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5 cocktail trends to consider when building your bar menu

5 Cocktail Trends to Consider When Building Your Bar Menu

Creating a bar menu is challenging, to say the least—you have to maintain a modest budget without limiting your funds so much that your bartenders can’t experiment. Although everyone loves a good gin and tonic, sticking to the classics won’t cut it at a time when adventurous bar menus are so prevalent. Showcasing your creativity on your restaurant website is a great way to reel in new customers, so adding an unconventional cocktail or two can make an enormous difference. Need some inspiration? These five cocktail trends will put your bar ahead of the curve, whether you are just starting a business or are a well-seasoned establishment. A few may even save you some time and money.

1. Color-Changing Cocktails

There’s nothing more exciting than watching the artistry of a bartender in action, so you can imagine the wow factor of seeing a drink change color right before your eyes. The secret to color-changing cocktails is the butterfly pea flower: When brewed, it creates an edible dye that functions as a natural pH indicator. Add a little acid and voilà! The indigo tea will swirl into the citrus juice and eventually settle into a lavender or fuchsia drink. “It becomes a multi-sensory cocktail experience when you watch your cocktail transform in front of you,” says Jessalyn Pechie, the Marketing Director at Empress 1908 Gin. “It also helps when it tastes as beautiful as it looks.”

If you don’t want to make the dye in-house, Empress 1908 is already infused with the blossoms, so you can use it to top off a lemonade or layer it under a glittery mezcal mixture to add some sparkle and a smoky finish. Jessalyn suggests serving the cocktail table-side, thus allowing the customer to witness the color change. Make sure they have their phone at the ready to capture the moment on camera, then offer to share the post if they tag your restaurant social media accounts.

2. Shōchū Cocktails

Move over, sake! There’s a new Japanese spirit in town, and it is garnering quite the fandom. Shōchū is a single-distilled liquor made with yeast, water, Koji mold, and a base ingredient. The base is often a grain or a potato, but the Japanese government has approved 53 base ingredients—which range from pumpkin and tomato to brown sugar and green tea—so each brand of shōchū tastes different from the next. It is traditionally served diluted, neat, or on the rocks, but bartenders around the globe are adopting this cocktail trend to appeal to the masses. “Having a new spirit with a different flavor profile is like having a new tool in the toolbox that isn’t comparable to any other,” says Natasha Sofia, the National Director of Education and Advocacy at Davos Brands. “I believe shōchū offers an extra layer of versatility when it comes to cocktail crafting that has been long yearned for by many, myself included.”

Because shōchū is available in so many variations, it can be quite fun to experiment with. It’s particularly interesting in sweet-and-salty mixes such as this funky twist on an old-fashioned, but you may want to try something simpler to start out; this recipe for a martini variation, for example, emphasizes the spirit’s unique flavor.

Bar coasters with Japanese symbols, "Cheers," "Cocktails," and other decorations.

3. Clarified Cocktails

Clarified cocktails always seem to be a big hit among both customers and bartenders alike. Simply put, clarification involves removing any solid materials that are clouding a liquid. The process gives cocktails a lovely, glassy appearance and leaves behind a silkiness that can elevate just about any boozy beverage.

There are a few different techniques that you can use to clarify a cocktail, but the most popular involves curdling milk. When the curds form, they bind with the other solid materials which makes it easy to strain them out. You’ll have to be careful with your menu descriptions to avoid grossing out guests who aren’t familiar with this cocktail trend. The bar director for Allegory, Deke Dunne, once served a kefir punch that used a mix of kefir, fermented milk, and whole milk to clarify. “Our menu simply read ‘kefir’ and most people aren’t familiar with kefir, so it didn’t scare them off,” he explains. “It ended up being one of our top sellers on that particular menu.” His team made sure about dietary restrictions every time to avoid serving the drink to those who are vegan or lactose intolerant.

Clarified cocktails might seem intimidating to make, but after a bit of practice, it’s child’s play. As a matter of fact, having a clarified cocktail on a menu can be a godsend, because it has to be pre-batched; that’s a great way to save time and money, minimize waste at the bar, and ensure that each pour is just as accurate as the last. “Once you get the technique down, you’ll want to clarify everything,” says Deke.

A glossy collage of cocktails and the word "Clarified."

4. Repurposed Citrus

Sustainability isn’t just a trend; it is the future of the restaurant industry. Customers want to invest in ethical establishments, owners want to reduce food waste, and landfills need to be scaled back in order to slow down global warming. It’s a win-win situation. Bartenders Kelsey Ramage and Iain Griffiths of Trash Tiki realized that tossing the pulps and peels was both a huge contributor to bar waste and a missed opportunity, so they started a cocktail trend of repurposing juiced fruits to make stocks, stuices, and homemade liqueurs. While the Trash Tiki team boils the leftovers, co-owner of Expo Nickle Morris prefers to soak them in acid for a few hours before blending them with water and straining out the refuse. Both techniques are simple ways of creating a unique cocktail. After all, one man’s trash is another man’s treasure.

An orange cocktail and the word "Citrus" on a browser window.

5. Freeze-Ahead Cocktails

When your bar is slammed with thirsty guests, having a frosty, ready-to-pour drink within arm’s reach can save the day. “I’m a huge proponent of prepared cocktails, said Sother Teague, the master mixologist behind Amor y Amargo. “It creates consistency as each drink is pulled from the same source, and it generates an efficient workflow.” Because he creates his River Tam Martini in batches, he can give it a subtle spice with just a touch of Japanese chili bitters which would’ve otherwise overwhelmed the drink. Freezing cocktails can also help bartenders soften harsh flavors, create unique infusions, and achieve more even dilutions than they would get by adding ice. It’s important to note that cocktails with perishable ingredients aren’t a great fit for this strategy, so stick to spirit-forward drinks when you draft up your own recipe.

This list offers just a glimpse into the wide world of cocktail trends, but it’s a great starting place for restaurateurs who want to mix things up. If you want to try out one of these ideas but aren’t ready to add it to your bar menu, consider selling the cocktail as a special or offering it to a few regulars on the house. The feedback you receive will demonstrate the positive impact trendy cocktails can have on your marketing strategy and your bottom line.

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