house team want to run a special food item to move through some product and there’s an opportunity to pair a cocktail with it (Fig Prosciutto and Ricotta Crostini with a Tanqueray Bee’s Knees made with fig-infused honey syrup), or the bar team wants to create a seasonal specials menu completely dedicated to food-cocktail pairings — there are no boundaries, so embrace the seasons and balance the art with the science.

Try it yourself!

Carrot Bee’s Knees

Garnish: carrot leaves or lemon peel

Method: Add all ingredients to a cocktail shaker with ice. Shake vigorously, then strain up into a chilled coupe glass and garnish.

Fermented Blueberry-Basil

17.5 oz of lightly crushed organic blueberries (Note: organic matters because of the natural yeast on skins needed for the fermentation.)

14 oz of raw honey (raw honey is needed for natural yeast)

14 oz non-chlorinated water (spring water works best)

2% salt to the weight of the berries

Handful of ripped basil leaves

Method: Weigh out and combine all ingredients in a large bowl to thoroughly mix, then add to a large mason jar (note: if there’s too much liquid for the jar, you can just leave that out). Close the lid and let rest in a cool, dark space for up to 2 weeks. Be sure to feel the lid for pressure after the first couple of days and lightly open to release the pressure once the fermentation begins. After the fermentation is completed, you can use the brine in cocktails and food for garnish or blend it all to create a puree (which will need straining). Store the brine in the fridge to ensure the fermentation stops, and it should keep infinitely.

Find more seasonal recipes for your menus in the Recipe section of Diageo Bar Academy.