How to Be Seasonal When Your Seasons Don't Change

Image: Grace Bay Resort (Bay Call cocktail)

If you operate a restaurant or bar in San Diego, South Beach or Sedona you might struggle a bit with the notion of “seasonality.” Sure, there may be a bit of variation in the weather, but they don’t share the same logistics associated with undergoing more extreme changes in climate (nor the evolving ingredients and palates that come with them).

Just how can you authentically and creatively switch things up every few months in locales fortunate enough to have never-ending sunshine and warm weather?

We asked (lucky) bartenders and managers in Hawaii, Turks & Caicos and Phuket, Thailand, for ideas.

First, there’s still the changing availability of produce and other fresh ingredients to grapple with; it just might be less noticeable or challenging than in regions with a definitive spring, summer, fall and winter.

“What we can do is take our harvesting schedule for seasonal island fruits and feature them at the peak,” says Blayne Yamamoto, director of food and beverage for Evolution Hospitality, including Grand Naniloa Resort, a DoubleTree by Hilton on the Big Island of Hawaii. In Hawaii, lychees are best when picked in June or July, while local tangerines thrive in the winter months.

Gary Manago, food and beverage director for the Hilton Waikiki Beach on Oahu, concurs, noting that mango and watermelon seasons usually peak in July; the Melon Delight captures that flavor, with a touch of grapefruit to balance the sweet and a splash of soda for effervescence.

Still, Manago says, a consistently great climate translates to a wide variety of produce year-round—and that makes for fabulous drinks. In California or Florida, that might mean citrus fruits, while in Hawaii it’s pineapples, papayas and cucumbers. “[That makes] it easier for our local and return visitors to enjoy our signature drinks any day of the year,” like the Lilikoi Mojito, Mango Mo’o, Mai Tai and Guava-rita.

Lilikoi—called passion fruit most other places—is an alternative way to add citrus to a drink as its flavor tends to be sharper and more pungent, and it’s prolific in tropical places. At the restaurants and bars at Trisara, a luxe all-villa resort on the northwest coast of Phuket in Thailand, three cocktails on the menu use the seed- and pulp-filled fruit which is sourced from their nearby organic farm Pru Jampa. Passionately also has pisco, Cointreau, lime, vanilla syrup and vanilla bitters; Phuket Greyhound adds it to vodka, Punt e Mes, rosella, lemon and egg white; and Wondermelon mingles it with vodka, Citrónge and watermelon. Passion fruit pulp is shaken with the rest of the ingredients to balance the sour and sweet. And Yamamoto’s Lilikoi Crème Brûlée Martini is a twist on the White Russian with passion fruit in two forms: puree and infused whipped cream.

Wondermelon cocktail at Trisara
Wondermelon cocktail at Trisara

When the temperatures drops in fall and winter in the Northeast and Midwest, guests increasingly turn toward brown spirits and spicy beverages. But does this shift occur when the mercury still reads a delightful 85 degrees? Absolutely, says Martin Donevski, mixologist at Grace Bay Resort, the first all-villa resort on Turks & Caicos. “In the summer we do more sour and fruity drinks, [while] in the winter we go more well as our specialty drinks for the holidays, including Christmas and the Fourth of July,” he says.

And while Donevski does get requests for bourbon drinks on rainy days, most guests stick with tropical, Caribbean rum-focused beverages no matter what. By far the most popular is the Bay Call, with Bambarra Reserve Rum (made on the island), lime juice, Angostura Bitters and Coco López (in the summer) or tamarind puree (in the winter). Either way, it’s served in a handmade conch shell mug garnished with hibiscus flower, and its spicy, tangy, tropical profile can deftly straddle all seasons.

“During the winter months, many people tend to think of ciders,” notes Yamamoto. But instead of serving up steaming tipples or toddies, he uses the blender for frozen sips like the Envy Me, which is topped with a scoop of vanilla ice cream “just to make people a little more envious of our guests being in our warm Hawaii weather.”

Donevski recommends that anyone who operates a bar in a tropical or endless-summer bar let the guests take the lead (and take a minimalist approach) with local ingredients, fresh lemon and lime, and simplicity in recipes year-round, and perhaps more spices, mezcal and aged (as opposed to silver) rum during the fall and winter. Manago suggests internal or external bartending competitions to help with inspiration and creativity, and Yamamoto stresses the importance of getting to know, rely on and learn from vendors and purveyors. But let’s face it: these bars are in relaxed places that emote a vacation vibe, so one philosophy reigns:

“Remember your clientele, what they are there for, take advantage of your scenery, and simply have fun with your creations!”

Lilikoi Crème Brûlée Martini at Naniloa Resort

Lilikoi Crème Brûlée Martini

Recipe and image courtesy of Grand Naniloa Resort, Hawaii

  • 1 oz. Vanilla vodka
  • ½ oz. Frangelico
  • 1 ½ oz. Lilikoi (passion fruit) puree
  • ½ oz. Cointreau
  • ½ oz. Half-and-half
  • Lilikoi-infused whipped cream, for garnish (see note)

Add all ingredients except garnish to a cocktail shaker, add ice, and shake until well chilled. Pour into a chilled cocktail glass and top with the whipped cream.

For the lilikoi-infused whipped cream:

Cut 3 fresh passion fruits in half, scoop out the seeds and pulp, and press them through a sieve to yield strained pulp and juice. Beat ⅓ cup whipping cream and 1-2 teaspoons of sugar with a chilled beater until stiff peaks form. Carefully fold in the passion fruit puree.

Envy Me cocktail at Naniloa Resort

Envy Me

Recipe and image courtesy of Grand Naniloa Resort, Hawaii

  • 3 oz. Pumpkin apple cider
  • 1 oz. Vanilla vodka
  • 1 oz. Fireball Whiskey
  • 1 scoop Vanilla ice cream
  • 2 Cinnamon sticks, for garnish
  • Dash of cinnamon, for garnish

Blend the cider, vodka and Fireball. Pour into a tall glass, top with a scoop of ice cream, and garnish with the cinnamon sticks and sprinkle of cinnamon.

Cranberry Breeze cocktail at Hilton Waikiki Beach

Cranberry Breeze

Recipe and image courtesy of Hilton Waikiki Beach, Oahu, Hawaii

  • 1 oz. White rum
  • ½ oz. Coconut rum
  • 1 ½ oz. Cranberry rum
  • 1 oz. Pineapple juice
  • Splash of ginger ale
  • Cherry and lime wheel, for garnish

Add the first four ingredients to a cocktail shaker, add ice, and shake until well chilled. Pour into a pilsner glass over fresh ice, top with a splash of ginger ale, and garnish with the cherry and lime wheel.

Bay Call cocktail at Grace Bay Resort

Bay Call

Recipe and image courtesy of Grace Bay Resort, Turks & Caicos

  • 2 oz. Bambarra Reserve Rum (or another good rum)
  • 1 oz. Fresh lime juice
  • 1 oz. Tamarind puree
  • 3 dashes Angostura Bitters
  • Hibiscus flower, for garnish

Add the first four ingredients to a cocktail shaker, add ice, and shake until well chilled. Strain into a tall glass over fresh ice and garnish with the hibiscus flower.

Kelly Magyarics, DWS, is a wine, spirits, cocktail and travel writer in the Washington, D.C. area. She can be reached through her website, or on Twitter and Instagram @kmagyarics