Sweetness and Spice at the Bar for the Holidays

Are there more holiday lights up than usual a week before Thanksgiving, or is it just us? Some consumers, at least, seem to be more than ready to get into the holiday spirit, and restaurant and bar operators are gearing up to welcome them—and everyone else celebrating or seeking a quick break from the Most Wonderful Time of the Year—with a host of spirited seasonal beverages.

Cranberry cocktails, spiked hot chocolate and hot buttered rum are perennially popular on winter drink menus, and seaonally inspired, limited-edition offerings from suppliers this holiday season include AB InBev’s Bud Light Lime Cran-Brrr-Rita and Beam Inc.’s Pinnacle Peppermint Bark vodka. But other seasonal and on-trend flavors work well for winter cocktails, too, and this year, punch bowls are poised to join glass mugs as a cold-weather beverage vessel of choice.

With this in mind, let’s look at how two rising flavor profiles and one up-and-coming adult beverage can add festive new spirit to operators’ winter drink menus.

Trend 1: Pear.

Gone are summer’s stone fruits, and even apples’ prime time has passed. But all hail pears! With several varities at their peak in winter, the fruit that’s long been a staple of so many fruit-of-the-month-club holiday gifts is now making more appearances on adult-beverage menus. The number of specialty drinks featuring pear or pear flavor at restaurants in Technomic’s MenuMonitor database rose 4.3% from the third quarter of 2012 to the same period this year. Whether pears’ fresh, smooth sweetness is imbued via a pear-flavored vodka, pear brandy or pear puree, the fruit stands up as a sophisticated choice for festive holiday cocktails.

In action:

  • Pear-Fect Martini, Joe’s American Bar & Grill: Grey Goose La Poire, lime juice, house-made pear puree, moscato, pear slice
  • Sparkling Pear Martini, Mitchell’s Fish House: Absolut Pears vodka, St-Germain elderflower liqueur, prosecco, lemon juice
  • Carino, Bibiana Osteria Enoteca (Washington, DC): Grey Goose, quince-and-pear jam, lemon, honey

Trend 2: Spice.

Spice indeed is nice. Consumers show growing interest in exploring cocktails featuring jalapeno, habanero and cayenne flavors, especially when their heat is tempered by pineapple, mango or another sweet/fruity flavor. Specialty drinks described as spicy saw their menu appearances rise 11.8% from third-quarter 2012 to third-quarter 2013, according to MenuMonitor. A spicy, spirited taste of warmer climes can be a bold antidote to freezing temperatures outside and a welcome alternative to more-traditional winter drinks.

In action:

  • Paloma Picante, Dos Caminos: Avion blanco, habanero syrup, grapefruit soda, special salt
  • Spicy Blood Orange Margarita, Smith & Wollensky: Tanteo jalapeno tequila, Absolut Ruby Red, Combier Liqueur d’Orange, DeKuyper Blood Orange
  • Sneaky Heat, BLT Steak: Milagro tequila, passion-fruit puree, habanero syrup, fresh lime juice
  • Habanero Lime Chilada, Joe’s Crab Shack: Jimador tequila, habanero, LandShark lager, fresh limes and a dash of Tabasco pepper sauce with a cayenne salt rim

Trend 3: Punch.

Nothing says “holiday spirits” like a big bowl of punch. Fortunately, spirited punches are making a comeback across the country, their profile elevated at recently opened spots like GRAYS on Main in Franklin, TN, and Punch House in Chicago. At once nostalgic and new, potent punches can be an eye-catching offering at the bar and a celebratory way for small groups to start or finish their winter outings.

In action:

  • Plantation Punch, GRAYS on Main (Franklin, TN): Boulevard calvados, Appleton Estate rum, Landy Cognac, lemon, demerara sugar, Nonino amaro, Angostura bitters, orange bitters
  • Punch bowl of Champagne cocktail, Founding Farmers (Potomac, MD): On the Afternoon Social menu
  • Jop Jop, Ace (Denver): house-carbonated and bottled punch, serving  3–6, made with Leopold Bros. whiskey, Mekhong (a Thai spirit), lemon, sugar and oolong tea
  • Space Juice for Jered, Punch House (Chicago): reposado tequila, grapefruit, lime, Aperol, black pepper, sparkling wine, sage

Holiday classics have their place at the bar, no doubt. But one of the most salient recent trends in adult beverages is consumers seeking out new tastes and experiences on-premise, as our new BarTAB report explores—we see this in their willingness to consider new-to-them spirits such as whiskey or mezcal and in their openness to choosing from a variety of adult-beverage categories for any given occasion. Given this, fresh approaches to seasonal drinks can prove absolutely worthwhile, too.


Christine LaFave Grace

Christine LaFave Grace writes for and produces Technomic's Trends & Directions e-newsletters. She joined Technomic in 2013 as an associate editor. Her previous roles include assistant digital editor for Crain Communications’ Modern Healthcare magazine and associate editor at Reed Business Information’s Restaurants & Institutions magazine.

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