Spring is in the air. Daylight Savings and the Spring Equinox have passed, bringing us later sunsets and longer days and shouting from roofdecks to bring on the spring cocktails.
While March 20th marked the official start of spring, it’s not so easy to pinpoint an exact date to debut your spring cocktail menu. Demand depends largely on local climate and visual cues. Warm sunny days, flowers in bloom, baby birds hatching, windows being cracked open call for spring drinks.
In most parts of the country, these signs already surround us. Spring is in full swing. It was the warmest winter in history for the U.S. as a whole. Boston, however, was slammed with record-setting snow accumulations and bitterly cold temperatures. Even still, snow disgraces the New England forecasts.
Dustin Rennells is an instructor at The Boston Center for Adult Education. He’s taught classes in the past on warm, mulled winter cocktails and frozen, umbrella-adorned summer drinks. For the first time, he’s teaching a class called “How To: Refreshing Spring Cocktails.” Rennells says “unfortunately in Boston, spring cocktails get the short end of the stick. June 20th is when summer officially starts, so the frost hangover here can make it a really short season. A lot of people won’t even consider ordering spring cocktails until it’s at least 55 degrees, and they won’t start heavily ordering them until roofdecks and patios are open."
Wherever you live, be prepared for spring cocktail season before it passes you by.
THE LOOK OF SPRING DRINKS
How does a spring cocktail stand out from a summer, fall, or winter drink? Rennells says spring drinks mirror spring itself – light in color, light and refreshing in taste. Certain colors can be in fashion for a season’s happening cocktails. The hottest hues for drinks this spring season are clear, pastel tones, and candy colors, like pink, purple, and mint.
When summer comes, bolder flavors and bolder colors abound. Autumn drinks, like the pumpkin varieties, are often heavier. Warm drinks are reserved for the winter menu.
THE ‘IT’ INGREDIENTS
Like spring bouquets, spring cocktails are made up of some perennials, some annuals. The perennials are those that pop up in drinks every year around this time - fruits, for example, like peaches, plums, and cherries. Annual flavors are of the shorter-lived and trendier sort. They're conceived, make a name for themselves, and vanish in a single season.
Rennells names earthier flavors, herbs, and floral notes as this year's annuals. Specifically, he sees cucumber, rosemary, basil, chartreuse, rhubarb, and peapods popping up in a big way in spring cocktails this season.
The mojito with its muddled mint is a spring cocktail for the ages, but Rennells says we're going to see other, more interesting uses of muddled herbs this year. Enter muddled basil and rosemary.
Housemade basil and rosemary simple syrups are also on the up and up. Rhubarb is making an entrance as simple syrup as well. Rennells says, "it's just too bitter and offensive to drink alone."
Peapods are one of the first things to start growing when spring hits. Rennells has recently seen them mixed with lemon and gin or vodka, either muddled in the bottom or used as a garnish.
In general, we're seeing more culinary approaches being applied behind the bar. Ingredients, concepts, and techniques are shared between chefs and mixologists. We’re talking top chef techniques like carbonating, straining through cheesecloths, sous-vide (the technique utilized for tenderizing meat).
SPRING COCKTAIL RECIPES
The Cherry Blossom
Courtesy of Dustin Rennells at the Boston Center for Adult Education
2 oz. lemon-infused vodka
2 oz. cherry liqueur
4 mint leaves
½ teaspoon sugar
3 fresh pitted cherries
Muddle mint and sugar in the bottom of a short glass. Fill the glass with ice. Add cherry liqueur then vodka. Throw in cherries.
The Phil Collins
Courtesy of The Hawthorne Bar in the Hotel Commonwealth
2 oz. Cucumber vodka
½ oz. chartreuse liquor
Juice of ½ a lime
Shake the vodka, chartreuse and lime juice. Pour in a glass over ice. Top with soda water.
Recipe from Portland Monthly Magazine
¼ cup dried Hibiscus Flowers
1½ pounds Rhubarb, sliced into ¼-inch to ½-inch pieces (6 cups)
½ - ¾ cup Sweetener (sugar or coconut sugar)
Bring 3 cups of water to a boil in a medium pot. Turn off the heat, add hibiscus flowers and steep for 15 minutes. Remove from heat. Strain through cheesecloth over large bowl, squeezing cheesecloth to release liquid. Return the liquid to the pot. Add the rhubarb to the pot and bring to a boil over medium heat. Boil 10-15 min, stirring occasionally until rhubarb falls apart in threads. Reduce the heat to low. Stir in the sweetener and simmer for 2-3 minutes, until it dissolves. Remove from heat. Strain through cheesecloth over another large bowl, squeezing cheesecloth to release the liquid. Reserve pulp. Transfer the hibiscus rhubarb juice to heat safe container. Let cool. (Makes 2 ½ cups Hibiscus Rhubarb Juice). Mix 1 part rhubarb hibiscus juice to 1 part tequila over ice. Add lime juice to taste.