As the days grow warmer and the sun sets later in Malibu, now is the perfect time to toast the end of winter in Southern California. But not just any libation will do: Bar director Josh Curtis is refreshing Malibu Beach Inn’s cocktail menu with inventive, refreshing offerings that perfectly complement the season.
“Inspiration is everywhere — I pull from all kinds of things,” says Curtis. “I’m still trying to do things that are original, but I’m also trying to do things that are interesting and fun.”
In the spring spirit of renewal and growth, this means both unexpected, creative concoctions and ingredient-driven classics that incorporate the season’s freshest flavors. Here, an inside look at Curtis’ favorite cocktails and trends for spring, plus a simple at-home recipe to combine these boozy themes.
“I want to do things that are more interactive,” says Curtis. For example, “[Serving] a drink with coconut water actually in a coconut with some beautiful flowers — and making it taste incredible.” While a coconut presentation isn’t necessarily a brand-new concept, says Curtis, that doesn’t take away from the tiki-esque novelty of the experience. (After all, sipping from a coconut is always fun, especially when the cocktail inside is expertly crafted.)
“That’s an example of something that we would do on our spring menu, which might require a little more finesse,” explains Curtis. In the spring, bartenders in Malibu have more room to get creative and take their time before the bustling summer months.
Fresh citrus is always big for spring, says Curtis, so you’re sure to find it on the Malibu Beach Inn cocktail list. “I play with what’s going on seasonally,” say Curtis.
In line with spring’s creative ethos, though, the signature citrus cocktail this season at Malibu Beach Inn is anything but ordinary.
Lemon plays a starring role in one of the bar’s most exciting upcoming interactive cocktails. “We have something called the Second to Last Sunrise that has a butterfly pea flower tea in it — our bartender Bobby came up with it,” says Curtis. The butterfly pea flower tea lends the cocktail a blue hue, and lemon juice is served on the side. Pour the lemon juice in, and the drink changes from its azure color to a vibrant fuchsia, just like magic.
“For spring, we’re doing a lot of infused vermouths, which is fun,” says Curtis. There’s already chili-infused rum, vodka, and tequila to be found behind the bar, but infused vermouths are new to the roster. “We have a pineapple vermouth, which is a big hit,” he adds.
While infusions might sound like an involved process, they’re actually simple to DIY, he explains. “You can take some chili peppers and you can infuse them in a bottle of vodka for three days — you might find the red ones at the farmers market, but anything will work.”
Malibu’s ever-changing seasonal bounty is always reflected on the cocktail list, especially this spring. “We’re going to do a ‘farmarita,’ which is a farmers market margarita,” says Curtis. “I don’t think it ever really gets boring because it changes every season.”
The ingredients will change based on what’s fresh and available, but first up is a cherimoya-focused farmarita. “Cherimoya is this crazy-looking sea creature of a fruit — it almost looks like dragon [scales] or something. It’s totally not good until it’s [ripe], and then when it’s ready it’s unbelievable, like a custard,” says Curtis. As the season goes on, the farmarita will evolve (it might even be as simple as tangerines, he says).
And don’t be surprised if you run into Curtis himself perusing fresh produce at the farmers market — he plans to do some shopping himself this season to inspire his farmarita creations.
A Spicy Vodka Sour Cocktail
Back home, blend the citrus and infusion trends into one simple, flavorful spicy vodka sour. There are just three ingredients, but you can get creative with what kind of peppers you infuse your vodka with, the syrup or liqueur you use, and more. (“I like using Licor 43 a lot because it has vanilla notes,” says Curtis.)
As a general rule of thumb, think equal parts liquor and mixers, says Curtis. And feel free to estimate: “If you’re eyeballing a glass, you might just squeeze a whole lime in there, and then put equal parts syrup to the lime juice,” he says. Here’s how to make it yourself.
1.5 ounces chili-infused vodka
Juice of 1 lime
3/4 ounces honey or agave syrup, simple syrup, or liqueur
Put all ingredients in the small half of a shaker tin. Add ice and shake five times (so you don’t dilute the cocktail too much). Hawthorne strain your cocktail over fresh ice into a double rocks glass, garnish with a lime wheel, and enjoy.