Flavor exploration took a hit during the pandemic, according to a Mintel Menu Insights report. Lingering uncertainty affected consumers’ food and drink decision-making, plus many operators dramatically reduced their menu offerings to simplify operations.
Mintel found that the percentage change in alcoholic beverage menu items plummeted across the top range of flavors in 2020. But there were some areas of opportunity and innovation in 2021: Fruit, vegetable, lime and mint and floral flavors all dropped significantly in 2020, but experienced strong increases in menu incidence in 2021.
Vegetable cocktails on menus fell 41% from the second quarter of 2019 to the second quarter of 2020, but shot up 76% in the second quarter of 2021. Veggie tales been cropping up on menus this year, as consumers are ready to experiment a little more, perhaps seeking flavors, ingredients or techniques that they’re not going to have or try at home.
For example, Apothecary, an avant-garde cocktail in Dallas, included a drink called The Pea-Cocktail on its spring menu. The cocktail combines vodka, pea stock, house tonic, lemon-ginger cordial and grapefruit.
The spring menu at French restaurant and bar Forsythia in Philadelphia included two vegetable cocktails. The Snow Tiger mixed rum, snow pea-fennel tincture crafted with Menthe-Pastille, Luxardo Maraschino and lime; and The Smoking Carrot incorporated mezcal, lemon, carrot and ginger cordial.
Bar Julian in Savannah offers a zero-proof beverage called The Lowcountry, made with Ritual Zero Proof tequila, yellow bell pepper, lemon, honey and basil. Katie Tobin of The Aquifer at New Riff Distilling in Newport, KY, created a mocktail called Beet It. Made with beet juice, lime juice, vanilla simple syrup and ginger beer, the drink can be amped up with the distillery’s bourbon or gin.
Max Stampa-Brown, beverage director for The Garret Bars in New York, developed a few vegetable cocktails this year. The Miami Lenny, with tequila, butternut squash, tarragon, poppy seed, cranberry, soda and lemon, was on the winter menu at The Garret East bar. At Bandits, The Sunny Side Up spring cocktail, with pisco, butternut squash, tarragon, cara cara orange, ginger, egg white and lemon, was garnished to look like a sunny-side-up egg.
And Urban Farmer Steakhouse, known for its ethical and responsible approach to the modern steakhouse experience, is embracing the mushroom this year with onsite terrariums, mushroom-centric dishes and cocktails. John Stanton, director of beverage for parent company Sage Restaurant Concepts, created a mushroom drink called The 1 Up. Named after the Mario Bros. video game icon that gives players an extra life, The 1 Up starts with a matsutake-infused pisco base combined with amaro nonino, lemon juice, truffle honey and sea salt.
Alex Barbatsis, head bartender of Chicago bar The Whistler, predicted that bartenders would be reaching further into the vegetable drawer for drinks this year. Things were already headed that way with taro root cocktails, vegetal liqueurs such as Cynar and Chartreuse, and house-made Bloody Mary mix using fresh tomatoes, Barbatsis says. His Rainmaker cocktail incorporates a few dashes of purple carrot juice, along with bourbon, creme de violet, fresh lemon juice and orgeat.
“I think vegetables will expand further into cocktails from bartenders using more produce from farmers markets, local microgreen gardens, and more onsite bar and restaurant gardens,” Barbatsis notes. “Some of my favorite veggies to use in cocktails are carrots for flavor and color, fennel tops to make foam and reduce food waste from the kitchen, and beet juice in tropical cocktails.”
Here are a few veggie cocktail recipes to play with.
- 2 oz. El Tequileño Platinum tequila
- 1 oz. Freshly squeezed lime juice
- 1 oz. Agave syrup
- 1 oz. Nixta corn liqueur
- Add all ingredients to a shaker over cubed ice.
- Shake until ice cold and fine strain into a cocktail coupe.
- Garnish with a flame charred baby corn.
- 10 drops Beet juice
- 1 ½ oz. Lime juice
- 1 oz. Vanilla simple syrup
- 1 oz. Ginger beer
- Add lime juice, vanilla simple syrup and ice in a cocktail shaker and shake.
- In a highball glass, add beet juice and fill with ice.
- Strain juice mixture into glass and float ginger beer on top.
- (Can add New Riff Bourbon or Kentucky Wild Gin.)
The 1 Up
- 1 oz. Matsutake-infused pisco base one-part pisco and one-part vodka, steeped with matsutake stems
- 1 oz. Amaro nonino
- ¾ oz. Lemon juice
- ½ oz. Truffle honey
- Sea salt
- Combine all ingredients in a cocktail shaker.
- Shake vigorously to combine.
- Strain into a coupe glass.
- Garnish with a sprig of baby dill.
Down The Rabbit Hole
- 1 ½ oz. El Bandido Yankee reposado tequila
- ½ oz. Ginger liqueur
- 1 oz Carrot juice
- ½ oz. Honey syrup
- ¾ oz. Lemon Juice
- Dash of smoked cinnamon bitters
- Egg white
- Combine all ingredients and reverse dry shake.
- Double strain into glass.
- Garnish with a baby carrot and flower.