April air is full of promise. Balmy evening barbecues and picnics in the sunshine are just around the corner. Long, refreshing drinks will be the order of the day and the best way to gauge what might slake consumer thirst this season is to talk to the trendsetters.
Alex Kratena is head bartender at the Artesian at The Langham Hotel in London. His bar has been voted top of the World’s 50 Best Bars two years in a row, thanks not only to his hospitality but also to his innovation.
For Kratena’s summer menu, savoury ingredients are on the cards, with “sea vegetables, fermented drinks and cocktails that change flavour as you drink them” on his list.
He believes summer drinks don’t have to just be long and fruity. “Summer is the most exciting time of the year,” he says. “To me it’s about the refreshing qualities of a drink – ingredients are the real stars of cocktails. Summer doesn’t necessarily mean citrus, fruit or juice. Bitterness can be equally refreshing and often quench thirst better. Don’t think light in terms of flavours, think light in terms of abv.”
Last year’s spritz trend was the perfect example of this. Aperol kicked off a summer of love for spritzes (Prosecco, Aperol, soda water) and the deluge of vermouth launches (La Quintinye and Riserva Carlo Alberto to name a couple) looks set to carry on the trend for lower abv drinks.
Lucy Horncastle, bartender at chef Jason Atherton’s soon-to-open City Social in London’s Tower 42, says consumers have more sophisticated palates thanks to continued interest in spirits and cocktails – making sourness and bitterness key. As well as spritzes, she says: “Classic Sours will be popular – Whisky Sours for example. They’re slightly longer.”
The good old G&T is also set for a makeover: “People are going further than the gin & tonic – they want a Tom Collins [gin, lemon juice, sugar, soda]. It’s a more sophisticated option.”
The economy, your mum and cooking knowledge will also help shape summer drinks, according to Hoxton’s Made in the Shade boss Jim Wrigley.
He says the spritz trend grew throughout southern Europe thanks to the recession. “Young drinkers couldn’t afford €20 cocktails so they bought spritzes or mixed their own vermouth with soda water.”
At Wrigley’s bar, summer drinks are set to be serious fun with lots of fresh ingredients – but not necessarily low in abv. “We’re going to have Piña Coladas served in a fresh pineapple but it’s going to be nuclear, with Wray & Nephew Overproof rum [63% abv], Chartreuse and falernum [a sweet syrup with almond, ginger, clove and lime flavours].”
He echoes Horncastle’s sentiment: “People’s palates are changing – drinkers can handle bitter flavours sooner.”
Both emphasise the importance of balance when it comes to preparing cocktails at home. For Wrigley, your mum’s punch bowl could come in handy. But forget the sticky, sweet concoctions of the eighties.
“Punches have been very cool for a few years in the trade. For consumers they have the historic aspect that discerning consumers want – and they suit large parties.”
Proportions are essential and there’s a simple formula for a rum punch: one measure of sour (lemon juice for example), two of sweet (sugar syrup), three of strong (rum) and four of weak (a fruit juice of some kind). “You can just use an espresso cup for proportions,” says Wrigley.
He also believes there is room for a few basic pieces of kit in the off-licence. “A three-piece shaker so you don’t need a strainer would be good. And, of course, jiggers for measuring. People are au fait with cooking and buying specialist equipment but they are not so confident with drinks.”
All three bartenders believe summer cross-selling and providing simple recipes will help inspire consumers to make drinks at home.
Kratena says shops need to make it easy by “providing easily replicated recipes and offering simple tools”. Gerry’s in Soho has a section on its website dedicated to cocktail equipment and specific items, such as Opies Cocktail Cherries with stems.
Retailers could also consider basic equipment such as shakers, strainers and jiggers. Kratena continues: “If you sell spirits, provide premium mixers.” He also suggests creating “summer packages” so drinkers can pick up everything they need in the same place.
Horncastle emphasises that selling lemons or limes alongside drinks is a great way to ensure balanced cocktails. “Some brands give away equipment or offer recipe books – that’s great. You can also use household items such as a jam jar for a shaker,” she says.
You don’t need to turn the shop into a cocktail catwalk but it doesn’t hurt to drink in the trends.
From left: Lucy Horncastle, Alex Kratena (left) with fellow bartender Simone Caporale, and Jason Wrigley