The Manhattan Cocktail Classic, a recent four-day long celebration of cocktails and New York City bars, explored how new texture and flavor frontiers trending in the food world can be translated to mixed drinks.
Two topics from seeming opposite ends of the spectrum, spicy drinks and blended cocktails, were part of a series of seminars geared toward foodservice professionals that took place at Andaz Hotel in New York.
Nation’s Restaurant News attended the sessions to bring top tips to restaurateurs’ bartenders or mixologists.
The craft of blended drinks
“I think the blender has a pretty bad reputation,” said Kim Haasarud, an author and beverage consultant who has experience creating drinks for restaurant groups such as P.F. Chang’s and Z’Tejas.
In the age of gourmet cocktails that call for fresh ingredients, the blender automatically conjures up images of outdated, overtly sugared drinks made from mixes in both the minds of professionals and today’s educated consumers.
Haasarud said a restaurant can easily counter such preconceived notions.
First, Haasarud noted the importance of knowing how blenders work. The blades of most blenders work by drawing in larger solids from top and pushing the smaller blended parts back upward. This means that when using a blender, one needs to be conscious of properly layering ingredients. Haasarud suggested adding liquids first, then solid ingredients such as pieces of fruit, and blending these before adding ice and blending a second time.
For example, when making a blended margarita, Haasarud first put in tequila, orange curacao and Aperol into the blender. Then, rather than adding fresh citrus juice, she used fruit that had been peeled with as much of the outer pith removed as possible. After blending the liquids and fruit, Haasarud then added ice for another turn in the blender so she could control the texture of the drink.
Haasarud mentioned that blenders could be played around with to create different textures, it just required trying out different ratios of ice to liquid with blending speeds and times. In the case of the margarita, she wanted small pieces of ice to give the drink a little refreshing crunch, so she added 25-percent ice, compared with the volume of liquid, and blended the drink at 15-percent speed for between 20 and 25 seconds.
“I think the biggest thing to keep in mind is the ratio from ice to liquid and understanding the sugar content,” Haasarud said in an interview with NRN. “You can make anything in a blender. You can make a Cosmopolitan or a Manhattan, you just need to add extra sugar to bring the flavors through that ice.”
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Sweeteners also don’t have to be limited to regular sugar. For her margarita, Haasarud used agave nectar and for a banana hot buttered rum drink, she was able to create a demerara sugar syrup by relying on the power and residual heat of the blender.
“I did a lot of research with what chefs were doing with blenders,” she said. “Just within mixology nowadays a lot of mixologists are doing what the chefs do. A lot of chefs make nut butters and you can totally incorporate [culinary ideas like] that.”
When asked about what types of blenders should be acquired for a restaurant bar program, Haasarud answered that how many, as opposed to what types, should be considered.
“I’d keep one in the back of the kitchen and that would be my prep blender for purees and nut butters, then I’d have one behind the bar,” she said.
The rise of spicy cocktails
Panelists discussing the popularity of spicy, flavorful beverages pointed to the increased popularity of peppers and spicy ingredients or foods among consumers, which has been a noted menu trend for some time.
Jason Mendenhall, mixologist at The Wayland in New York City, and panelist at the Manhattan Cocktail Classic, said spicy cocktails can be easy to create, but must be done carefully.
Consistency is key, he noted, as are cooling agents and the use of ingredients like syrups that can be customized.
“You’re going to need a cooling agent … if you don’t you’re crazy,” he said. “Heat should never overpower the flavor profile.”
This carries over to understanding how flavors will play out over time, rather than just for one sip or drink. Drinks that are too spice forward will discourage guests from ordering more than one, he noted.
“Spice should be enhancing … not a palate killer,” he said.
When asked what types of housemade ingredients are good examples for adding spicy flavors to cocktails, Mendenhall told NRN, “For me I think the syrups are huge. Because syrups you can basically layer in another syrup to lighten [the spice] if you want to … and to heighten it you can use a fresh ingredient to muddle in if you want more heat.”
For larger and higher-volume operations, Mendenhall suggested making use of products already available on the market, such as spirits. There are even bitters companies that are producing bitters using chile or habanero.
Contact Sonya Moore at [email protected].