“I use purees, and I don’t care who knows it!” crows Russell Owens, comfort center manager and beverage guru at Stevenson, OR-based 254-room hotel Skamania Lodge, part of the Englewood, CO Destination Hotels chain.
Owens is one of a growing number of bartenders who are not only using purees, mixers and tonics in drinks, but are showcasing them on cocktail lists. After a period in which many craft cocktailians proclaimed that “fresh is best,” a widening range of upmarket commercial products are finding a steady place in cocktail culture. For many bartenders, especially those supporting large-scale operations, these products are essential for streamlining service, ensuring consistency, extending the concept of seasonality and creating versatile and exciting drinks.
“When we’re in full season, we have just about anything you can think of in terms of fresh fruit,” continues Owens, who began using Perfect Puree products in March. “But it can be hard in the winter months. The thing I like about purees is you don’t have to worry what season you’re in, it can be January and you’re using mangoes. And I never want to try to puree enough mangoes to do a large banquet party!” For a resort with multiple venues and a conference center used for banquets and catering throughout the year, pre-pureed fruits can represent a huge time savings.
He uses the Yuzu Luxe Sour, the Rum Runner (a mix of banana and blackberry) and the El Corazon (passion fruit, pomegranate and blood orange) flavors for drinks like the Captain Yuzu, made with Captain Morgan spiced rum, yuzu luxe sour puree, apple pucker and soda water. He also did a version of it for their golf course venue, using Bacardi instead of spiced rum and Sprite instead of soda and called it the Double Bogey.
“One of the biggest key points for me is the fact that purees speed up drink production so much, it’s phenomenal,” Owens enthuses. “We come up with the cocktails that used to have five or six ingredients, but now have two or three because of the blends, so you push drinks out the door. It’s good for customers, but also for staff.”
He’s also a fan of blended juice purees, such as the Rum Runner tropical puree from the Perfect Puree beverage artistry line, which uses five different types of fruit. “We could do a shot of one and the other, but it definitely cuts down on the time for making drinks.” He uses it in the Logan’s Rum Runner, priced at $8 and a top seller at Skamania where he has sold a couple hundred drinks in an hour. “Everybody loves how it looks and the taste is refreshing enough to want another. It’s one of those drinks that people see walking by and want to know about it,” he notes. The drink is made with Rum Runner, pear nectar and Bacardi Silver Rum, garnished with slices of pear. “We still incorporate local flavors and big freshness, but the puree opens us up to more exotic flavors,” Owens says.
Yearlong Tropical Flavors and
Purees also allow bartenders, particularly in cooler climes, to offer certain flavors even in the off months. For instance Charles Joly, chief mixologist at The Drawing Room in Chicago and executive general manager of Three-Headed Productions, purees can stand in for exotic produce that might be hard to find, such as yuzu, a Japanese citrus fruit. Instead he uses Perfect Puree’s Yuzu Luxe Sour blend for its combination of “powerful flavor and acidity.” He also favors high-quality jams and preserves as a way to add fruit to drinks during lean season months.
Seth Hammond, is chef and general manager of eclectic American single-location restaurant Pomegranate Bistro in Redmond, Washington, where seasonal produce is not always an option for drinks. He also over sees beverage management for Lisa DuPar Catering, which accounts for 70 percent of total business, averaging about 1,700 events a year.
The Pomerita, priced at $9, is a Margarita riff using Perfect Puree Pomegranate and Raspberry Purees, as well as Jose Cuervo Gold Tequila and Grand Marnier, and is among the Bistro’s top sellers. “There’s no way we could do that year round with any consistency,” Hammond explains. “Pomegranates have such a short season, as do raspberries.”
And for larger venues and chain operations, purees and other ready-made ingredients are critical for speed, efficiency and to meet consumer requests. “The world is getting smaller through technology and science, and it does not make much sense to the new generation that we cannot have flavors due to seasonality,” says Ralph Ortiz, director of purchasing and beverage marketing for Real Mex Restaurants, who oversees 183 stores based in California and the Northwest, plus another 22 franchises. The brands, including El Torito, Acapulco, Chevys Fresh Mex, Las Brisas, and Casa Gallardo, focus on Mexican cuisine, and Margaritas and beer are the core beverage sellers.
“Mixes and purees are the keys to success through consistency,” Ortiz states. “I understand most mixologists today are raving about using as many fresh ingredients as possible. This is great and it certainly can work with a limited number of units. Our volume and our higher than average beverage sales mix compels me to ensure that I balance quality with consistency for our guests…. Our cantina guest’s high frequency is due to this consistency [of drinks].” Real Mex uses purees from Lyons Magnus in peach and raspberry flavors and Monin syrups like pomegranate. One of the most popular drinks is the Paloma for $6.75, made with squirt grapefruit soda, fresh grapefruit, citrus and tequila.
Sparkle on: Sodas, Tonics and More
High-end tonics such as Fever-Tree and Q Tonic also have captured the attention of bartenders. Commercial tonic water, bitter lemon and other sparklers all are used to add freshness and fizz to drinks. After all, the mixologist who seeks out a locally made artisanal gin is going to want a worthy companion for it in a Gin & Tonic.
Soft drinks are also being used as inspiration for new drinks. For example, Hammond recommends Reed’s Ginger Brew and the Dry Soda line. In fact, Dry’s Rhubarb Soda inspired the Strawberry Rhubarb Collins, priced at $8, “one of our best sellers ever.” It is made with fresh strawberries muddled with Ketel One vodka and topped with Dry’s Rhubarb Soda. They sell between 30 and 50 per day.
The Sparkling Lavender Lemon Drop, menued at $8, is another brisk seller, made with Absolut Citron Vodka, Chambord and lemon juice, topped with lavender Dry Soda.
In Las Vegas, Heidi Hinkle is director of beverages for the 4004-room ARIA Resort & Casino, with 33 bars and nearly 500 employees, ranging from busy casino bars to refined restaurants. Her “Signature Sips” cocktail program, comprising six drinks, spans all the venues, a list that Hinkle describes as “classic cocktails with a modern twist.” Most of the bars and restaurants also feature additional drinks that are available only at that particular venue.
She uses Perfect Puree and Boiron products to extend seasons and ensure consistency. An added bonus is that the products make it easier to estimate ingredient costs over the course of a year. “I need to make sure if a customer orders a signature drink at a showroom or buffet or gourmet steakhouse, their favorite drink will be the same no matter who makes it.”
Hinkle also serves a variety of bellinis made with purees, such as the top-selling Caramelized Pineapple Bellini and a Green Apple Bellini and Blood Orange Bellini, all good sellers.
Bartenders say that purees are a natural to blend into sophisticated non-alcoholic cocktails, which are popular with adults as well as kids.
“There’s a huge market for non-alcoholic beverages,” states Schaler. It is an “area that we’re trying to take advantage of.” Top sellers, both priced at $3.25, are the Strawberry Basil Lemonade, made with basil leaves, Monin strawberry syrup and Minute Maid Lemonade and the Minted Melon Smoothie, made with fresh mint, Monin Cantaloupe Syrup, house-made simple syrup and vanilla ice cream.
Even in Sin City, Hinkle says non-alcoholic drinks like the Island Fresh, made with strawberries and coconut puree for $8, are a frequent order. “In an area like mine, where we have families, we miss a whole dynamic of the customer when we don’t offer non-alcoholic drinks, and we use a lot of the purees for those.”
At Pomegranate in Redmond, the non-alcoholic Loco Colada at $3 is a top seller, made with Coco Lopez coconut milk, Perfect Puree banana puree and Ocean Spray cranberry juice.
Challenges and Sales Techniques
To make appealing drinks operators need to choose their products carefully: mixologists say to beware of overly ersatz syrups, or too-pulpy purees. “You have to experiment,” Hinkle warns. “It may not be a consistency you want to drink. You need to try different brands and ask for samples and try them out.”
Another challenge is whether the perfect flavor will be on offer at all. Skamania’s Owen looked to the food service side for a white peach puree, even though it was thicker than products intended for beverage use. It became part of a top-selling drink at the Greenside Grill, Arnie’s Uncle, for $8, is a play on the standard Arnold Palmer, is a refreshing mix of Jack Daniel’s, lemonade and peach puree, cut with iced tea.
For some, cocktail menus are what sell the drinks; for others, it’s a visual stunner of a cocktail that “sells itself.” At Off The Hook, Schaler employs cocktail booklets. “The minute anyone sits down at the bar or table, the first thing they do is grab that book and look at the photos, they’re so bright and colorful.”
In selling cocktails, operators also recommend that servers articulate where the drink ingredients come from, including purees and syrups. For Owens, who is in the process of writing a cookbook that includes cocktail recipes, he mentions Perfect Purees by name, so home cooks can easily re-create the drinks.
In talking about purees, mixers and tonics, most operators say they use a mix of prepared and fresh ingredients to craft cocktails – none eschew one or the other. Aria’s Hinkle stresses that purees are part of her cocktail program, but that it’s complementary to the fresh fruit also used, not an outright substitute. “It’s a matter of finding balance in your program,” she says, firmly. “It shouldn’t replace all your seasonal fruits with purees. It’s about finding where it fits in and finding the balance.”