Today’s new dessert-flavored cocktails are hardly your grandmother’s Brandy Alexanders. Rather, they are a contemporary, sweet way for operators to cap a dinner or a night out by putting the bartender rather than the pastry chef to work.
“Operators realize they have an opportunity to make guests feel they can splurge without getting dessert to end the evening,” says Adam Seger, a Chicago-based mixologist, consultant and founder of HUM Spirits. “It’s a reinvention of the old Grasshoppers and Brandy Alexanders and part of the resurgence of cocktails.”
Ingredients that Seger and other bartenders are seeing pop up in the dessert drink category include chocolate-infused wine, vanilla and chocolate-infused vodka, various liqueurs, chocolate syrup, sweet cream, ice cream, egg whites, pistachios and other things from the pastry kitchen. Some drinks are combining sweet and savory ingredients, such as salted caramel and chocolate.
Fans of these cocktails sometimes order them before dinner as an aperitif, but more typically they’ll order one either after dinner or as a night cap, especially with suggestive selling by servers, Seger says. Sometimes they are even indulgently paired with desserts, such as dark chocolate truffles.
A Range of Flavors
Spirits normally used in drier cocktails also can form the base of a dessert drink, such as the Egg & Dart Fizz, priced at $9, served at the new Egg & Dart, a modern Greek restaurant and lounge in Miami’s Design District. It’s made with an American gin, egg white, lemon, powdered sugar, sweet cream and Hum and is served in a highball glass over ice.
“It’s a finisher, but it can be a beginner to cleanse the palate,” says David Ortiz, a consulting mixologist. “It’s inspired by the Ramos Gin Fizz.” Co-owner Costas Grillas says he expects this signature drink to be a huge seller that will increase bar profits.
Café Con Leche incorporates egg yolk with Caffe Lolita chocolate-accented coffee liqueur and Goslings dark rum at Lantern’s Keep in New York. Meaghan Dorman, the restaurant’s consulting mixologist, says this and other dessert cocktails are becoming popular after the theater. “They want a cocktail instead of a dessert, and they see that these cocktails are meant to be sweet without being overloaded with sugar.” The drink sells for $14.
Lantern’s Keep markets this profitable category that makes use of an array of spirits via two-way communication between staff and guests. “The staff is taught to sell them by asking the guest what they are in the mood for or what spirit they prefer,” Dorman explains.
Cocoa di Vine, a chocolate-infused wine, often is paired with 80-percent dark chocolates at Ayza Wine Bar in New York. The two tend to work well together because of the balance of sweet and bitter, says Lea Williams, general service manager.
“People are looking for something different than just a glass of wine with cheese,” she notes. She also recommends bitter espresso-flavored chocolates paired with the sweet Cocoa di Vine.
Not all operators are pairing these cocktails with sweets. A chocolate-flavored beverage and savory sandwich meats form an unlikely, but popular pairing at the family-friendly Brooklyn Diner, where co-owner John Fireman and his partners came up with their Godiva Chocolate Liqueur Egg Cream, priced at $9, for their adult customers. Based on the classic Egg Cream that originated in New York candy stores with soda fountains, this version contains Godiva Chocolate Liqueur instead of non-alcoholic chocolate syrup in addition to half-and-half and seltzer in an old-fashioned soda glass.
“We wanted a way for parents to drink them enhanced with liqueur when they’re with their kids. Our guests drink them during the meal—they’re light enough to accompany the food,” Fireman says.
This spiked Egg Cream is served at both the restaurants’ New York locations and at the new outpost in Dubai, attached to a 619-room InterContinental Hotel, where serving beverage alcohol is legal, Fireman notes.
Frosting-flavored Cupcake Vodka in the Orange Passion cocktail, priced at $7, at The Kezar Pub in San Francisco, combined with Grand Marnier, orange juice and half-and-half, has taken infused vodkas to another level, says Cyril Hackett, owner. “It’s like drinking a birthday cake,” he explains.
As is the case with most such dessert-inspired cocktails at Kezar and other venues, they sell especially well to younger clientele, concentrated in the 21- to-35-year-old age range, particularly to women. “There has been a mainstream trend for flavored vodka. This is pushing the limits a little further, and it seems to be working,” Hackett says.
Zü Vodka, a bison grass, is the base of the Pride of Poland cocktail, priced at $14, at the Meat Market, a contemporary steak house in Miami Beach. Inspired by the restaurant’s crème Brule, the cocktail also contains muddled pistachios, fresh vanilla bean, simple syrup, egg white and lemon bitters. It’s garnished with a vanilla bean in a chilled coupe glass.
Customers drink the frothy cocktail both before and after dinner. “It fits into the concept, since our cocktails are focused on classics but with a South Florida influence,” says Brijette De Berardinis, beverage director. All servers and bartenders are well-trained in cocktail ingredients and appeal and can direct customers looking for a sweeter taste to this drink.
Dessert cocktails are a good way to use cordials and liqueurs that can often sit on the bar shelves, claims Scott Schilvers, general manager of New York’s Columbus Tavern, a neighborhood restaurant. The Agave Kiss, priced at $12, for instance, a mixture of Herradurra Silver Tequila, Chambord, crème de cacao and heavy cream, garnished with chocolate flakes and raspberries, is one example.
Columbus Tavern markets dessert drinks, which create add-on profits, on a printed cocktail menu, through servers’ verbal promotion and visually when customers see how colorful they look when other tables order them, Schilvers says. “Cocktail menus do move drinks and liquor that people ordinarily would not think of ordering,” he notes.
Ice cream drinks are also back as part of the dessert cocktail resurgence. Chicago mixologist Seger recently created a coconut curry ice cream drink with Hum botanical spirits that was served at some special events at Chicago restaurants. Who knows what other sweet treats are yet to come?