Flavor Trends, Strategies and Solutions for Menu Development

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Cocktail’s Hour A dozen on-trend drinks with big flavor-building opportunities

From fruity to fiery, today’s cocktails take innovation to a new level, while still honoring the classics.

Cocktail culture, trickling down from the elite to the everyday, has raised the bar on the flavor experience. Fresh juices, creative purées, boldy flavored syrups, funky brand labels—they’re all informing beverage development. As we’ve seen with food menus, consumers respond to premiumization, layering of flavors and a mark of craftsmanship. The same holds true for today’s beverage menus. Here are 12 trending cocktails that offer mouthwatering opportunities for signature sips.

1. Michelada
This Mexican beer cocktail is a refreshing and savory blend of tomato juice, hot sauce and a cold beer finish, with the rest of the beer served on the side. The Michelada is basically a beer version of a Bloody Mary, served in a salt-rimmed glass. We’re seeing this drink popping up in beer-centric venues, as well as places looking for an authentic Mexican offering that holds a hip level of exoticism. Variations on the theme include chile salt for the rim, maybe a dash of ghost pepper sauce in the drink, or perhaps a dark Mexican beer with a hit of umami from Worcestershire and soy sauce.

  • Michelada with 5 Rabbit Golden Ale and an Old Bay spice rim with chilled shrimp garnish — Bar Pastoral, Chicago
  • Traditional Michelada topped with a Michelada popsicle (frozen blend of organic tomato juice, fresh-squeezed lime, chiles and secret spices) that guests can dunk into their drink — Diablo Taco,Los Angeles
  • Rio Grande Michelada with Cazadores Reposado, Zing Zang, lime, Flywheel Bright Lager float, served on the rocks with a 6-oz. Flywheel beer back — Howells & Hood, Chicago

2. Moscow Mule
You know a drink’s having its moment when you can find its signature glassware at Williams-Sonoma. Indeed, the famous copper mug might be part of this post-Prohibition classic’s resurgence. Refreshingly tart, the standard combines vodka, fresh squeezed lime juice and ginger beer. Now, bartenders are taking liberties, switching out vodka for bourbon and christening it the “Kentucky Mule,” or subbing out the non-alc ginger beer for a hard ginger beer, like in the Milwaukee Mule.
Chapter One: The Modern Local, in Santa Ana, Calif., offers Mule Mondays with a dozen variations, including one with spicy housemade ginger beer, Svedka Swedish vodka, Chase Elderflower Liqueur and fresh lime.

  • Mexicue Mule: Kings County Bourbon, ginger beer, chile ginger syrup, fresh lime juice — Mexicue, New York
  • Jalisco Mule with Casamigos Reposado, lime, ginger — Oak Restaurant, Dallas

3. House Punch
This is a somewhat new phenomenon on the bar scene, where supper clubs and underground bars have reclaimed punch, giving it an edgy, of-the-people, weekend feel. Sangria is the mother of this trend, and even within sangria we’re seeing innovation in recipe builds. As an example, look to Penca in Tuscon, Ariz., where the Sangria of Rosé is made by steeping thyme, rosemary and savory in rosé, then adding dry Peruvian pisco, reduced Chardonnay and dry sherry. As a broader category, punch gives bartenders a chance to throw personality, brand image and cult following into one big bowl. At Craft & Commerce in San Diego, three shareable punch bowls are on offer ($42), including the Eden’s Orchard with rye whiskey, Amontillado sherry, Fuji apple syrup, lemon, whiskey-barrel-aged bitters and champagne.

  • Wimbledon Punch with Pimm’s, Evan Williams Bourbon BIB, citrus, blackberry and black tea — Celeste, Chicago
  • Bourbon Milk with Maker’s Mark, cinnamon, nutmeg, milk and vanilla — Brick House Tavern + Tap, all locations
  • Barrio Punch with Maestro Dobel Reposado, pineapple juice, fresh orange juice and grenadine — Barrio Queen, Scottsdale, Ariz.

4. French 75
Ahh, bubbles. Elegant, refreshing and crisp, the French 75 is riding high on the champagne cocktail trend. Made with gin (sometimes Cognac), champagne, lemon juice and simple syrup, this classic was created in 1915 at the Harry’s New York Bar in Paris. We’re now seeing iterations with different citrus or floral notes, flavored simple syrups and other unexpected nuances.

  • Pushing Daisies: A French 75 with Tariquet VSOP, bubbles, grapefruit, rose, black pepper — MB Post, Los Angeles
  • French 750: Tanqueray 10, Perrier-Jouet Brut, strawberries, Pop Rocks — Prohibition, Houston

5. Bloody Mary
This Sunday staple is leading the charge in brunch menu innovation. Garnishes have moved beyond a flowery celery stalk to house-brined pickles, green beans and cocktail onions. Marking today’s Bloody Mary culture: beef jerky swizzles, Scotch eggs dangling precariously from toothpicks, and fat shrimp ready to plunge into the drink. And as for the actual beverage, craftsmanship makes for the standout, but hip booze labels and bacon-everything play a big part here.

  • Mariner: Homemade lemon vodka, Bloody Mary mix, clam juice, olives — Prune Restaurant, New York
  • Red Headed Stranger: Bacon-infused Tito’s, Frank’s Bloody Mary Mix with a salt-and-pepper rim and a garnish of bacon, cheddar cheese, jalapeño-stuffed olive and pepperoncini — Frank, Austin, Texas

6. Pimm’s
In the U.K., Pimm’s celebrates the short summer, crowning garden parties with welcoming bowls of Pimm’s, fresh fruit, mint and lemon-flavored soda. Here, this gin-based beverage with subtle spice notes gets a bit of polish, moving away from a backyard gathering into sophisticated drinks.

  • War of the Roses: Pimm’s, Citadelle gin, Chase Elderflower, mint, fresh lime — Sable, Chicago
  • Honest Pimm’s: Tru gin, fresh lime, cucumber, Leopold Blanc, cherry and orange liqueur, ginger beer — Rustic Canyon Wine Bar, Santa Monica, Calif.
  • Pimm’s Cup: Pimm’s No. 1, Fentimans ginger beer, Fever Tree Bitter Lemon, cucumber, rocks — Olympic Provisions, Portland, Ore.

7. Margarita
Technomic’s MenuMonitor confirms for us that the margarita is still the most popular cocktail in this country, in terms of menu mentions. We’re seeing a call for better margaritas, where operators can charge premium prices for top-shelf tequilas, creative or housemade simple syrups, bold purees, seasonal cues and flavor-forward signature twists. Indeed, Technomic reports that mango is a hot flavor here, as are berry blends and a counterpoint of sweet with spice.

  • Pomegranate Margarita: 1800 Tequila Reserva Silver, Cointreau, Monin Pomegranate, sweet and sour, fresh lime, sugar rim —Yard House, all locations
  • Chula-rita Swirl: Blue agave tequila infused with fresh lemongrass and orange peel for 10 days, then mixed in a margarita machine with triple sec and housemade lemongrass simple syrup, sprinkled with palm sugar and swirled with prickly pear purée and Cointreau — Pakpao Thai, Dallas
  • Blancarita: Sauza Hornitos, grapefruit juice, fresh lime, shaken and finished with Sauvignon blanc in a salted rim glass — Nosh, Portland, Maine

8. Radler
Another beer-based beverage, this one is a refreshing blend of beer with lemon-flavored soda. This also appears as the shandy, originally hailing from the U.K., but we’re seeing the Radler as part of a new surge of German beer and food culture. Either way, it’s another expression of “lighter” style drinks that quench the thirst while stimulating the palate. Look for variations in name and character, depending on regional influence. For instance, in Bavaria the Radler becomes the “Russ,” with Weiss beer as the base instead of lager.

  • Dogfish Head Sixty One and Stiegl Radler Beer — The Riverside Market Café, Fort Lauderdale, Fla.
  • Sea Shandy: Gold Ale with housemade blueberry-mint lemonade — Heavy Seas Alehouse, Baltimore

9. Tea-Infused Cocktails
The world of tea has flowered, and tea varieties are bringing cocktails flavor, heft and dimension. You can go everywhere from a spiked iced tea to a hibiscus tea paired with gin and fresh squeezed lime. Look to fun bottled infusions like Earl Grey-infused City of London gin or Jeremiah Weed sweet tea vodka.

  • Booty Collins: Vodka, green tea, passionfruit, lemon, cayenne — The Tippler, New York
  • Sherlock Holmes Cocktail: Lapsang souchong tea, single-malt Scotch, lemon juice and honey syrup — PX, Alexandria, Va.
  • Spiced Horcha-Tea: Rumchata, spice syrup, iced tea — The Bad Apple, Chicago

10. Paloma
This refreshing tequila cocktail combines white tequila made smooth as silk with fizzy grapefruit soda. The basic Paloma stars Squirt, but bartenders are upping the fresh factor with hand-squeezed grapefruit juice finished with a spritz of seltzer water. Bitter, sweet, citrusy and boozy, a new favorite version is one that boasts a finish of fiery heat from jalapeño-infused tequila.

  • Grapefruit Paloma: Tequila, fresh grapefruit and lime juice, chile syrup, Jarritos grapefruit soda — Mexicue, New York
  • La Paloma: Don Julio Reposado, Aguardiente, Squirt, grapefruit and lime simple syrup — Old Town Pour House, Chicago

11. Cider
The craft beer movement has led to growing interest in craft ciders. Indeed, there are now more than 150 cideries in North America. Savvy bars are dedicating a few taps to emerging labels, adding menu interest and credibility with the ever-growing crowd of better-beverage seekers. They’re also layering cider into cocktails, giving them a bubbly, sweet-tart profile.

  • Pear Cider with a blend of Bartlett, Bosc and Anjou pears — Fish Tale Brew Pub, Olympia, Wash.
  • Black Velveteen with Crispin Hard Apple Cider, layered with Left Hand Milk Stout — 23rd & Main Taproom, Richmond, Va.

12. Spiked Shakes
Who says milkshakes are for kids? Sweet, creamy and thick, we’re seeing adult themes find their way into these indulgent drinks. For the better burger category, it’s a natural extension. And for everywhere else? There’s very little not to love about combining booze with dessert. At Bobby’s Burger Palace, with locations nationwide, three spiked shakes are on the menu: Vanilla Caramel Bourbon, Pineapple Coconut Rum and Mocha Kahlua Vodka.

  • Cherry Kool-Aid with vanilla ice cream, vanilla vodka and cherry liqueur — Zombie Burger + Drink Lab, Des Moines, Iowa
  • Spiked Grasshopper Shake: Part of its Adult Only Boozy Shakes list — Red Robin, all locations

About The Author

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Katie Ayoub is managing editor of Flavor & The Menu. She has been working in foodservice publishing for more than 16 years and on the Flavor team since 2006. She won a 2015 Folio award for her Flavor & The Menu article, Heritage Matters. In 2006, she won “Best Culinary Article” from the Cordon D’Or for an article on offal.