Seasonal cocktail menus are all the rage now, but to create a unique and inspiring program you have to do more than peruse the local farmer’s market. Speaking at the Manhattan Cocktail Classic’s Industry Invitational on May 10, U.K. mixologist Ryan Chetiyawardana offered up some advice on crafting a seasonal drink selection.
First off, what does seasonality really mean? It might reflect the availability of certain plants, or even the need to preserve produce. Most cultures traditionally had to plan for the colder seasons during the bounty of warmer months, said Chetiyawardana, owner of White Lyan in London and creative director of Henry a Liquor Bar at the Hudson New York Hotel.
But you have to keep in mind that seasonality is not just about the flavors, but also eliciting a feeling or response. Drinks can transport, Chetiyawardana said: “Playing on nostalgia or inverting an association can trigger a powerful memory of the season.”
For example, cocktails can be crafted to reflect the optimism and freshness of spring, the fertility and warmth of summer, the closure and fading light of autumn, and the hibernation and closeness of winter.
It’s not just about the current season but about creating a dialog between seasons—what has come before and what will come next. The seasonal shift is a gradual change, Chetiyawardana said. “You don’t just wake up one day and it’s summer.”
How does that translate to cocktails? For instance, a fall drink might use preserved cherries from the summer. Apples are always available, Chetiyawardana said, but they change through the seasons so how they’re used in cocktails should reflect that. “We try to emulate the experience of change.”
Chetiyawardana presented a few cocktails that showcase the flavors of specific seasons. The Celery Fizz, from Henry’s autumn cocktail menu, is made with Botanist gin, celery distillate (root, heart, stem, leaf and seed), pineapple gum, verjus and soda. The drink is garnished with a piece of compressed pineapple coated in pink pepper and celery seed.
A Burnt Negroni, made with Botanist gin, Carpano Antica vermouth, Campari, is served with a sprig of torched rosemary to highlight the darker flavors of winter. And for spring, Chetiyawardana offered up The Nose Tweaker cocktail (pictured above), which mixes Botanist gin, green apple, matcha green tea and nasturtium shrub and garnished with nasturtium flower.
Henry, which does four drink menu changes a year, uses a rotary evaporator to get concentrated distillates of flowers, fruits and vegetables to infuse spirits and mixers. You don’t need to be so high-tech, though, Chetiyawardana said.
“We’ve got all this amazing equipment, but a lot of it isn’t necessary—it can be very simple,” he noted, offering the example of using blueberry jam in a cocktail vs. fresh blueberries. You can use modern or traditional techniques to impart seasonal flavors on ingredients, he said, provided you understand what’s available and how you can use it in different ways.