The fresh cocktail movement has been making its way across the U.S. for years. This focus on artisanal, fresh cocktails continues to evolve as bar managers are taking their queue from the kitchen in the mixers and purees that they choose. Frozen purees and freshly made syrups that have been commonplace in the kitchen for years are now being used behind the bar, replacing the sweeter mixers of years past.
“There has been a big shift coming from the cities away from sweet cocktails to more balanced cocktails,” explains Chris Simons, restaurant, bar and beverage manager at the 262-room The Jefferson Hotel in Richmond, Virginia. “I started seeing this in our market about a year ago.”
Bar managers agree that the kitchen has played a key role in the decision to switch to more natural purees and drink styles. “The fruit purees were used in making sorbets and by pastry chefs and a lot of bartenders started to realize they are really great fruit flavors,” says Jonathan Pogash, the “Cocktail Guru” who consults for New York City restaurants like Madison & Vine, The Empire Room, The Campbell Apartment and Bookmarks Lounge. “A lot of inspiration for the bar comes from the kitchen.”
The focus for mixers continues to be on high-end and exotic, in a move away from the sweet blender drinks, say many bar managers. Frozen purees, artisan syrups and high-end sodas allow bars to serve consistent cocktails despite the season and consumers are literally drinking them up.
The decision to use pre-made purees over fresh-squeezed juices often comes to consistency—giving bartenders the ability to make a balanced drink despite the season—and the availability of specific juices. The bar managers we spoke with use a mix of fresh juices with the ready-made purees that include brands such as The Perfect Purée of Napa Valley, Monin, Boiron and Funkin.
“They used Perfect Puree in our pastry department and we saw how consistent it was,” says Simons, who regularly uses Perfect Purée, Fever Tree Tonic and Gosling Ginger Beer in his high-end cocktails. “It makes our bartenders’ lives easier.”
He notes that the purees are easy to stack in the freezer and are high quality. “The quality is something that matches what we can do,” Simons explains. “We try to make fresh juices whenever possible, but a lot of time the fruit we need isn’t available.”
Pogash has been using frozen fruit purees for years and says his use of purees versus fresh fruit is about a 50-50 mix. “It’s easy and it’s already prepared,” he explains. “Sometimes the decision is seasonal and sometimes it’s just that we are not able to get certain things.”
For example, for Madison and Vine, he created Blackberry Fizz, which mixes Boiron Blackberry Puree, Beefeater Gin, Lillet Blonde, fresh lime juice, simple syrup and Veuve de Vernay sparkling wine. “We use fresh blackberry when available and abundant,” he says, “but for winter, fall and spring, we use the puree from Boiron.”
“There are other instances like the coconut puree, where you probably can’t even it do it yourself. Also passion fruit is hard and expensive to buy en-masse.”
At the six-location Burtons Grill of Boston, Christopher Little, manager, also uses purees for hard to find flavors. “We use Perfect Puree Passion Colada,” he says. “Before we were using coconut milk, but it has a gritty texture. This improves the drink—it’s not overly sweet and has the tart element with the passion fruit that curbs the sweetness.”
His Piña Colada Martini ($9) is made with Bacardi Rock Coconut, Stoli Vanil, Perfect Puree Passion Colada and pineapple juice.
Little notes that they still also create many mixers in-house, including sour mix, simple syrup and Bloody Mary mix. “It’s for better quality and a point of pride behind the bar,” he says. “The bar is the original display kitchen: fresh cut fruit and real ingredients that you can see elevate the service you are giving at the bar.”
For Jason Asher, former bar manager at the 105-room Sanctuary on Camelback in Paradise Valley, Arizona, using purees comes down to the hot Arizona sun. “It’s warm here, so to put drinks on the menu that are a little heavier… won’t work,” he explains. He says the menu can be seasonal, but needs to stay light and refreshing.” He is now a co-owner of AZ Mixology.
He utilizes Perfect Purée of Napa Valley and Funkin brand purees in many of his drinks. For example, a popular drink is the Paloma, made with Perfect Purée Passion Fruit, El Tesoro Platinum, lime, grapefruit and simple syrup.
As with all other categories of products behind the bar, mixers are seeing a plethora of new flavors pop up.
Bar managers are excited about the possibilities the frozen purees present. “You are seeing some of the newer flavors like cucumber puree coming out,” notes Little. “Flavor-wise in the fall, I’d like to see purees that have cinnamon or clove. When it’s a one-shot deal, it’s easier to make sure they are done correctly in-house.”
Asher agrees, “The savory side of the world is making an impact on mixology. They are making things like ginger and yuzu purees.” For example, he created the Beet Yuzu Gimlet, ($12) made with Bombay Sapphire, beet juice, watermelon juice, Perfect Puree Yuzu and simple syrup.
Sodas and Beers
Other mixers like tonics and sodas have also taken a turn to the higher-end where bar managers are highly aware of the flavors and the balances these sodas provide. Instead of the old standard (often corn-syrup laden) tonics, they are moving to higher-end versions that they say create great cocktails.
“Fever-Tree has a whole line of mixers: ginger beer, tonics and ginger ale,” say Pogash. “These are all natural and you can taste the flavors.”
“We are going for the smaller artisanal ingredients,” he continues. “People may not have heard of them, but it creates a story and conversation at the bar.” Pogash also notes Barritts Ginger Beer and Q Tonic out of Brooklyn as other brands he uses.
Simons also uses Fever-Tree sodas in cocktails and non-alcoholic drinks. For example, he make a take on the Arnold Palmer with the Fever-Tree Lemon Tonic, lemon verbena from the restaurant’s garden, homemade honey syrup and a Perfect Purée (often blood orange or mango) with fresh mint ($6).
When it comes to sodas and tonics, Burtons uses the Stirrings products. “All of their sodas have a Champagne-style bubble,” explains Little. “We make it a point of services aspect for us. For example, when a guest orders a gin and tonic, we bring the bottle over and serve it table side, leaving the bottle for the customer to adjust the strength.” He also makes a Ketel One Citrus Sage Collins ($8) using the Stirrings soda water. “The fine bubbles really liven up the drink and give it a nice body and effervescence.” It’s made with Ketel One Citron, sage simple syrup, muddled lemon chunks, sugar and Stirrings Club Soda.
The popularity of the Dark and Stormy on cocktail menus has led to the use of higher-end ginger beers at the bar, say bar managers. Simons uses Goslings Ginger Beer for the more traditional Dark and Stormy. In addition, the Ginger Mojito ($10) is made with mint from the restaurant’s garden, Bacardi Silver, Canton Ginger Liqueur and Goslings Ginger Beer.
As more and more of the high-end ingredients become accessible across the country, bartenders and bar managers will continue to use them to supplement their wares at the bar.
“The way cocktails are trending these days—they are getting more complex and interesting—they rely on the right balance of flavor and that‘s what these mixes provide,” explains Little. “You always know what you are going to get.”