Spring is officially here. Thank goodness. And even if the weather is taking a while to catch up, we’re completely okay with sipping on seasonal cocktails while we wait.

In the world of boozy beverages, a new season = time to release a seasonal drink menu.

Crafting a cocktail menu is really an art. Every gifted mixologist has his or her own creative process. This process varies from person to person. It also varies season to season. In the springtime, the cocktail world is all about everything fresh and green. Thinking about these seasonal flavors and trends is a good starting point, but there’s so much more to it.

We sat down with Adam Rath, the bar manager at Hydraulic Hearth, for a pro’s perspective on how to bring a seasonal cocktail menu to life. After our chat with him, here are our takeaways about works best for this bar.  

Photo by Hydraulic Hearth

Photo by Hydraulic Hearth

BEGIN WITH BALANCE 

A cocktail menu should reflect everyone’s interests, not just your own. Balance is essential because a list with too many of the same types of cocktails will only appeal to one type of drinker. Start by considering these 3 categories: spirit base (gin, vodka, whiskey), style (shaken vs. stirred), and glassware. Diversity makes a real difference, and the result here is a well-balanced menu.

Take Hydraulic’s new spring menu, for example. They have cocktails spanning all the different categories and served in a variety of glasses.

  • Bavarian Grog: rum, german amaro, lime, honey, hibiscus
  • Blackthorn #2: vodka, sloe gin, vermouth, lime, lavender, sparkling wine
  • Death in The Brewery: singani, absentroux, bitter liqueur, lemon, kolsch
  • Don’t Drink The Water: tequila, mango, aperol, rhubarb, lime, spicy ice cube
  • Perennial: gin, elderflower, ginger, honey, lemon, basil, cucumber
  • Why Am I Mr. Pink?: scotch, blueberry, lemon, cinnamon, eucalyptus
Photo by Hydraulic Hearth

Photo by Hydraulic Hearth

GARNISH WELL 

People judge a cocktail before they even take the first sip, so garnish can be a gamechanger. Take the Blackthorn #2. This beauty is served with an edible flower garnish. That’s about as Instaworthy as a garnish gets.

INCLUDE INFORMATIVE DESCRIPTIONS

Skewing a cocktail menu in favor of information makes it easy for the average consumer to understand. Rather than listing brands or specific components, you’ll find recognizable flavors. For the Perennial, instead of saying barrel-aged Krupnik the menu says honey because that’s what you’ll taste in the cocktail.

The right descriptors can help customers make decisions faster which means your bartenders will spend less time explaining and more time mixing. Aka informative descriptions are good for your bottom line.

Photo by Hydraulic Hearth

BE CREATIVE, CLEVER, AND SOMETIMES SNARKY WITH NAMES

A little play on words goes a long way. Esp with a cocktail menu like this one. Take the Why Am I Mr. Pink? cocktail. Yes, this is a bright pink drink. But also, it’s a scotch cocktail with a legit backstory. Quentin Tarantino fans, you get it right? Everyone else, google it!

Inspiration comes from everywhere, but many cocktails have a classic at the base of them. A purposeful riff at them can be clever. For example, the Bavarian Grog. There’s a direct reference here dating back to the Royal Navy and if you picked up on it, you’re instantly intrigued.

The Perennial is another example. Every spring, this cocktail makes a comeback and at it “dies” at the end of the season. This creates a demand for this cocktail year after year. And yes, people request it long after it’s gone. But they’ll just have to wait till next year. #sorrynotsorry

Photo by Hydraulic Hearth

Photo by Hydraulic Hearth

THINK ABOUT THE FIRST SIP… AND THE LAST

People appreciate when a cocktail is enjoyable from start to finish. Take the Don’t Drink The Water for example. This is not your typical tequila-based cocktail aka it’s not a margarita. Not even close. Actually, this cocktail packs some heat and the longer you drink it the spicer it tastes. That’s because there’s an ice cube with a jalapeno frozen inside and as the ice melts the flavor begins to change.

But don’t worry, this cocktail was taste tested at every concentrate to ensure it was enjoyable from start to finish. Because after all, the last sip helps the customer decide if they’ll have another or not.

ASK FOR OTHER OPINIONS 

Putting together the cocktail menu is a team effort at Hydraulic. Adam leads the way but encourages the rest of the bar staff to pitch ideas. This time around that open invitation led to the creation of the Why Am I Mr. Pink? Shoutout to Dave Chevrestt for this one!

Creating a cocktail menu involves a lot of trial and error. There might be 10 or 20 different versions of a cocktail before it makes the cut, so keep experimenting and ask for opinions.

THE BOTTOM LINE

Hydraulic Hearth’s cocktail menu is definitely carefully crafted… and it shows. Customers appreciate this. They really really do. Craft cocktails aren’t cheap. Regardless of how you craft your menu, do so purposefully. Trust us, it pays off.