A seasonal shift in your drinks list

Incorporating autumnal flavours into a cocktail menu can be a winner

THE colour of the leaves isn’t all that’s likely to change as the nights start to draw in over the coming weeks.

Tastes – and with them, food and drinks choices – are often said to shift in line with the seasons. And this could be particularly relevant after what’s been an unusually warm Scottish summer.

While the public’s thirst for cocktails is likely to keep up through the autumn and beyond, bar and pub customers could be looking for slightly different flavours as another Scottish winter approaches.

Therefore drinks firms have stressed the importance of changing an outlet’s drinks list in time for autumn, incorporating flavours and serves that are more in line with the cooler weather and darker nights.

Working fresh seasonal produce into a cocktail list offers a unique experience.

William Greenhalgh, on-trade category manager for William Grant & Sons, the company behind brands including Monkey Shoulder, Glenfiddich and Hendrick’s Gin, among others, said a seasonal cocktail list can “generate excitement and a reason for consumers to come in and try something different”.

“From a commercial standpoint you’re also looking to optimise your drink offering to maximise sales throughout the year, rather than an annual menu which might not stand out from the crowd,” said Greenhalgh. 

“As with any menu change make sure you play to your outlet’s strengths, have a reason for each drink to be on the menu, and make sure a few of your customers’ favourites are still there.

“This should guarantee strong sales for your menu no matter how experimental you’re being with your seasonal changes.”

In terms of winter flavours, Dan Bolton of Hi-Spirits, the UK distributor of brands including Southern Comfort and Buffalo Trace, reckons the warmer the better.

He said: “Darker spirits come to the fore as the weather cools down, along with richer flavours such as ginger, vanilla and cinnamon.”

But Calli O’Brien, senior brand manager for soft drinks and mixer brand Franklin & Sons at parent company Global Brands, warned against throwing out all the summer flavours.

“Warming, tart, and spicy flavours are more common in winter, while floral and citrus flavours play into summer much more easily,” said O’Brien.

“With autumn sitting in the middle of the two, the types of flavours consumers will go for entirely depends on the weather; a warmer autumn will result in more traditionally summery flavours lingering longer, while a cooler season will ensure the warming notes filter through earlier.”

With this in mind, O’Brien said operators should be prepared to cater to both types of flavour profile in the coming weeks.

The food menu is also worth bearing in mind, said Lara Williams, marketing and events manager at Stirling Gin, as any fresh local produce can inspire drinks for the cocktail list.

“We are lucky enough to live in a country with some of the freshest seasonal produce available and working these into a cocktail list both supports local agricultural growth and offers a unique experience behind the bar,” said Williams.

“When choosing the best ingredients for a seasonal list it is important to look at which food is being served at that time of year as food and drink pairings are a fantastic way to introduce new cocktail offerings.”

There’s more to perfecting a cocktail offer than the list itself, however.

“The popularity of cocktails comes down to not only the ingredients and flavours of the drink but also the occasion, the environment and the presentation in the glass,” said Keith Bonnington of Colonsay Beverages, the firm behind Wild Island Botanic Gin.

Presentation, in particular, is one of the most important aspects of a cocktail offer in the age of Instagram.

Amy Giacobbi, marketing manager at importer and distributor CWF, said: “A significant part of ordering a cocktail at the bar is the theatre involved, so bartenders need to be confident in their delivery and know how to make the end result look as well as taste good – creative flourishes such as garnishes and decorations that complement the key ingredients should be part of the package.”

Getting the word out on social media is one of the best ways to promote any new drinks, according to Teddy Joseph, whisky specialist at Edrington-Beam Suntory.

He said that, as many bar and pub customers follow their favourite venues on social media, “it’s fundamental that they use these platforms to engage with customers”.

“It is also a fantastic way to promote news, including the introduction of new serves,” said Joseph.

And having decided on a cocktail list and a set presentation for each serve, it’s essential that staff are able to produce each cocktail consistently time and again.

Ryan Tucker, spirits marketing manager at Matthew Clark, said consistency “is vital”.

“If the flavour or presentation changes every time, the word will travel fast,” said Tucker.

“If staff adhere to good standards every time, your reputation will grow and grow.”

Laura Motson, global brand manager at Brockmans Gin, agreed.

She said: “Cocktails are about being made to feel special, relaxed and pampered.

“If the drinks aren’t right or the staff  look harassed, the magic is lost.”

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Cocktail tips

Supplement a full cocktail menu with simple long drinks that all bar staff can make quickly and simply, by topping up liqueurs and spirits with seasonal flavours such as ginger ale and apple juice.

Focus on presentation, using long glasses, lots of ice, garnish, straws and stirrers to create a visual impact and a premium feel.

Use chalkboards and table menus to promote the range.

Vary the menu regularly with ‘specials’ and new flavours.