In the first of a new series, Monica Berg from Tayēr + Elementary walks us through her approach to seasonal drinks, opening up the calendar to spring.
It’s funny that when you work with the seasons, they are both endlessly predictable, yet so uncertain. Predictable because once you know the growth season of an ingredient, you realise this never changes; forced rhubarb will come end of January and within a few weeks blood oranges start to appear – and around then fennel will be big and juicy, as will pomegranate.
The reason I also say uncertain is because when you start to rely on seasonality and the fickle nature of, well, nature, you realise how little control you have. Produce that comes to you more or less straight from the ground, in its natural season, will always vary from year to year. Most of us are familiar with vintages in wine and, in the same way, our fruits and vegetables are subject to the same variables: sunshine, temperature, rainfall, soil health and the practices of the farmer – anything, really, that affects the growth season will also affect the flavour. This is the reason I still dream about the gooseberries we received in the summer of 2020 and will forever miss the flavour of wild sea buckthorn from Norway.
One of the critiques of our bar is that we don’t use much citrus – which isn’t true, we just don’t use it in the way you might expect. In Europe, citrus is a winter crop and it starts (more or less) in late November and lasts until the end of March. Some of my favourite flavours of all time are from this family of fruits – meyer lemon, blood orange, yuzu, (green) mandarin and bergamot – but if I'm honest, I’m citrussed out. Its endless use can start to feel monotonous.
In season now
One of the first highlights of spring for us is the arrival of the Alphonso mango. Why? Because unlike citrus, it’s a polarising ingredient to work with. Known as the king of mangos, this variety is sweet, fatty, aromatic and decadent, but it also offers a lot of variety during its very short season, which is normally six weeks. My favourite phase is the beginning of the season, where it still has some freshness – to me often the notes of oud and hints of sandalwood – before it moves into juicy, fruity, tropical zestiness and finally ends up in heavy, rich, velvety (sticky) mango decadence.
As it comes in, the first thing we do is to taste it, so we can decide in which direction to go. If you catch it early enough, you can go down the route of a light sour-style drink, whereas if its mango that’s slightly later into the season, you do a richer, fruitier and more spirit-forward drink, as the mango will have lost its top notes as it ripens.
Both directions will have the same prep schedules, however the development will vary. We always start out with our ‘power of 3’: high-abv infusion, low-abv infusion and sugar maceration.
High-abv infusion in spirit because this makes up the base of the drink – alcohol is a great carrier of flavour, and this will give you a one-dimensional expression of what the Alphonso mango itself tastes like. Second, a low-abv infusion, which in most cases means sherry or fortified wine, as this will add more of the nuances you get from the flesh of the Alphonso. Lastly, we’ll do a syrup, 1:1 fruit to sugar, to capture some of the texture and aromatics – this helps to complete the bigger (flavour) picture and reassemble the preps back into something that will taste like the Alphonso, but now drinkified.
If this doesn’t yet sound like one of our drinks to you, then you’re probably right, because when we work with ingredients, we work on a timeline basis of now, whenever and future prep. Now means more or less within two weeks, which is the fastest time an ingredient comes in and makes it on the menu. Whenever is prep that is dormant once finished and can go on the menu at any time. Future means prep that takes longer to be ready – for example, a fruit wine or vinegar.
Most of our drinks highlight a singular ingredient, in its natural season, and have elements of all three preparations in order to add as much complexity into the drink, without ever straying too far away from the framework of the ingredient itself. This is why we think of time as the secret ingredient in many of our drinks.
So, nature is both very predictable and so uncertain. And when you choose to work seasonally with amazing ingredients, you come to a point where you understand this – and there are only two things that really matter: you need to get comfortable with the uncomfortable and you need to be brave enough to do as little as possible. This is often the starting point of delicious.