The beverage section of a menu often goes neglected, while main courses are constantly being improvised and improved upon. However, it’s easy to give your beverage menu a refresh with some simple ingredient twists and off-the-cuff additions that can suit consumer’s changing tastes and desires. Here are 7 drinks that are making a splash in restaurants across the country:
1. Moonshine: Incorporating moonshine into cocktails is becoming increasingly popular. This past summer, Outback Steakhouse tested three different moonshine-based drinks and found a positive reception across blog posts and news stories after a free national testing event. Flavor & The Menu reports, “A lot of consumers don’t know what moonshine is, and might think of it as something that’s harsh to drink,” says Patty Victorino, vice president of product marketing for Outback Steakhouse. “But the flavored varieties we used were very easy to mix with fruit juices and easy for our guests. It’s about bold but approachable flavors—if you go too far from what they know that might keep them from trying a moonshine cocktail.” Test out a watermelon or blueberry moonshine-based drink this spring and summer.
2. Homemade Sodas: A number of restaurants are diversifying their drinks menu with made-from-scratch sodas using fresh and often seasonal ingredients. Imbibe reports that “across the country, chefs, bartenders and soda jerks are transforming the common soda. Highlighting seasonal ingredients and sometimes employing techniques from behind the bar, they’re offering sodas that rival their beers and cocktails.” The Ice Cream Bar in San Francisco is a one-stop-shop for soda diehards. You can even build your own soda with an array of syrups, ranging from birch to rosewood to wintergreen. Try creating different rotating syrups or infusions and give consumers a chance to try something familiar, yet new.
3. Shrubs: Shrubs, also known as “drinking vinegars,” have been making a comeback in the last year. Once popular in the 15th century, this vinegar-based syrup is infused with fruit and spices to create a flavor that’s “tart, refreshing and craveable” according to Flavor & The Menu. “They can be added to sodas or mixed in with booze, presenting both seasonal and artisan cues.” The Proprietors Bar & Table in Nantucket, MA serves a riff on a rum punch, simply called #10, which stars rhum agricole (distilled sugarcane juice), amaro and a housemade pineapple shrub (pineapple, champagne vinegar and sugar).
5. Spicy Cocktails: According to Beverage Industry, spicy brings the bravado to beverages. From jalapeño margaritas to Fireball Cinnamon Whiskey, spicy is increasingly appealing to consumer’s taste buds. According to Lisa Demme, marketing director for Fona International, Geneva, IL, it was only a matter of time before hot and spicy ingredients made the transition from food to beverages. From coconut water with Thai chili extract to Sonic’s jalapeño chocolate milkshake, the industry has seen an increasing amount of spicy drinks appear on menus in 2014. Look to create drinks with hints of chili like Lychee Thai Chili Lemonade or bring in infused beers, like Rogue Farm’s Chile Ale or Blue Moon’s Cinnamon Horchata Ale.
6. Smoky Spirits: Both the subtle, lingering flavors of wood and fire and the actual visual of smoke can contribute to a theatrical and tasty beverage. In Chicago, Big Star created a cocktail that sports mezcal, chamomile-infused Broker’s Gin, honey and lemon. “We rinse the glass with the mezcal, giving it this beautiful smoky backdrop,” says chef Paul Fehribach. Smoked teas offer a non-alcoholic menu item to add some campfire taste to your lineup. You can also add smokiness to drinks with garnishes like “grilled pineapple and smoked rim salt” or using dry ice to create a smoky effect. Have fun with it and your diners will have fun, too.
7. Punch: You can’t get more festive than punch. For caterers, “setting out a festive bowl of punch can be one of the easiest ways to serve (and please) a crowd, but there’s more to serving punch than setting out a ladle and walking away.” Imbibe recommends using large blocks or rings of ice that melt more slowly than cubes and will keep punch cool without diluting it too much. Some dilution is desirable, but the larger the ice and the colder the ingredients, the longer it will take to reach the point of being too diluted. Check out more of their tips and tricks here.
8. Green Notes: While green beverages aren’t anything new, lighter green touches like cucumber can go a long way. Beverage Industry reports that cucumber flavor is applicable in a wide variety of beverages and can be used to deliver a subtle, fresh green note or a stronger cucumber flavor, depending on the usage level, Treatt USA’s Douglas Rash says. Try Saveur’s Cucumber Fresca for a fresh and tasty refreshment.
Not every restaurant is suited to add bold or explorative concoctions. But, by being aware of your customer preferences and industry trends, you can be confident in giving your beverage selection a delectable revamp every few months.