Like a quick change artist or a shape shifter, the latest summer sips are able to deftly transform, right before your eyes. So-called morphing cocktails—whose aroma and flavor profiles change as guests sip them due to the effect of infused ice cubes melting in the glass—enable guests to sample several libations in one.
And because these trendy cubes contain liqueurs, spirits or juices instead of just frozen water, the longer the drinks sit on the bar top, the more interesting and flavorful they become.
“The appeal of morphing drinks is that you don’t have to drink four cocktails in order to get a diverse experience for your palate,” says Derek Lewis, general manager of food and beverage for Kachina Southwestern Grill. The 210-seat restaurant and bar in Westminster, CO, specializes in cuisine with Mexican, pioneer and Native American influences. “Our guests can get a range of sensations over time, as well as an interactive experience,” he says.
The Diplomat cocktail ($9) at Kachina has house-smoked ice cubes, made by placing a vessel of water in the smoker for 90 minutes, before cooling and straining it, and freezing it in large ice cube trays. The drink stirs house-aged Republic tequila, Solerno blood orange liqueur and Domain de Canton ginger liqueur, served over a smoked cube.
Lewis says while dilution is part of making any great drink, overdoing it will mute the flavors and destroy a drink’s balance. But with morphing cocktails, dilution adds flavor.
“One of the best parts about drinking a great wine is how the flavors evolve in your glass,” he notes. “The smoked ice cube is how we chose to translate that into a cocktail.” He says guests often order a second one to see how sipping the drink at a different rate changes it.
FUN AND FUNKY
Slowly melting ice has the potential of transforming a cocktail into a different drink entirely. At Casa Luca, an Italian restaurant in Washington, D.C., the Il Palio cocktail ($12) morphs from one classic sip to another.
The drink stirs Maker’s Mark bourbon, Cocchi vermouth and a healthy dash of orange bitters over an ice cube infused with Campari, all garnished with a wide orange peel. The drink starts as a Manhattan; as the Campari ice melts, it changes into a Boulevardier.
“Our guests love this drink, from the stunning color of the Campari to the way the drink transforms itself,” says owner/chef Fabio Trabocchi. “It’s sophisticated, delicious and fun.” Trabocchi admits that there is decidedly a novelty factor with this style of drink that appeals to guests, but flavor is paramount. “It can’t just be a gimmick. It has to elevate the experience for the guest,” he says.
At Filini, a 150-seat contemporary Italian restaurant and bar in Chicago, bartender Ergys Dizdari created the Morphing Juniper ($12). The cocktail combines Bombay Sapphire gin, Carpana Antica sweet vermouth and maraschino liqueur, served over a cube made with sweet vermouth and maraschino liqueur in a four to one ratio. Because these cubes contain no water, the drink actually gains potency as it’s sipped.
Second Home Kitchen + Bar, an 100-seat modern American restaurant in Denver, offers a cocktail called The Grapefruit-A-Go-Go ($11). A top-selling cocktail for several years, the Grapefruit-A-Go-Go is made with Absolut vodka, St. Germaine, honey syrup and prosecco, and served over small, round ice cubes made with grapefruit juice and water: It changes from a sweet vodka Martini to a riff on the Greyhound.
“We wanted to create an exciting cocktail that would please all of our guests, be fun to drink and a great conversation piece,” says Second Home general manager Megan McGinness.
She encourages operators to have fun with the concept, and explore different shapes and flavors to find what best fits in with a bar or restaurant’s brand. McGinness is experimenting with a moonshine- and lemonade-based cocktail with blackberry moonshine ice cubes, as well as freezing different varieties of tea to serve in lemonade-based refreshers—a unique twist on the Arnold Palmer.
Morphing cocktails have their challenges—as well as their detractors. Chauncey Scates, lead bartender at the 56-seat modern urban restaurant Square 1682 in Philadelphia, was excited to experiment with this style of drink. She recently created different ice cube infusions that would coax out the complex aromas and flavors of six high-end tequilas sipped solo.
Scates’s enthusiasm quickly waned, however, when her results were less than satisfactory. “After running extensive testing and sampling, I found that the morphing element—though fun and kind of cool—didn’t really enhance the experience in a way in which I was proud of, and actually worked contrary to the experience,” she says.
Kachina’s Lewis admits that morphing cocktails aren’t a fit for all concepts or guests. “Depending on how quickly or slowly they drink, it may not turn out to be the experience they are looking for.” He recommends that staff prepare to articulate to patrons the purpose of the kicked-up ice, and what to expect as they sit and enjoy the libation.
Ergys has some advice for those wishing to successfully incorporate these metamorphosing libations. “Carefully choose the ingredients, because it might start right and change into something bad.”
And he and Lewis both agree that ongoing taste testing during the experimentation process is key. “When creating this type of cocktail, bartenders need to taste the cocktail at the beginning, and all the way through, to make sure the drink is not changing into something undesirable.” •
Hard Rock Spikes Shakes and Presses Fruit
Cured pork and a coffee press figure into two new popular summer cocktails at Hard Rock Café, the music-themed dining chain headquartered in Orlando, FL. The sweet and savory Twist & Shout ($8 to $10, depending on location) blends Bacardi Oakheart spiced rum, Guinness stout, dark crème de cacao, Monin Salted Caramel syrup, chocolate syrup and Ben & Jerry’s vanilla ice cream, poured into a caramel- and chocolate-swirled glass, and topped with whipped cream, caramel and chocolate swirls, and—in a nod to the ongoing trend—crisp Applewood smoked bacon.
“Ice cream is always a big hit on those hot summer days, so why not kick it up a notch?” says Cindy Busi, director of beverage for Hard Rock’s 180 locations worldwide.
For the Red Berry Press (priced at $8 to $10), Hard Rock bartenders place hulled and sliced strawberries, along with raspberries and lemon wedges, in a French press. The fruit is gently pressed and topped with Svedka Clementine vodka, house-made lemonade and Sierra Mist soda. After the press is delivered to the table, guests can press it several more times to incorporate the fruit’s flavor.
“Guests get to interact with the press and continue to pour their own cocktail,” notes Busi, who likens the drink’s fresh quality and true-to-life-flavors to that of a freshly muddled Mojito. “We spent a year developing and testing these drinks in the United States and internationally, and our guests are loving the innovation, as well as the taste profile.”
I Scream, You Scream For Boozy Frozen TreatsThe founders of BuzzBar were inspired to create their boozy treats-on-a-stick as a way for guests to easily enjoy a spirited ice cream or sorbet at a show, club or event. The resultant ice cream bars are made with all-natural ice cream, organic dairy and whole food ingredients, and just the right amount of spirited kick. The Los Angeles-based company currently offers six flavors, including Bourbon St. Chocolate, with chocolate ice cream and whiskey, and Citrus Berry Drop, with raspberry lemon drop sorbet and lemon vodka. Four additional sorbets will launch this summer, including Mango Tequila Margarita and a sugar-free wine sorbet. The bars retail for $7 each, and are sold in shops as well as hotels including the Mondrian and the Clevelander, both in Miami’s South Beach. “We believe it is a new food category that has not been marketed to the masses in a bar or stick form,” says BuzzBar’s director of marketing Amy Freeman. “We are surprised by how easy it has been to convey our company message of fun and natural products with alcohol.”