As summer looms, bartenders are mixing fresh drinks for patio season, forgoing frills for simplicity and embracing lesser-known spirits. Below, and, in no particular order, are five summer drink trends making the rounds across Canada.
Less is more
When it comes to summer sipping, customers enjoy lighter beverages, says Jeffrey Van Horne, head of the Cocktail Program at The Bicycle Thief in Halifax. Bartenders should create custom bevvies that leave guests refreshed but not too inebriated in hot weather. Offering low-alcohol, low-calorie drinks and virgin cocktails is key. “Instead of using two ounces of spirits, we are looking at maybe three ounces of an aromatized wine, so pairing that with fresh fruit or herbs gives a balanced and flavourful cocktail that might not have the punch that two ounces of booze has,” says Van Horne, who designed the lower-alcohol Clear Conscience for his 2013 summer menu (top right). It’s made with Beefeater 24 gin, St. Germain elderflower liqueur, dry Riesling, Lillet Blanc and a dash of grapefruit bitters ($11).
Light brews such as wheat beer, blond beer, ciders, India Pale Ale (IPA) and beer-infused cocktails are making a comeback with fresh profiles. “In the summer [we sell] a lot of wheat beers — people like to have that fresh, citrusy note from wheat,” says David Wolowidnyk, bar manager at West in Vancouver. “IPAs are also gaining in popularity, and people are really enjoying the extra kick that hops give — and it increases the bitter profile,” he adds. One of Wolowidnyk’s beer cocktails is called the Fancy Nancy; it combines Früli strawberry beer and Hendricks gin garnished with lemon zest ($12).
Many bartenders are aging flavourful cocktails in oak barrels or bottles and designing their packaging. At West, Wolowidnyk has created specialty bottle-aged drinks such as the Geishagave, made with el Jimador tequila, sake, jasmine green tea syrup, jalapeño and fresh lime ($11), which is made in batches of 30 to 40 at a time. “They are in individual portions, so when somebody orders one, we can open that bottle, serve it over fresh ice, garnish it appropriately and serve to the guest.” He adds: “And every time [the customer] gets the same drink, it is more harmonious.”
Tequila takes spotlight
“Traditionally the summer would see more vodka or gin, but this summer we are going to see more tequila and even mezcal,” predicts Brad Gubbins, bar manager at Toronto’s SpiritHouse. A sister to tequila, mezcal is derived from the maguey plant and imparts a bold, smoky flavour. Gubbins adds it to summery cocktails such as the Mezcal Sour, with Jaral de Berrio mezcal, lemon juice, sugar, water, egg white and bitters ($12). Tequila is also a prime spirit for summer months, and bartenders are featuring more varieties such as Los Arango Reposado and Clase Azul Plata.
Back to basics
Gubbins predicts a return to the basics. “So instead of having smoked drinks, or making tinctures, we are going back to fresh and letting the ingredients speak for themselves,” he says. “I want to show people the simplest thing they can have, [with only] three ingredients; if it’s made well, you can just see how the quality of the drink improves.”