By John S. Pomeroy, Jr.
Close your eyes, think of the summertime, and what do you see? Odds are, you conjure up images of swimming pools, beaches, sprinklers, watermelon, ice cream, and anything else capable of cooling you down. Depending on where you are, the need for chilling agents fluctuates dramatically. Obviously, summer in Antarctica doesn’t really necessitate ice-cold, frozen, or blended cocktails to cool off, but for the majority of us living a little closer to the Equator, that’s exactly what the season demands.
Just about as long as there have been cocktails, there have been those designed to cool you down, and with the rise of cocktail culture has come the logical resurgence in high-quality summer beverages. A great frozen margarita, daiquiri, piña colada, mojito, or tiki drink may be what immediately comes to mind for your summer drink list, but if you want to stand out from the crowd you may want to consider doing things a little bit differently this season.
Depending on your location, budget, and available ingredients, the possibilities for variations on the aforementioned classic summer drinks are nearly endless. If your bar has a kitchen/restaurant attached to it, this task will be much easier; even if it doesn’t, a few simple tools and techniques can go a long way. Few things inspire creativity more than a trip to the local chef supply shop, and with the ease of the Internet, browsing through new and interesting tools has never been easier. Check out Chef Rubber (www.chefrubber.com), and spend some time perusing their selection. You will definitely find inspiration for some crazy new ideas for your summer drink menu.
Underestimating the importance of the right tools is a gross oversight, and if you take a look at the blender article in the last issue of Bar Business Magazine [March/April 2009, pg. 34, “Purists vs. Pragmatists: Blended Schools of Thought”], you’ll find some great information about choosing the right blender for your bar. Blended drinks are a staple in the summertime cocktail arena, and without the right blender, not only will your staff be irritated by the difficulty in implementing your new summer cocktail menu, but your customers may be disappointed with the amount of time they have to wait for that frozen drink. (And if the wait isn’t enough to ruin their experience in your establishment, that poorly blended cocktail just might be. Again, the right tools are essential.
Take a look at your ice machine. Few things are worse than a watered-down drink, but with the wrong ice, that is exactly what will happen. As you know, alcohol burns ice, and unless your ice is solid, adding alcohol to it will immediately dilute your drinks. Building your drinks off the ice and adding it just prior to service is one way around this dilemma, but getting your staff to do this requires retraining—which as you know can be quite difficult. The simplest (albeit expensive) solution is to replace your current ice machine with a unit that makes really solid cubes.
There are other solutions are available, as well. If you have a good freezer, there are many interesting molds and trays that you can use, many of which produce shapes of ice that will really impress your customer. A stack of four perfect cubes in a Collins glass will accomplish the same thing. Increase the size of that cube to a block and an entirely different world opens up. Those four perfect cubes could instead be one cylinder that is the same height as the glass. A single, spherical cube in the center of a rocks glass will not only resist dilution better than any other shape of ice, it will also surely get your customers talking. Luges are a lot of fun, as are ice sculptures in the center of a punch bowl and ice cocktail tray shot holders. If it can be made, odds are it can be made out of ice.
With that freezer in your repertoire, ice isn’t the only thing that you can use to cool down your drinks. One of the biggest mistakes a bar owner can make is thinking too linearly. Just because it has always been done one way doesn’t mean there aren’t alternatives. Water isn’t the only thing that freezes, and oftentimes, ice can really ruin a drink. A hot day will make short work of even the hardiest ice, but shave, crush, or blend it and you may as well just serve that drink with water in it. Consider the possibility of using frozen juices or fruits instead. Replace the cubes of ice in that piña colada with cubes of pineapple juice and coconut milk and you’ll have a drink with the same consistency that doesn’t dilute as it melts.
Simply take an ice tray and measure out the ingredients necessary to make whatever blended drink you want. Take that piña colada, for example. Measure out one-ounce cubes of both pineapple juice and coconut cream. Freeze. Put the pineapple juice cubes in one container and the coconut cream cubes in another. When you’re ready to make the drink, put four ounces of dark rum in the blender, toss in four pineapple juice cubes and three coconut cream cubes and flip the switch. Not only will the drink be creamier, but when it melts, it will still taste like a well-balanced cocktail and not the memory of one. This can be done with any liquid ingreident that will freeze, and if you’re like me, you’ll find yourself making “ice” out of some really crazy ingredients. Too bad you can’t freeze alcohol, right?
Wrong. Let’s take a little walk into the ever-growing world of molecular mixology. While alcohol won’t freeze in a standard freezer, it will freeze. You just have to get it cold enough. Taking your favorite cocktail and pouring liquid nitrogen in it will definitely do the trick, but cost effectiveness and liability make this impractical for most bars. While it will definitely get a lot of “oohs” and “aahs” from your clientele, it really isn’t a very viable option.
Enter Glazierepura. Recently introduced to the market, Glazierepura is a patented, odorless, and tasteless additive that can be placed in alcohol that will effectively lower the freezing point to a level that allows it to be frozen in a standard freezer. Imagine making “ice” out of your favorite cocktails. Screwdriver popsicle anyone?
Created by AEGS Ventures, in conjunction with the University of Minnesota, the Glazierepura natural freezing process can freeze any alcohol and does not affect the flavor profile of the spirit. “The possibilities are endless,” says Tom Wilen, senior advisor for AEGS Ventures. “Imagine placing a few vodka ice cubes in orange juice for the perfect screwdriver, enjoying a truly frozen margarita at a BBQ, or taking a Johnnie Walker on the rocks where the ice cubes are the scotch itself. There are so many variations.”
Speaking of tools and molecular mixology, there are two other items that you may wonder how you ever got away with not having behind your bar: the soda siphon and whipped cream charger. Take your favorite summer cocktail and thin-skinned fruit (i.e. raspberries, cherries, grapes, etc.) and put them into a soda siphon. Charge with CO2, refrigerate for three hours, and voilà, you have a carbonated cocktail. The fruit will also become carbonated from exposure to pressure and CO2, and nothing makes a customer say “Wow!” like eating a carbonated fruit garnish.
Your whipped cream charger also has many uses beyond its namesake purpose. The larger opening and lack of internal pieces make it more ideal for the aforementioned carbonating process (just replace the CO2 with N2O), but it also can be used to make meringues, foams, and puddings in cool shapes, much like a pastry bag, but without the mess. Place dollops of whatever you like onto a silpat sheet, throw it in the freezer, and you have beautiful, edible, frozen garnishes that will float around on top of that cocktail like clouds.
You know better than anyone what your customers ask for, and if you’ve been in business through a summer or two, you know that people expect drinks that will cool them down. Giving them what they want is good business. Providing them with options for things they may not have considered—that’s great business. Think of the age-old hospitality adage: “Don’t just meet their expectations, exceed them.”
Summer has always been a time for adventurous explorations, and that notion should carry over to your cocktail menu. Flash back to your childhood and recall what you sought after most. Now that you’re an adult, take those things, add some alcohol, and you have a sure-fire winner.
Imagine that chocolate malted from your youth, now with some chocolate liqueur and vodka and an alcohol-infused whipped cream with a brandied-cherry on top. How about that homemade lemonade you used to sell at the stand you built on the sidewalk? Simply add some bourbon, and you’ve got a match made in heaven. The possibilities are endless: Your favorite smoothies, gelatos, popsicles, sorbets, ice creams—all very easily made into adventurous summer cocktails by adding alcohol. And remember: The ice is the limit!