Brunch is viewed by Americans as a special, even decadent, weekend ritual, so it’s no surprise that cocktails have become an integral component. Mimosas and bloody marys are synonymous with this lazy, breakfast-lunch repast, but mixologists are developing new and unusual takes on these classics while also creating new concoctions for brunch-goers.
A consistent theme: Don’t be afraid to keep it light.
“A really great brunch cocktail isn’t overwhelming,” says Megan Deschaine, beverage director of The Macintosh in Charleston, South Carolina. If guests are going out and having a cocktail for brunch on Saturday, they want to be sure they can also have one for dinner, too.
Ruben Hernandez, head bartender at Mediterranean eatery Miss Ada in Brooklyn, New York, echoes Deschaine’s sentiment. “Most people who come in for brunch stay away from the heavy, boozy drinks,” he says. “They’re looking for something refreshing.”
“You’re really looking for drinks with lower levels in alcohol that have lift and effervescence and cut through flavors that are heavier at brunch,” says Ryan Lotz, bar director at Boston’s Bar Mezzana.
Mixing up mimosas
While most brunches feature traditional mimosas made with orange juice and Champagne or other sparkling wine, some offer a twist, like the Pink Mimosa at Prospect at Scribner’s in Hunter, New York, in which bar manager Alan Schachner uses pink grapefruit with sparkling wine.
Peaches are also a common fruit found in brunch cocktails. BarBacon’s two New York locations and San Diego-based chain Breakfast Republic have bellinis on the menu, with the latter’s version using traditional white peach puree and prosecco.
Increasingly, mixologists are thinking outside the box to create fizzy cocktails. Bar Mezzana makes a point of offering a non-mimosa with its Orange You Glad I Didn’t Say Mimosa cocktail that features sparkling wine, blood orange juice, Aperol, and Dimmi liqueur. “We wanted to give people a mimosa that really wasn’t a mimosa,” Lotz notes. The coastal Italian restaurant’s brunch cocktail list also includes the Mezzana Spritz with Campari, peach, soda, and Moscato.
Some regular menu cocktails at The Macintosh are popular at brunch. Puttin’ On the Spritz, has blanc vermouth, hopped grapefruit bitters, lemon simple syrup, sparkling water, Pimm’s, and Aperol, plays to the mimosa drinker.
Batching the bloodies
Barkeeps have allowed their imagination to run wild with the other brunch cocktail staple, the bloody mary. Most have a traditional version—vodka, tomato juice, spices, and other flavorings—but they set themselves apart by offering multiple house versions.
Miss Ada features five bloody marys, most of which employ vodka and a mix of tomato juice, fresh horseradish, and house spices. The Verde, however, is made with tequila, green tomatillo, horseradish, lime, serrano chili, and cilantro. “We wanted to give people more variety,” Hernandez says.
The Macintosh has three bloody marys, including one with Thai chili-pepper-infused vodka and house-made hot sauce, while Bar Mezzana offers a house bloody mary that features vodka, Calabrian chilis, oregano, and anchovies. Breakfast Republic has two bloody marys with three being developed, including one that has aquavit, honoring owner Johan Engman’s Scandinavian background.
For guests who want to taste more than one bloody mary, BarBacon has The Bloody & Bacon Flight, featuring pairings of four 5-ounce bloody marys with four types of artisanal bacon. “It’s a great way to introduce the concept of the restaurant with a variety of bloody marys,” says Joshua Buenrostro, general manager of BarBacon’s Hell’s Kitchen location. One of the pairings has jalapeño bacon with a habanero mezcal bloody mary, while the pepper bacon is paired with a green tomatillo bloody mary made with house bacon-infused vodka. “The magic comes from the infusion of bacon in that spirit,” he says.
Leaning into brunch’s icons
Some restaurants even develop regular-menu cocktails influenced by brunch items. The Macintosh’s Toast + Marmalade puts orange marmalade together with bourbon, Drambuie liqueur, lemon, and mole bitters, while Bar Mezzana’s Smoothie Moves is inspired by avocado toast with vodka, avocado, kale, lime, marash peppers, cayenne, and a breadcrumb rim. Breakfast Republic, which has seven units, offers a Horchata Cold Brew cocktail with horchata vodka and cold brew coffee at its breakfast-themed restaurants.
One cocktail at Prospect goes even further. Its garnish is a mini-pancake topped with a blueberry and maple syrup. The unnamed drink is basically a whiskey sour with egg, coffee liqueur, maple syrup, and black walnut bitters, and grated cinnamon on top. “I saw a bar in London that had a cocktail with a piece of waffle on top, and that gave me the idea,” Schachner says. While the drink is not officially on the menu, guests who know about it are quick to order it.