A hint of sun, temps reaching close to 60 degrees, and a girl on the subway trading in her UGGs for some sandals can only mean one thing; menu changes. Yes my culinary imbibing brethren spring is slowly peeking its head from behind the snow filled clouds of winter, and we all start taking off that extra layer of clothing. With this new emergence into spring comes the desire to start making menu changes, not only to the ever changing seasonal food menus we have grown accustomed to, but also to our ever expanding cocktail menus.
The seasons changing can be inspirational motivation for us bartenders, as it gives us an opportunity to tweak our menus to reflect seasonality in ingredients, but also seasonality in spirit selection as well. Since we all strive for perfection when creating a menu one of the major things we need to look at when thinking about comprising a new cocktail menu is to what degree the spirit selection impacts the list. If you are say going from a late fall/winter menu to an early spring menu maybe a menu still comprising of cognacs, Armagnac’s, and rye might not be too relevant. So we set back and take stock of our produce options as well as our spirit options.
I love the thought process during a menu change because we as a collective group start learning or sometimes relearn how to use these spirits that maybe we hadn’t played with much for a couple of months. Reeducating ourselves that the cognac based cocktails, while still great, might slowly become a bit too heavy with spring, and therefore, we need to start at the amber rums, the genevers, and reposados as ideal replacements. While, also incorporating the vast amount of produce that slowly starts to come back into season. Start minimializing the cooking spices, and replacing them with some apricots, dark fruits, and savory herbs. While not yet summertime, we realize that spring offers us a chance to move away from heavy spirited cocktails, hot drinks, and libations utilizing mulled spices to ones using lighter bodied spirits, fresh green herbs, and some effervescence.
While not abandoning our technique in order to make menus filled with muddled herbs and fruit, we make slight spirit changes and cocktail changes, so drinks crafted after the Manhattan become drinks crafted after the Negroni. So we as bartenders look at our menus, much like chefs do and try to make sure that a balance is there. You can’t take 4 rye and bourbon cocktails off a menu, say two were stirred up drinks and two were shaken down cocktails, and replace them with 3 gin cocktails shaken and topped with soda, and an amber rum cocktail served over crushed ice. It speaks to the limits of imagination, but also highlights a lack of balance in technique, style, and drink selection. With that being said I take a look at my menu and start figuring out how to replace my spicy Rye and nutty, woody Pineau des Charantes inspired Manhattan cocktail and look to my liquor cabinet and produce shelf to see what kind of seasonal stirred cocktail I can replace it with. One good option is a variation of Ada Coleman’s “Hanky Panky” cocktail. Hocus Pocus by Misty Kalkofen at Forty Four in the Royalton Hotel, NYC.
The Hocus Pocus
1 3/4 oz Beefeater Dry Gin
1/2 oz Combier
1/2 oz Carpano Antica
1/4 oz Fernet Branca
Stir all ingredients over cracked ice. Strain into chilled cocktail glass and garnish with orange oil.
Stir up one of these and I guarantee you the inspirational juices will start to flow and those new menu ideas will start coming to life.