Bartenders turn to floral, fruity flavors to mark change in seasons
Spring on the Gulf Coast is usually two words. The first is always spring. The second is usually break.
Up North, robins searching the yard for food foretells the end of winter. Here, it tends to be the arriving swarms of college-age men and women searching for … Well, leave it at just searching. So sayeth the late Robin Williams, “Spring is nature’s way of saying, ‘Let’s party!’”
No one around the Third Coast pays attention to February’s groundhog to forecast the arrival of spring.
“Spring starts when we have Spring Break,” said Allie Murphy, a general manager at Squeeze Ritas & Tequilas, 3204 Seawall Blvd. on the island.
The yearly southern migration of youth in late March is just one of the things that makes spring in the south of Texas something entirely unique to the rest of the world.
And April is the time for good Gulf Coasters to start spring cleaning, which, by the way, has nothing to do with closets, vacuum cleaners or smudged windows.
It means dusting off the gins, tequilas and vodkas and moving them up front where the dark stuff has been. It means stocking pantries and coolers with cocktail additives like blood oranges, fresh mint and cucumbers, and mixers like tonics, ginger ales and sparkling wines.
“When it starts feeling like spring, requests for the whiskeys and scotch do start slacking off a little bit and you start hearing more people asking for floral and fruity flavors,” said Reese Creppon, the creative bartender in the Tremont House’s Toujouse Bar in Galveston’s downtown. “And rum always makes a comeback.”
Mother Nature may use birds, buds and blossoms to herald spring, but Creppon knows the season has arrived by what drinks are leaving their winter homes behind the bar to the waiting customers in front.
When spring arrives at the bar, it really is a joyous time.
What could scream the first season’s arrival louder than a Pimm’s No. 1 Cup, the gin-based cocktail that heralds in the spring polo season in April; England’s Chelsea Flower Show in May; and June’s Wimbledon Tennis Championship. Traditionally embellished with cucumbers, fresh sprigs of mint and strawberries, it’s unquestionably a drink that shows winter the exit door.
While no one would suggest that winter on the Texas Coast has folks giving up their margaritas and mojitos — or shorts and flip-flops for that matter — they do go through sort of a cocktail rebirth this time of year.
“People drink frozen margaritas all year round, but when spring gets here and the weather starts warming up, we get a lot more requests for flavors,” Murphy said. “We see way more sales for strawberry, mango, peach and flavors like that.”
A top springtime seller is the Squeeze House Rita, sporting not just two tequilas and a little simple syrup, but a sprig of fresh mint, Murphy said. People obviously love mint, because they buy a lot of these.
What else makes the spring bar spring these days? Infused liquors, simple syrups and chopped garnishes all shout spring has arrived. The schnapps shelf needs to be full, considering this spirited alcohol can be found flavored with watermelon, sour apple, peach, berry, cherry, cranberry, raspberry, blueberry, pomegranate and grape, to name just a few. Try them all over ice and call it a punch.
Curacao, now available in bright green, red, orange, yellow, clear and brown as well as blue — all done with food coloring, by the way — adds not only a citrusy taste to any cocktail, it adds an explosion of color, kind of like putting a neon sign on your glass.
Coconut rums and liqueurs bring in the tropics. There is now a wide range of liqueurs and mixers that represent just about every flavor ever to come out on an orchard.
Unquestionably, Mother Nature has a friend in Creppon. He has invented the cocktail equivalent of the blue bonnet, daffodil or spring tulip. It’s called, appropriately, the Springtime Sipper.
Creppon created it last year, but its popularity guaranteed it would return. Made with a choice of vodka or gin for the alcohol base, the magic ingredient is unquestionably a splash of the French-made St. Germain Elderflower Liqueur.
“St. Germain is a little unusual and not something a lot of places carry in the bar, but I started experimenting with it a year or so back, using it as a margarita base,” he said. “It’s floral, but not too sweet. It works really well.”
The final touch is to let the spring sprung imbiber choose from an array of fruit and vegetables on hand to garnish it up. People don’t just order a drink, they harvest one.
Dark liquors don’t go away altogether when the solstice arrives, but they often dress differently. Bourbons often slip into something sweet — think mint julep or cherry cola. Whiskey sours, year-round classics, tend to be prepared less sour in the spring. And rum escapes from hot butter and steaming mugs to prance down the bar in the latest daiquiri, grog or colada.
So celebrate spring. Raise glasses to a glorious time of year. After all, in less than two months people will be drinking because they are hot and thirsty.
Created by Reese Creppon, bartender at Toujouse Bar
1¼ ounces gin or vodka (your preference)
½ ounce St. Germain (Elderflower Liqueur)
½ ounce simple syrup
½ ounce lime juice
Splash of Soda
Choice of fresh fruit — raspberry, blackberry, strawberry, blueberry or cucumber
Add first four ingredients to a highball glass.
Add the fruit or cucumber to the glass.
Muddle the fruit or cucumber inside the glass.
Add ice and splash of soda.