Flavor Trends, Strategies and Solutions for Menu Development

10 Beverage Upgrades: Veg-Centric Cocktails Vegetables aren’t just shining in food, they’re lighting up the cocktail menu as well

This Carrot Mimosa at Alma in Minneapolis not only presents a vibrant color, the carrot juice lends both refreshing and warming characteristics to the cocktail.
PHOTO CREDIT: Alma

Vegetables have been enjoying a heyday on the menu with flavor-forward innovation. The veg-centric movement is one of the biggest culinary trends today, where chefs coax out flavor complexity through cooking technique and high-impact flavor finishes.

It makes sense that veg-centricity is now informing modern cocktail culture, which is marked by speed-of-light innovation.

Today, bartenders are constantly seeking out new inspiration and new flavor combinations. Vegetables are serving up great opportunity for menu differentiation and freshness cues. From seasonality and authenticity to craftsmanship and flavor narrative, vegetables enable bartenders to create cocktails that speak to a breadth of key industry trends.

Green is Good
All things green are ruling when it comes to cocktail innovation. From sweet peas to dandelion greens, green vegetables introduce grassy, earthy notes with strong wholesome cues.

Menu Examples

The Hibiscus Sparkler
Beluga vodka with fresh sorrel reduction
—Ortanique, Coral Gables, Fla.
Garden Variety Margarita
Blanco tequila, ginger and kale juice, lime, agave nectar, smoked sea salt, rocks
—The Wayland, New York

Try This

  • Pair greens with fruit to cut back on the grassy flavor, opening the appeal to a wider audience, similar to the current movement in blended juices.
  • Bolder greens such as kale and chard offer bitter elements; enhance those by pulling back on sweeter elements to let the bitter shine through.
More Refreshing than Water
On the lighter side of green are celery and cucumbers. Both have been used before in cocktails for their refreshing qualities, but now they’re getting more pronounced.

Menu Examples

Bitter Tatonka
Buffalo Trace, Cynar, Luxardo Maraschino, celery shrub
—Doc Crow’s, Louisville, Ky.
Okra Cup
Homemade Pimm’s, strawberry, cucumber, lemon and seltzer
—Okra Cookhouse & Cocktails, Phoenix

Try This

  • Combine cucumbers with brown spices such as cumin to warm up the flavor.
  • Try using other parts of the plants to change up flavors, such as celery greens and seeds.
The Next OJ?
With both a sweet and savory flavor profile that can be played up or down depending on paired ingredients, carrot juice may offer more versatility than orange juice. It also carries a pretty bright health halo.

Menu Examples

Carrot Mimosa
Carrot-apple-ginger juice, sparkling wine, Gamle Ode Holiday Aquavit, Bolivar Bitters
—Alma, Minneapolis
Spicy Carrot Cooler
La Troussépinète Blanc, carrot, Jamaican jerk bitters, pineapple, Tequila Ocho, Giffard Banane du Brésil
—Bad Hunter, Chicago

Try This

  • Pair carrots with miso, soy or spicier flavors such as gochujang to give balance against the heat, saltiness and umami.
  • Roast or char carrots to intensify and sweeten the flavor while creating depth that makes the flavor more cold-weather appropriate.
Beet This
The movement you’ve seen with beets on the menu isn’t isolated to food. As with carrots, beets offer both a savory and sweet option, while the variety of color possibilities adds extra vibrancy to creative cocktails.

Menu Examples

Beet Down
Gin, Domaine de Canton, Aperol, beet shrub, lemon, mint
—Root Down, Denver
Death of a Bachelor
Pyrat Rum, Pando Fino, Jägermeister, orgeat, falernum, beet-rhubarb syrup
—Gunther & Co., Baltimore, Md.

Try This

  • Beets come in a rainbow of colors, from golden and white to deep burgundy and purple. Play with varieties to achieve a spectrum of visual appeal.
  • Draw out the range of beet’s flavor profile, which runs from sweet to earthy, by using various preparations (roasting, broiling, juicing), herbs and spices.
Perky Peppers
It’s no surprise American consumers enjoy heat, but peppers have so much more to offer for those who enjoy cocktails. Whether roasted or muddled, hot or not, peppers enable the bar to create flavorful, spicy and visually impactful offerings.

Menu Examples

Pepper Smash
Gin, red bell pepper, mint, lemon and clover honey
—Victor Tangos, Dallas
Black Ant Negroni
Buenbicho Mezcal Joven, ancho-infused Campari, Cocchi Torino, orange oils
—Black Ant, New York

Try This

  • Experiment with a variety of peppers from those high on the Scoville rating to those with far fruitier profiles.
  • Try creating beverages with both raw and prepared peppers, as well as controlling the level of heat based on how much of the seeds/pith are left intact.
Squash: the Fruit and the Flower
Squash is a rare category of produce that offers bartenders seasonal options year-round, from summer squash (such as zucchini and patty pans) to winter squash (including acorn and butternut). Even the squash blossom has a place at the bar.

Menu Examples

Wandersquash
Anchor Old Tom Gin, squash dashi, aquavit, Strega, lemon, Salers Aperitif, thyme
—The Gin Joint, Charleston, S.C.
Autumnatic
Mezcal, roasted squash, rosemary, honey, lemon and Benedictine
—Alden & Harlow, Cambridge, Mass.

Try This

  • Leverage the range of colors present in the squash family both in the cocktail preparation as well as the presentation.
  • Winter squashes paired with rich brown spices create sweet (but not too sweet) options that work well on chilly days.
Tomatoes, Tomatillos and Beyond
Tomatoes were at the bar before any other produce item arrived, not counting garnishes, thanks to the perennial favorite: the Bloody Mary. Forward-thinking bartenders are turning to tomatoes and their husk cousin, the tomatillo, using them in creative, delicious applications.

Menu Examples

Strong, Sharp Creature
El Silencio mezcal, Cocchi Americano, tomatillo, Serrano, ginger, honey, lime, fire water, Tajín rim
—Harlowe, West Hollywood, Calif.
Kimchi Red Snapper
Tanqueray, kimchi, tomato, lemon, quail egg
—Bit House Saloon, Portland, Ore.

Try This

  • Consider pairing summer tomatoes with seasonal stars like watermelon and basil.
  • Call out the type of tomatoes used, from heirloom to Marzano, for strong messaging on sourcing.
Sweet on Corn
Thanks in part to the street-cool moves of elote, corn is now following a similar track as pineapple and guava, moving away from a summer-only treat to an all-year option. One might assume innovation around corn focuses on the kernel—fresh, milked, popped—but mixologists are using it in other ways, too, demonstrating its creative potential at the bar.

Menu Examples

Alma Blanca
Habanero-infused Cimarrón Blanco, Domaine de Canton Ginger Liqueur, agave nectar, pineapple juice, fresh corn, hoja de hierba santa, hibiscus-rose-infused salt rim
—La Condesa, Austin, Texas
Street Corn Cocktail
Corn milk, lemon, tequila, Mezcal Vago and a chile/black lava salt rim
—Rouge Tomate, New York

Try This

  • Play with the many ways in which corn may be prepared or processed—including popped, milked and dried—to change the visual and flavor impact.
  • Use other parts of the corn, from the husk and cob to the silk, to infuse spirits and garnish cocktails.
And, Yes, There’s Pumpkin
It’s true, pumpkin is hard to avoid once the limited-time sweet coffee beverages come out, but consider the more adult and far less cloying options available at the bar. Pumpkin offers savory flavor, particularly when roasted.

Menu Examples

Smashing Pumpkin
Bulleit Bourbon, pumpkin purée, tangerine, Grand Marnier, brown sugar simple syrup
—The Summit at the Broadmoor, Colorado Springs, Colo.
Rumpkinator Flip
Black Strap Molasses Rum, Smith & Cross Jamaican Navy Strength Rum, St. Elizabeth’s Allspice Dram, spiced pumpkin butter, egg, cream, Extinct Lactart, hot St. Arnold Pumpkinator beer, nutmeg garnish
—Hunky Dory Tavern, Houston

Try This

  • Think beyond the PSL by pairing pumpkin with flavors other than brown spices: walnuts, fresh ginger, chiles, sage, citrus, cranberry, coconut and maple.
  • Create an unexpected sweet pumpkin cocktail by leveraging dark chocolate, bringing out the sweet while balancing with the bitter elements of the chocolate.
Deepen the Flavor
As with the food side of the menu, cocktails can only benefit from roasting, caramelizing, or other high-impact preparation techniques that deepen and enhance the natural flavors of the vegetables. By using the same culinary sensibility, a cocktail menu can offer breadth with fewer ingredients.

Menu Examples

In Gourd We Trust
Bourbon, Smith & Cross Rum, roasted butternut squash and sage shrub, whiskey barrel-aged bitters, falernum float, grains of paradise
—Revel, Seattle
Moscow Margarita
Blanco tequila and lime with house spice blend and roasted beet
—Lucques, West Hollywood, Calif.

Try This

  • Raw vegetables with roasted fruit can create unexpected contrasts and complexity.
  • Look to high-impact techniques like charring, grilling, blistering, pickling and smoking.
 
From the Nov/Dec 2017 issue of Flavor & the Menu magazine. Read the full issue online or check if you qualify for a free print subscription.

 

About The Author