Whether it’s a fruity concoction or a refreshing fizz, the holiday period is all about having a good time. The season generally sees margaritas, mimosas, mojitos and spritzes come out on top. But bartenders can also take inspiration from Tiki cocktails, where rum-based drinks such as the piña colada prove bigger is better.
Hospitality talks to Evan Stroeve from Re-, Abby Roennfeldt from Hades Hula House and Josh Stevens from Lily Blacks and New Gold Mountain about crafting summer menus and the role seasonality plays in drinks plus their tips for creating the ultimate thirst-quenchers.
It is hard to pinpoint the perfect summer beverage, but freshness, sweetness and tang are all foundational. Now the weather is on the warmer side, drinkers are steering away from booze-heavy cocktails and moving towards icy, fruitier numbers.
The shift sees whiskey and bourbon traded for gin, vodka and spiced rum along with a lean towards carbonation and fruit juice.
Creating a balanced drink is a must all year round, and simply comes down to what’s in the shaker. Re- Bartender Evan Stroeve ensures harmony is always front of mind.
“Balance of flavour is the most important aspect of any drink whether it’s summer or winter,” he says. “Finding a balance between sweet and sour, savoury and bitter and umami is really important as well as working with temperature and texture.”
Stroeve says the defining elements of summertime drinks are “bubbles, vibrancy and effervescence” and predicts lower-ABV options will be a hit. “When I think of summer, I think of sessions sitting out in a beer garden or an outdoor area [having] quite a few, and that is made [possible] by low-ABV options,” says the bartender.
At Hades Hula House in Adelaide, Owner Abby Roennfeldt goes by the motto “light, bright and fresh”. As a Tiki-inspired bar, the majority of Hula Houseʼs menu is geared towards produce found in tropical climates, which means the fruitier, the better.
“We’re definitely looking for super-fruity, super-layered [cocktails],” says Roennfeldt. “We’re using the whole fruit, so there’s pulp in our juices and you’re getting that velvety mouthfeel of a whole fruit juice opposed to an extract or flavouring.”
Australia is spoiled for choice when it comes to summer produce and local spirits, which gives bartenders a great advantage in terms of variety. One can argue a cocktail can use any kind of fruit, but for Roennfeldt, there are some that are hard to ignore.
“Obviously, there are things that aren’t going to change; you’re always going to see fresh lime and those sorts of things,ˮ she says. “Then you have things like lychee and passionfruit, which are definitely summer tropical fruits.”
In the spirit of Tiki cocktails, Hades Hula House goes big on citrus and melon, putting their own spin on popular drinks.
The Lemon Drop gin cocktail uses Stone Pine Lemon Drop gin and Mad Monkey saccharum as the base. Another sees spicy, savoury flavours featured in a melon and lemon option. “One of my go-tos is the Busted Thong, which features Karu Distillery Morita chipotle vodka,” says Roennfeldt. “We shake that with a slice of jalapeño, so we’ve got subtle warmth from the vodka and a lasting heat from the chipotle.”
Over in Melbourne, Josh Stevens does a little bit of everything at Lily Blacks and New Gold Mountain, but also dabbles with Tiki flavour profiles in the summertime. The bartender opts for Caribbean-style rums with the addition of strawberries. “The Husk till Dawn at New Gold is a great Tiki-style drink,” says Stevens.
“It has falernum, which is like a [Caribbean-] style spiced syrup and husk agricole rum. I pair it with strawberries, apple juice and a little strawberry ferment.”
A common thread among venues is waste reduction, which can be achieved through a rotating seasonal menu. This approach allows venues to switch up their offering and get creative with what’s available. “Our menu changes to fit what fruits are in season,” says Stevens. “I’ve got rockmelon and mint coming into season and all the chillies as well, so I’ve got a jalapeño-based drink.”
A change in season encourages bar staff and operators to think about sustainable practices through thoughtful planning. Re-’s menu is described by Stroeve as “the definition of seasonality”, and the second iteration Never Wasted delivers on its name. “A lot of the produce we use is in excess at the market,” he says.
“We’ve got eight different cocktails that feature eight iconic Sydney producers. We had a conversation with each of them and narrowed down what items of waste they produce in their production processes and then used those items as hero ingredients in each cocktail.”
A representation of Re-’s waste-minimisation ethos is the Market and Growers, a mango cocktail consisting of Tanqueray gin, ancho chilli, orange and mango. The drink uses every part of the mango from the skin and flesh right down to the pit.
“The flesh is obviously beautiful, bright and fresh and is the epitome of summer,” says Stroeve. “We make a honey soy mango chip from the skin and we crack open the seed (which most people wouldn’t think to use) and use the little seeds inside, which are really bitter. We use them as a bittering agent for vermouth.”
There are many important factors to keep in mind when building summer drinks: two of which are ice and volume. A Hoshizaki ice maker is a staple at many bars including Hades Hula House.
Roennfeldt uses filtered water to make clear-cut cubes. “As a predominant rule, we shake all of our drinks with a large-format cube and then we strain over fresh ice,” she says. “Sometimes we strain over shaved ice depending on the drink style.”
At Lily Blacks, ice blocks are hand-carved to fit the venue’s glassware. Ensuring a slow dilution rate is the main focus for Stevens, who uses a large-format ice cube in stirred-down drinks. “It’s really important to have a big cube because there is a lower surface area to volume ratio,” he says. “It doesn’t dilute the drink as quickly, which is important in summer when it dilutes much faster. The other option is crushed ice, which gives you a self-replenishing drink.”
For both practical and visual purposes, Stroeve uses ice from Bare Bones Ice Company, which produce crystal-clear ice. Different shapes are used to accommodate glass shapes and cocktail styles. “We use longer spheres of ice and bigger blocks,” says Stroeve. “It’s really aesthetic and it slows the dilution rate.”
Longevity is the name of the game when it comes to summertime drinking. The consensus among bartenders is taller drinks with lower alcohol content are perfect for warm weather. “You get dehydrated in summer, and when you’re hot, you want to be constantly sipping on your drink,” says Stevens. “With a longer drink, you get a little more bang for your buck and you don’t get drunk as fast.”
Although larger quantities appear to be the most practical choice for summer, there is also a place for hard-hitting short sippers. “I always love a short drink, so it’s got to be the Corpse Reviver Number Two,” says Stevens. “It’s an absinthe-rinsed glass and then you have gin, Cointreau, Lillet Blanc and lemon juice. Flavour-wise, it’s quite tart without being too sweet. The Cointreau adds a little bit of sweetness in there to balance it and if you pick the right gin for it, it’s out of this world.”
Warmer climes provide the ideal window to experiment with spirits, produce, ice and volume. Bartenders are increasingly mindful about the ingredients they use, which is a sign of what’s to come moving forward.
“The Australian summer is amazing; it’s one of the best seasons in the world,” says Stroeve. “We have access to all this amazing tropical fruit; everything from mango and pineapple to passionfruit, berries and stone fruit. All these iconic cocktail fruits are thriving, so we showcase them as best as we can — it’s the modus operandi for summer.”