They call it the silly season, but summer can offer some serious profits if you start planning now, says Alex Kammerling
More fleeting than the hope of Wimbledon glory and barely warmer than a local swimming pool, the English summer whispers past us frustratingly quickly, and before you know it the leaves are turning and the jumpers are coming out again. But during the handful of summer days that we are blessed with, it makes sense to capitalise on the prevailing good mood by offering some long, easy-drinking cocktails for punters who want to relish the balmy evenings and carefree Sundays.
But don’t just stop at Pimm’s and lemonade – if you’re currently in the process of planning your summer menu, take some inspiration from the selection of easy-to-make, seasonal lovelies that follow on these pages.
If you are lucky enough to have outside space at your venue, then now is also the time to start planning how you will capitalise on this, as each square inch is gold dust. To maximise profit, you need to focus on selling high-value, high-GP items. It’s worth producing small tent-cards or postcards advertising the key drinks you would like to sell. Make sure they are clearly visible on all your tables and reinforce the message with blackboards and signs at the bar, and through staff recommendations.
You can also get your customers in a more summery mood by doing a bit of planting – if you have flower beds or hanging baskets, then try and grow your own herbs. The scents of lemon thyme, basil and rosemary are not only a great way to fragrance your garden, yard or patio, but are also handy cocktail ingredients, cheap to produce and very eco-friendly.
Fruits of your Labour
A great example of this is to be found at Saf in London’s Shoreditch, which won a Grey Goose cocktail competition to design their own ‘Dream Bar’ in 2009. The winning entry (from Joe McCanta) was a sustainable greenhouse bar that grew its own ingredients, recycled its water, composted the natural waste and was lit at night from solar panels that stored energy from the day.
The bar was built and now resides on Saf’s terrace, where it’s just about to enter its second summer season when the harvest of herbs and fruit will be showcased in the daily or weekly specials marked up on the large mirrors above the bar. During quieter times, there is even the option for customers to have a hand in selecting their ingredients, which the bartenders can then whip up into something a bit more bespoke.
If you don’t have the space – or inclination – to grow your own produce, then try at least to base your cocktail list around what is in season, as the resulting produce will invariably be cheaper and tastier.
Hannah Lanfear – Boisdale Canary Wharf, London
A light, summery cocktail that’s very refreshing – it would make a good brunch drink.
Glass: Chilled coupette
Garnish: Grapefruit zest (discarded)
Method: Short, sharp shake, fine-strained into a chilled coupette.
20ml Tio Pepe
20ml freshly squeezed pink
15ml freshly squeezed lemon juice
10ml honey syrup (3:1 honey to water)
Adam Winch – 25 Canonbury Lane, London
A lighter, more quaffable take on the classic Sangria, which can also be adapted to tap into the current trend for all things ‘rosé’.
Glass: 1.5ltr jug
Garnish: Seasonal fruits and mint
Method: Build all the ingredients over cubed ice.
500ml Sauvignon Blanc
500ml white grape juice
100ml lemon juice
50ml peach liqueur
50ml triple sec/orange liqueur (to turn into Rosé Sangria replace with cassis)
Cider House Rules
Brian Silva – Rules, London
The pear, apple and ginger are a natural trio. The gin and lemon add balance and dryness and the cider gives an almost champagne-like effervescence.
Glass: Chilled champagne flute
Method: Add all the ingredients except the cider into an iced shaker. Shake and strain into a chilled champagne flute. Top with dry cider. Stir before serving.
25ml pear purée
25ml apple juice
15ml No.3 Gin
7.5ml King’s Ginger
7.5ml lemon juice
100ml Gospel Green cider
Rock ‘a’ Rack Punch
Simon Douglas – Rock bar, Leeds
Arrack has layers of flavour that sit very well with the many fruity facets of a classic punch.
Garnish: Mango fan and sliced strawberry
Method: Shake all ingredients with ice and strain over fresh cubed ice.
50ml Ceylon Arrack
25ml freshly squeezed lime juice
20ml passionfruit purée
10ml strawberry liqueur
1 fresh passionfruit
2 slices fresh mango, muddled
Joe McCanta – Saf, London
One of Saf’s best-selling summer recipes. The aromatics of the fresh purple basil and chamomile syrup really bring out the botanicals of the gin.
Garnish: Basil flower and fresh sliced strawberry
Method: Muddle the strawberries, basil, syrup and lime. Add in the Angostura bitters and gin and shake well. Strain over fresh cubed ice.
2 fresh strawberries
2 purple basil leaves
20ml chamomile-hibiscus syrup*
15ml fresh lime juice
Dash of Angostura bitters
50ml Bombay Original gin
*Brew 1 cup of strong chamomile tea and steep with 50g of organic dried hibiscus leaves. Allow to cool and mix with 2 cups of agave. Store in a glass container in a refrigerator. Will last for several weeks.
Chris Edwardes – Aloha, Liverpool
Nicely balances the heat of the chilli, the sweet agave and the citrus. The smoked sea salt complements the cooked agave notes of the tequila
Glass: Highball (rimmed with Maldon smoked sea salt)
Garnish: 2 grapefruit wedges
Method: Shake and strain over cubed ice and top with soda.
50ml jalapeño-infused El Jimador Blanco Tequila
30ml freshly squeezed grapefruit juice
20ml lime juice
10ml freshly squeezed orange juice
15ml agave syrup
Earl of Ruin
Adam Winch – 25 Canonbury Lane, London
A fun and different way of sharing a drink, while the tea makes for a very refreshing summer cocktail ingredient.
Glass: Served in large teapot accompanied by two teacups and saucers
Garnish: Lemon wheel
Method: Build ingredients over cubed ice directly into the teapot.
150ml chilled Earl Grey tea
75ml white peach purée
50ml apricot liqueur
30ml lemon juice
30ml homemade cardamom syrup
Keep things simple
Don’t over-complicate things with long cocktail lists, which will confuse people and make them turn to the safety of a pitcher of the usual. Be brave and choose just one great house summer cocktail that is easy to make, delicious and with a great GP, and focus all your attention on selling it. It also makes sense to pre-mix these for speed as you don’t want people waiting for drinks, and it improves consistency.
The fruit, the whole fruit and nothing but the fruit
Display your fresh fruit in large bowls on the bar or backbar as a visual reference and for use in drinks – people love the thought that drinks with fresh fruit and juices in them are healthier and they will have fewer guilt issues ordering and drinking them. However, wastage on fruit in the summer is much greater, so either buy it daily or avoid displaying soft fruits, which go off quickly. For cocktails that use fruits such as blackberries, raspberries and currants, why not pop them in the freezer and garnish with frozen fruit? Frosty fruit looks great and will save you heaps.
Go local, go seasonal
If you are not already using seasonal English produce wherever possible, get with the times! Much better to use English strawberries than Israeli ones – you’ll be supporting the local economy and not burning carbon to get them here. You can then also use your eco credentials as a USP.
Sharing is caring
Even the trendiest cocktail bars should be devising ways in which to promote sharing drinks as they are easier to make than single cocktails and a great way to increase GP. A group of four drinkers may come in and order four rounds of single drinks (maybe not all of them cocktails), but if you can hit the first round with a pitcher, they are likely to order another three jugs. Easy to serve, more cash in the till for you and more sociable for them.
Make your own Mojitos
Bored of making bucket-loads of Mojitos? Then get the customers to make their own! A fun and easy way to get groups drinking cocktails can be to offer a cocktail-making set: six glasses, a small bunch of mint, a bottle of lime/sugar mix, an ice bucket and a carafe of rum… now run along and play nicely children!
Get the barbie on
Nothing is more inviting than a pub or bar with the smell of a BBQ wafting from it. Hook them in with the smells and run a Bloody Mary/burger combo or steak and bourbon evening.
Here are a few ideas for seasonal ingredients to highlight over the summer
June: Strawberries, elderflowers, cherries and gooseberries
July: Strawberries, black, red and white currants, raspberries, gooseberries, cherries, bilberries
August: Apricots, plums (early Laxton, Czar and Opal), cherries, loganberries, melons and greengages
September: Greengages, plums, figs, pears, bilberries, blackberries, grapes, pears, sloes, hawthorn and rowan, the first of the English apples – Worcester, Main and James Grieve
For a full guide to what’s in season when, visit eattheseasons.co.uk