When the weather heats up, guests look to frozen drinks to cool down. Consumers today are more knowledgeable about spirits and cocktails and they’re more adventurous and willing to try new beverages. So some bar and restaurant operators are going beyond the standard frozen Margaritas and Mudslide.
“Bartenders are way more creative and also way more talented than in the past when it comes to frozen drinks,” says Eddie Mahoney, operating partner for the upscale sports bar The Fifty/50 in Chicago. “The craft cocktail trend has made its way to the frozen drink menu.”
On the bar’s 50-seat patio, as well as at its 150 seats inside, the Frozen Mule ($12) is a popular order. A combination of Stoli vodka, freshly squeezed lime juice and house ginger syrup made via sous vide in an immersion circulator, the Mule is blended with water and frozen in a slushy machine.
At Soda & Swine, a casual neighborhood eatery with two locations in San Diego, staff approaches frozen recipes with craft cocktails in mind. It’s a trend that is catching on, says bar manager Nick Zerance.
But he notes that his guests tend to gravitate towards frozen drinks that have one distinct, overarching flavor, rather than those with complexity and multidimensional notes often found in more elevated sips.
Here are a few trends, tips and tricks for fabulous frozen cocktails.
1) Reach For The Ice Cream Scoop
Ice-cream-based drinks draw on feelings of nostalgic summer childhood memories. They also let guests be a little indulgent. At the 396-seat family-friendly steakhouse RingSide Grill in Portland, OR, staff offers several cocktails that start with a higher-fat-content ice-cream recipe dispensed from a soft- serve machine for texture and speed of service.
Liquid ingredients are mixed and pre-chilled into a metal mixing tin, then combined with the ice cream using a milkshake-style mixer. The drinks are served in thick, chilled milkshake glasses with their respective garnishes, says bar manager Geoffrey Rich.
RingSide Grill’s summer 2017 cocktail shakes include the Dreamsicle, with Absolut mandarin vodka, orange juice and triple sec; the Edelweiss, with Absolute mandarin, apricot brandy and Grand Marnier; a frozen Grasshopper with white crème de cacao and green crème de menthe; and the Velvet Hammer, with Absolut vanilla, triple sec and dark crème de cacao. All are priced at $9.
Rich cautions that both the cold temperature and the fat content tend to dull the final taste of the drink. “Finding stronger flavor liquors and liqueurs that will stand up to these two factors is essential,” he says.
2) Test and Taste
Soda & Swine’s menus offer several Champagne Slushies (all priced at $9), including a Mimosa with Opera Prima brut sparkling wine, orange juice, lemon juice and simple syrup; Raspberry, with vermouth, cava, lemon, raspberry and bitters; and Pom Royale, with vermouth, cava, lemon, grenadine and bitters.
“We begin by putting together a recipe and freezing a small batch,” Zerance says. “It’s important to see what flavors were lost in the freezing process and how the flavors balance once the texture changes.” Once perfected, the batches are poured into and served from the slushie machine.
3) Opt for the Hand Crush
Machine-generated frozen drinks will never go out of style, especially at high-volume bars, says Caitlyn Ritz, head bartender at Ho-Ho-Kus Inn & Tavern, a 150-seat, 1790s landmark in Ho-Ho-Kus, NJ. But the property’s two bars are “smaller, intimate spaces for an artisanal experience,” she points out. So Ritz prefers to hand-crush Margaritas with a muddler while infusing them with herbs and fresh fruit for a snow-cone effect and texture.
The Blackberry Gin Margarita mixes gin with crème de cassis and lemon juice, crushed by hand. The bottom layer of the Double Decker Coco-Passion Daiquiri uses Bacardi white rum, coconut water, lime juice/zest and simple syrup; it’s topped with a hand-muddled mixture of 1703 Eclipse Mount Gay rum, passion fruit purée, simple syrup, coconut water and lime. All drinks are priced $12 to $13.
4) Batch When Possible
Batching is definitely the way to go with frozen drinks at busy concepts. Party Fowl, a 140-seat casual restaurant in Nashville that specializes in fried chicken and other local eats, has six boozy slushies on the menu. They are poured directly from the frozen machine, which means little to no prep for bartenders.
“We try to focus on a playful and light environment, and boozy slushies are a perfect way for us to keep our cocktail program from being too serious, but also to elevate the menu from simple, single-pour liquors and beer,” notes manager Josh Henneman. The Port Light cocktail ($11) mixes Cooper’s Craft bourbon with passion fruit, pomegranate and lemon. The Bluegrass Buck ($12) has Cooper’s Craft bourbon, sour mix and both ginger and strawberry syrups, while the Riunite Rita ($14) tops an Olmeca Altos Reposado Margarita with a mini bottle of Riunite Lambrusco upended in the glass.
“The colors are fun and pleasant to the eye, and the flavors are unique,” adds Henneman. One of the most popular frozen sips on Party Fowl’s menu is the Bourbon Bushwacker ($10), an adult chocolate milkshake with plenty of bourbon.
5) Keep Your Tools Cool
“We have found the most success in having the liquid ingredients measured and portioned into individual servings, having glassware chilled ahead of time and having plenty of ice-cream base on hand,” says Rich. To ensure the best texture, everything—including liquid ingredients and glassware—must be kept cold.
The same goes for your hardworking slushie machine—make sure it doesn’t get too hot. “We had a bit of trouble in the past keeping our machine at peak performance in years past because it was directly in the sun,” says Matt Allred, lead bartender for the 100-seat DNV Rooftop and 128-seat Asian-inspired Zentan at the Donovan House hotel in Washington, D.C. Since moving it indoors to an air-conditioned room, he says, the machine now hums like a champ.
Allred uses the slushie machine for drinks such as the Butt Dial Slush ($14), with Absolut Citron vodka, shiso and mint tea, Midori melon liqueur and lime, and the Pocket Text Slush ($14), with Absolut Mandarin, Cointreau, Drambuie and red bell pepper purée.
Booze-forward drinks like these can be taxing on a slushie machine, he points out. “Seeing as 80-proof spirits freeze well below the settings on your common frozen drink machine, we remedy with a bit of water and juice, which effectively freezes around it,” Allred explains.
6) Ride the Frosé Wave
Frozen rosé or “frosé” was all the rage last summer, and it’s likely to remain a popular option this season. Mastro’s Ocean Club, a 150-seat restaurant in Malibu, CA, part of the 15-concept Mastro’s Restaurants, offers Frosé All Day ($15) exclusively during brunch. The cocktail combines Billette Côtes de Provence rosé with Bacardi grapefruit rum, Perricone lemonade and a splash of Monin peach purée, served frozen in a wine glass and garnished with a slice of grapefruit and mint.
A frozen version of another wine cocktail is on trend at Decades, an 800-seat retro-inspired nightclub in Washington, D.C. “Sangria itself has been popular for years, but more and more venues are adding frozen sangria to their menus and customizing [them] to fit their specific needs,” notes Lauren Bozorgmehr, one of the club’s head bartenders. The club’s White Peach Sangria ($13) is made with white wine, vodka, peach schnapps, lemonade and a dash of simple syrup.
7) Enable Easy Customization
Decades also serves a popular Strawberry Basil Lemonade cocktail ($13), with strawberry vodka, basil-infused syrup and lemonade, and a selection of frozen Margaritas, Daiquiris, Slushies and Coladas. What’s more, they are sold in a “choose-your-own-adventure” option.
“The great thing about our frozen drink selection is that the liquor is not already included in the drink,” Bozorgmehr points out. “This means that you can pick and choose your favorite liquor, or you can enjoy them as virgin drinks too if you’re driving home.”
Rotating flavors on different evenings mean patrons can experience different drinks each time they visit; they are priced at $7 for non-alcoholic drinks, and $12 for spirited versions.
8) Popsicle Cocktails
Wet, a 267-seat rooftop pool bar at the 517-room W Fort Lauderdale Hotel, recently launched a new cocktail experience with The Hyppo Gourmet Ice Pops, a Florida purveyor offering 450 flavors of ice pops. Cocktails are served with an ice pop inside the cup, which adds flavor as it melts (pictured atop).
“You can combine the flavor of your cocktail with the twist of a frozen all-gourmet ice pop,” says Carlos Figueroa, the manager of restaurants and bars. “Together, it’s truly a unique and refreshing experience.”
Wet offers seven frozen cocktails priced at $15 each, including the Banana Hammock, with Sailor Jerry rum, banana purée, lime and Angostura bitters; Pisco Passion with Pisco Porton, lime, passion fruit and Angostura bitters; and Guava Sin with Herradura silver tequila, guava purée and triple sec. Angostura bitters find their way into several of the frozen drinks—Figueroa says they add flavor and a small spicy kick.
At the DNV Rooftop, Allred offers Selfie Sticks ($15), a trio of boozy popsicles whose flavors evolve as the season does. Flavors have included red sangria and dark rum coffee.
For any bar churning out a lot of frozen cocktails, Bozorgmehr recommends keeping the menu simple, using a slushie machine and making sure staff is trained in how much of to pour, what glassware to use and how to fully operate any machines or blenders.
Following these tips, she says, will make creating frozen drinks “an easy, pain-free feat that will keep your guests cool and satisfied during the summer months.” Bring on the brain freeze.
Kelly Magyarics, DWS, is a wine, spirits and lifestyle writer and wine educator in the Washington, D.C. area.