Flavor Trends, Strategies and Solutions for Menu Development

By Rob Corliss
October 12, 2022

Astute operators see opportunity in menuing drinks that incorporate savory tones, understanding that they introduce that all-important intrigue while also serving as a modern tool of flavor calibration. Given the growing number of consumers who have high expectations when it comes to beverage innovation, highlighting unexpected savory flavors in cocktails can help give operators a sharp competitive edge.

Savory elements that are informing some of today’s cocktail development—and delivering compelling storytelling opportunities—include herbal fruit jams, shaved seasonal vegetables, next-gen fat-washing, fermentations, oceanic infusions and warming spices. Trend-forward bar menus are showcasing features like cacao water, pandan, coffee richness and tea astringency, while beverages like forager cocktails and cobbler-style drinks are also holding sway in this savory realm.

Here are 10 creative ways to layer savory notes into the cocktail experience.

1

ROOT VEGETABLES

Veg-forward cocktails are standing out in the crowd thanks to juicing, roasting and smoking techniques that elevate cocktail flavors in ways that other ingredients cannot. Root vegetables are ideal for adding robust seasonal flair, complexity and earthy vegetal sweetness to winter beverages.

TRY THIS

  • Rabbit Hole: Aged rum + Grand Marnier + carrot juice + fresh grated ginger + coconut cream + smoked sea salt rim
  • Winter Warmer: Bourbon + walnut liqueur + roasted sweet potato syrup + dried chile de árbol

MENU SIGHTINGS

Goes Well with Destruction, Despair and Oysters: Vodka, dill aquavit, smoked beet, apple, horseradish
and tonic
Normandie, Portland, Ore.

2

SPICES

Warming spices incorporated in various forms—infused syrup, muddled, foamed or as a glass rimmer—can add savory dimension, turning conventional cocktails into something truly spectacular. Garam masala, mole spices, turmeric, cardamom, pink peppercorn, mustard seed, cloves and togarashi top the list of notables.

TRY THIS

  • Bitter Tears: Bourbon + Cynar + vanilla pulp + clove syrup + flamed orange peel
  • Sunsetter: Vodka + club soda + blood orange purée + turmeric foam

MENU SIGHTINGS

White Russian: Copa de Oro, amaro, cardamom and cream
Spoon and Stable, Minneapolis

3

CHILES

Dialing up the heat is an art form that has been gleefully explored in the last few years, offering patrons a little kick in their cocktails. Balance is key to taming intensity and can create an invigorating contrast of flavor sensations. Lean on cooling fruits/vegetables, botanicals and fat-washing to offset spiciness.

TRY THIS

  • Hot Paloma: Cotija-infused tequila + pink grapefruit juice + habanero bitters + Tajín rim
  • Raging Bull: Vodka + ginger beer + passionfruit syrup + grilled Serrano chile slices

MENU SIGHTINGS

Next Town Over: Gochujang shrub, Calamansi pilsner, pickled carrot and Korean barbecue
pork jerky
Genever, Los Angeles

4

UNIQUE PLANTS

Patrons value the antioxidant-rich attributes associated with plants. Increased consumer demand for
plant-based offerings has led bar menus to feature unique plant-forward spirits, delivering savory
tastes as the centerpiece in cocktails.

TRY THIS

  • Dirty Desert Martini: Vodka + cactus vermouth + lime juice + MSG-enhanced olive juice
  • Garden of Eden: Sotol + green Chartreuse + honeydew juice + chive blossom

MENU SIGHTINGS

Pandan & Coffee: El Tequileño reposado tequila, Campari, sweet vermouth, pandan leaf, cold-brew coffee and coconut water
Superfrico, Los Vegas

5

CORN

As corn—the kernels, cob, husk and masa—grows in popularity as a celebrated menu ingredient, it’s enjoying widespread appeal at the bar. Forward-leaning operations are introducing savvy patrons to tejuino (a cold, fermented corn drink), abasolo (corn whiskey) nixta (nixtamalized corn liqueur) and pox (Mexican spirit).

TRY THIS

  • Older Fashioned: Bourbon + nixta + smoked-hops syrup + mole bitters + orange twist
  • Fermented Corn Chiller: Tejuino + mezcal-lime sorbet + chile tincture

MENU SIGHTINGS

Father Sun: Blue corn mezcal, Dondante pox, falernum, Zucca amaro, lime and black salt
Lazy Tiger, St. Louis

6

FRESH HERBS

Herbal aromatics can imbue cocktails with layers of freshness, flavorful intricacy and strong visual appeal. Try an infusion of muddled herbs, an herb simple syrup or a garnish of whole herb sprigs to signal health and wellness.

TRY THIS

  • Herbal Thai Sangria: Dry white wine + sparkling water + coconut vodka + lemongrass-ginger simple + fresh Thai basil sprig + fresh mint sprig + cucumber ribbons + lime slice
  • Aquavit Cider: Swedish aquavit + warmed fresh cider + cranberry juice + fresh sage leaves

MENU SIGHTINGS

Cobbler-style Lovers in Hanover Square: St. George Terroir gin, basil and cantaloupe jam, aloe and lemon
Rough Rider, Phoenix

7

AQUAFABA

As creamy drink textures continue to delight younger consumers, aquafaba in cocktails is on the rise. With its versatility as a vegan replacement for egg whites or as an allergen-free alternative, aquafaba shines as a latte foam, a shaken emulsifier or a flavored whipped topper.

TRY THIS

  • Bee-utiful Buzz: Espresso + brandy + honey aquafaba + bee pollen
  • Harvest (no egg) Nog: Spiced rum + pear liqueur + oat “milk” + charred butternut squash purée + cinnamon-clove aquafaba topper

MENU SIGHTINGS

Louvre at First Sight: Gracias a Dios mezcal, prickly pear, lemon, jalapeño honey, orange bitters, aquafaba and hickory smoke
Vanderpump à Paris, Las Vegas

8

CUCUMBER

The clean, light, fresh flavor of cucumber adds subtle savory notes to complement a range of spicy, sweet, bright, floral and citrus cocktails any time of the year. Smash it to capture its effervescent flavor in a pronounced release of juices or focus on the aesthetics of using ribbons or slices.

TRY THIS

  • Rock ’n’ Roller: Dill-infused gin + lime simple + smashed cucumber + hot sauce dash
  • Peppery Cucumber Spritz: Prosecco + vodka + club soda + lemon-lavender simple + thinly sliced English cucumber ribbons + crushed pink peppercorns

MENU SIGHTINGS

Island Boy: Coconut rum, banana liqueur, housemade orgeat, cucumber rosemary shrub, cucumber juice, pineapple and nutmeg
Santé, Scottsdale, Ariz.

9

SEAWEED

Seaweed has made the leap from the kitchen to the bar, pushing cocktails into new savory directions with strong, straightforward flavors. Bartenders with a deft touch apply the briny flavoring agent to add salinity, richness and balance to cocktails.

TRY THIS

  • Salty Gibson: Harris seaweed gin + dry vermouth + housemade pickled plum wedge
  • Coastal Mary: Vodka + sake + charred tomato juice + yuzu + kombu strips + shiso leaf + togarashi rim

MENU SIGHTINGS

Umami Jack: Starward Viridian barrel single malt whiskey, chungju (Korean rice wine), shiitake, apricot, Cardamaro and seaweed
Viridian, Oakland, Calif.

10

TOMATO

Both tomato water and tomato varietal mentions have seen recent spikes on cocktail menus, evidence that mixologists are thinking beyond the Bloody Mary and the michelada and infusing tomato-based drinks with a more delicate touch. Tomato liqueur provides another progressive take for imparting tomato deliciousness in cocktails.

TRY THIS

  • Hazy Tennessee: Whiskey (aged in a mezcal cask) + black tea kombucha + La Tomato liqueur + roasted cherry tomato garnish
  • Road Runner: Mezcal + roasted yellow tomato and yellow bell pepper water + pickled tomatillo slices

MENU SIGHTINGS

Alfa Romeo: Bourbon, tomato water, Campari and sweet vermouth
Sotto, Cincinnati

 

 

About The Author

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ROB CORLISS is a three-time James Beard House guest chef with more than 30 years of experience that includes running world-class hotels, launching new concepts, working in top marketing agencies and owning the culinary consultancy ATE (All Things Epicurean) since 2009. Based in Nixa, Mo., ATE has an energizing passion focused on flavor innovation and is dedicated to connecting people to their food, environment and wellness. Rob is also a regular contributor to Flavor & The Menu. [email protected]