The craft cocktail boom has many bars and restaurants looking into high-quality mixers, syrups and purees. While some might argue that craft is all about making drinks from scratch, mixers enable operators to tap into seasonal and popular flavors; they also help make tending bar faster and easier. Here’s a look at how a few establishments are using mixers into their beverage programs.
The Bowery Hotel in New York has incorporated several Owl’s Brew mixers into its drink menu to give it some seasonal flavor. The hotel’s lobby bar introduced the Bowery Mai Tai mixed with Owl’s Brew Coco-Lada—a blend of black tea, chai spices, coconut pieces and pineapple juice—a year ago. The rum drink, which is priced at $17, was so well received that it’s retained a permanent place on the menu, says cocktail program manager Walter Easterbrook.
He looked to the same mixer when adding a new drink to the hotel’s Gemma restaurant brunch menu this spring.
“We wanted to do something summery, and the Coco-Lada has that great combination of coconut and pineapple to keep it really in season,” Easterbrook says.
The bar’s new Pink & Black cocktail incorporates Owl’s Brew Pink & Black mix, which is infused with black tea, hibiscus, lemon peel, and splashed with strawberry and lemon juices. The $14 cocktail combines the mixer with Stoli vodka, lime and ginger beer.
Twists on the classics
In addition to seasonal offerings, operators also use mixers to create unique spins on classic cocktails. Howl at the Moon, a live-music bar with 16 locations across the country, plans to roll out a new craft cocktail menu this July using several syrups, bitters and purees.
“We’re a very fast-paced bar, and we don’t have a lot of time to spend on incorporating a ton of ingredients,” says Michael Yates, head of marketing and beverage with Howl at the Moon.
Yates wanted to offer unique, delicious cocktails that are simple to make and are also distinctive. One such drink is the Valleys of Neptune, made with Monin Huckleberry syrup, gin, and Monin Mojito mix. The cocktail retails for $10 to $15 depending on market.
“Berries remain very popular, but everyone mainly does raspberry or blueberry, so we wanted to offer something different with the huckleberry,” Yates explains.
Howl at the Moon is introducing an Apricot Ginger Smash this summer. The drink, featuring DeKuyper Ginger liqueur, Monin Apricot syrup and Makers’ Mark bourbon, will sell for $10 to $15 depending on market.
Mixers and syrups also offer easy and flavorful options to incorporate into nonalcoholic beverages. The Ground Round’s 28 restaurants use Monin’s Blueberry and Blackberry syrups in its bottomless lemonade offerings, served in 22-oz. glasses and priced at $3.49. For an additional $2, guests can opt to add a shot of either vodka or rum to their drink.
Don Damerow, Ground Round’s director of operations and menu development, says the lemonade drinks are so popular that the chain just added a new Jackberry Honey Lemonade cocktail to the menu. It incorporates Monin Blackberry syrup, Jack Daniels Tennessee Honey and lemonade. The drink retails for $5.50.
Certain mixers allow operators to cater specifically to the calorie-conscious crowd. The contemporary Icon Restaurant and Lounge is located in a unique space in Knoxville, TN: on the fifth floor of the Sunsphere, a 266-ft.-tall tower that was constructed for the 1982 World’s Fair. Owner Tony Cappiello recently added ZMIX to his bar lineup, a zero-calorie instant cocktail mixer.
“ZMIX gives us an efficient way of making very flavorful cocktails,” Cappiello says. “It works perfectly and has no aftertaste or bite that other products can have.”
The ZMIX cocktails, including the Purple Hooter (black raspberry and lime flavors), Cosmo and Lemon Drop, have become popular with guests who are health-conscious and watching their calorie intake. Cappiello says that the drinks were gaining momentum through word of mouth after just a few weeks on Icon’s cocktail menu. ZMIX is priced at $5 for a 1.62-oz. bottle, which makes up to 24 servings.
A number of mixer suppliers offer sugar-free or low-cal versions, such as Bare Organic Mixers, which have about 17 calories per ounce, and Finest Call’s Lites.
Selecting a mixer
Just like the development of any new cocktail, much of selecting a mixer comes down to trial and error. Easterbrook likes to spend several hours experimenting with a variety of mixers to see what works best. He then taste-tests with his staff to get their feedback and determine which selections ultimately land on the drink menu at the Bowery Hotel.
Mixers, Easterbrook says, “make things behind the bar very easy.” Customers don’t know the difference when you’re using a quality mixer, he notes. “For us it’s just a really easy shortcut to making amazing drinks.”
When developing a new cocktail, Yates and his team work with current suppliers and introduce new vendors until they find the perfect mixer that knocks a recipe out of the park.
At the Ground Round, all locations use the same mixers in their drinks. Damerow says this not only helps bar staff increase the speed at which drinks are prepared, but it also maintains drink consistency across locations.
There’s a savings benefit as well. A flavored syrup is a cost-effective ingredient, Damerow says, “and cost is one of the main things we look at when we want to implement something across all locations.”
Featured photo: Live-music bar Howl at the Moon’s cocktails include Valleys of Neptune, made with Monin Huckleberry syrup, gin and Monin Mojito mix.
Melissa Niksic is a freelance writer based in Chicago.
What more? Read On:
The Power of Ginger Beer
Ginger beer, the brewed and fermented beverage used in classics such as the Dark & Stormy and Moscow Mule, is riding the popularity of the ginger flavor crazy and appearing more frequently as an ingredient on cocktail lists. Whether store-bought or house-made, ginger beer adds a spicy effervescence to specialty drinks.
Ginger beer brands include Barritts, Cock ’n Bull, Fentimans, Fever Tree, Gosling’s and Regatta. A recent entry to the field is Q Ginger Beer by Q Drinks. The Peninsula Hotel in New York uses Q Ginger Beer in several cocktails available in the hotel’s Clement restaurant and bar.
One is the Ink & Dagger ($22), made with Bombay East gin, muddled blackberries, cardamom leaves and Q Ginger Beer. “I’m a huge fan of Q Ginger because of the intensity of the ginger flavor and its dryness,” says The Peninsula’s director of wine and spirits Jared Fischer.
Another new entry onto the ginger beer market is Stoli Ginger Beer from the Stolichnaya vodka company, which debuted in 2014. This non-alcoholic mixer was created to complement Stoli vodka and is available in a four-pack for $5.99.—MN