People have always instinctively eaten with the seasons, even before these days of hyperlocal diets. Our bodies simply crave different foods in different weather: salads and lighter fare when the mercury soars, stews and other comforting dishes in the depths of winter.
Drinks, on the other hand, have until recently remained relatively immune to seasonality. Sure, we might enjoy a gin and tonic more in July or prefer a Cabernet Sauvignon to a chilled Pinot Grigio in December, but for the most part, we North Americans haven’t been great at imbibing with the seasons.
That is starting to change, however, as restaurants and bars begin to see the value in altering their drink menus according to the weather. At Brouwer’s Cafe in Seattle, for example, co-owner Matt Bonney makes sizable adjustments to his beer list once the weather turns.
“Higher-alcohol beers are definitely more popular the colder it gets,” Bonney said.
His response is to stock greater numbers of big beer styles like imperial stouts, Belgian grand crus and extra-strong India pale ales. For him, such beers are not only comforting in the sometimes-miserable Pacific Northwest weather, but also logical accompaniments to the bar’s food menu.
“We tend to add richer, starchier dishes in winter,” he said. “People who are going to order things like our waterzooi or carbonade flamande are usually going to want a heavier beer to drink alongside. Most times, my employees are suggesting those bigger beer styles simply because they complement the dishes so well.”
Seasonality also weighs heavily in the decisions made each autumn by Sara Fasolino, beverage systems manager for the 77-unit Chicago-based Morton’s the Steakhouse chain.
“We change our wine-by-the-glass program every October to suit both the holiday season and the weather,” Fasolino said. “Additions generally tend to be fuller, richer wines that pair well with the season.”
That doesn’t necessarily mean just red wine, she said, even if such lusty wines are what people most readily identify with cooler weather.
“For whites, we [will be adding] a Pouilly-Fuissé and also a great Viognier,” Fasolino said, noting that those wines are “great winter whites that pair well with our seafood dishes.”
Arguably most seasonally sensitive, however, are cocktail lists, especially those that feature drinks made with botanicals and fruit.
Seasonality of produce is one of the things that stays on the mind of H. Joseph Ehrmann, proprietor of Elixir in San Francisco.
“We’ll have tall, cool drinks at Elixir, as our San Francisco summer lasts into November,” Ehrmann said. “But guests still expect apples, pears and pomegranates. We then move to warm spices [as] we shift forward into December.”
Which spirits you choose can also contribute to the seasonal feel of a drinks list, Ehrmann said.
He suggested “light, bright and crisp [flavors] for the summer and more barrel-aged spirits in the winter,” citing vodkas, gins and tequilas for warmer weather and whiskeys and aged rums for the cooler months.
“Neither is exclusive,” Ehrmann added, “but the focus is made to fit the mood of the season and what customers need. Just because it is cold outside does not necessarily mean they don’t want cold drinks, but spice and character in a cold drink can give the feeling of warmth and comfort.”