Restaurant operators have big financial incentives to create must-have fall beverages. But crafting a traffic-driving seasonal refresher or limited time libation involves juggling approachability, trendiness and novelty.
This fall, industry sources point to true apple and pumpkin flavors, single-origin and cold brew coffee, tea-based libations, ginger applications and creative non-alcoholic drinks as marketable ideas of the season.
Orchard Influences. The true, varietal flavors of fresh apples and high quality apple derivatives will make a splash in fall beverages, reports Kathy Casey, president of Kathy Casey Food Studios® - Liquid Kitchen®, a food and beverage consultancy and product development company in Seattle. They are a far cry from the candy sweet, contrived apple flavors of the past. “It used to be about green apple martinis,” says Casey. “Now it’s about real apples.”
In addition to slicing and juicing fresh apples at the bar, operators will leverage apple brandy, Calvados, applejack, artisanal apple cider and baked apple bitters in cocktails, Casey says. And even fresh peaches — thought of as a summer fruit, but some are still harvested as fall arrives — can factor into seasonal palettes.
Also emphasizing authentic flavor is Caribou Coffee, the Minneapolis-based specialty coffee chain, which is launching a new take on its popular Pumpkin Pie Latte. It is made with real pumpkin and only “clean label” ingredients, according to David Marshall, Caribou Coffee lead culinary chef. “In this, you can taste the caramelized pumpkin on top of the pie, the velvety texture in the middle and the crust and whipped cream flavors as well,” says Marshall.
At Prairie Grass Cafe in Northbrook, Ill., manager and mixologist Dan Sviland mixes the Sparkling Caramel Apple Sipper with fresh Michigan apple cider, caramel cooked in-house, a shot of vodka from a local distiller and a splash of Prosecco sparkling wine. “It’s a really great fall drink, nice and refreshing,” says Sviland.
Coffee—Hot and Cold. A new crop of freshly roasted Guatemalan beans will be brewing at Frothy Monkey, a Nashville, Tenn.-based company with five restaurant-coffee bar locations and a coffee roasting facility. “We buy coffees that are fresh and in season throughout the year,” says Jeff Gibbs, Frothy Monkey director of coffee and partner. “That allows us to tell a new story to our customers every few months. Knowing that we will have it only a few months makes it even more enjoyable while it’s here.”
At the same time, Frothy Monkey serves to the large consumer market fun, seasonal coffee beverages, like flavored lattes. “We understand that not everyone is coming to our shop to taste something new and adventurous,” says Gibbs. “We want to be approachable and not in the least pretentious.”
Each fall the company invites its baristas to invent their own creative seasonal coffee drinks, which are judged by Nashville community members at an in-house competition. The tastiest and most appealing drinks are sold seasonally in the shops.
“One of our most popular is the Rosemary Honey Latte,” says Gibbs. “It is actually really good year round, but it makes me think of the fall.” It is sweetened and flavored with honey that has been infused with rosemary sprigs that were heated on a flattop grill to release the essential oils. “I think it is a fantastic fall drink,” Gibbs says.
What’s more, smooth and flavorful cold brew coffee stays red hot in Nashville way beyond summer. “We go through a ton of cold brew,” says Gibbs. “It hardly slows down in cold weather.”
Tea—Iced and Syrups. “Iced teas are on fire,” says Casey. “I have seen a lot of stone fruit iced teas, iced tea with juices and lavender-flavored iced teas, like a lavender Arnold Palmer.”
“I really love to make tea syrups, especially with bolder flavors, for fall,” adds Casey. “Oolong tea is delicious; it reminds me of the fall.”
“Tea is kind of hot now in the cocktail world,” says Sviland. “Everybody is doing tea infusions.” For cocktail use, he makes a tea concentrate by brewing the leaves with a quarter of the usual water used to make tea.
Mixing Gingerly. The flavor of ginger — fresh and in the form of ginger beer, candied ginger, ginger syrup and many other guises — lends a zesty edge to fall cocktails, ciders and juice drinks. “And it’s getting spicier and spicier,” Casey says.
Creative NABs. “Everyone in the industry is asking for creative non-alcoholic beverages,” says Casey. “It is great to see people actually taking note of NABs and realizing the opportunity they have for sales.” Her suggestions for fall include a “drink your veggies” honey beet lemonade and simple, clean filtered or sparkling water with fresh herbs and sliced citrus fruits served by the pitcher.
At Prairie Grass Cafe, Sviland says the Sparkling Caramel Apple Sipper is easy to make alcohol free by skipping the vodka and swapping the Prosecco for sparkling water.
Non-alcoholic beverages can be surprisingly versatile. “A great tasting NAB will often inspire guests to ask for it mixed with liquor,” says Casey. “So it can do double duty.”