Asia De Cuba's watermelon punch

Fruity Cocktails

Colorful drinks making big splash on beverage menus nationwide

Seasonal foods will be splashed across menus in abundance for the next six months, but what about beverages?

Restaurants are now putting them in their drinks, bringing fresh, exciting flavors, unusual combinations, and even a little nutrition to their guests.

And Oak at Fourteenth in Boulder, Colorado, is going one step further than many restaurants: It’s carbonating many of its fruity cocktails.

“What we wanted to do was bring fruit and vegetables into a soda program,” says owner and beverage director Bryan Dayton. “We had been doing it the old-fashioned way—muddling the fruit with the booze, then pouring it into a glass and adding soda water, and stirring it. That was fun, but it was also a lot of work.”

Last summer Dayton started playing around with a carbonation process. He uses a high-tech double-carbonation system that successfully encapsulates the maximum amount of carbonation and flavor in the bottled cocktails that are then opened tableside.

To make the drinks, Dayton and his team continued to muddle fruits, but in greater volume. They break down the fruit to pull out all the pulp, then fine strain it. “You keep a lot of the mass of the fruit out of it, but you get all of the juice so you make your base,” Dayton says.

This past winter, popular on the menu was the WC and soda (Winter Campari and soda), Kumquat Tarragon (kumquats, tarragon, lemon and a very highly concentrated tarragon simple syrup, fine-strained) with or without Campari.

And now, moving into berry season, a Strawberry Thyme cocktail has recently been added to the menu (strawberries, thyme, pomegranate, molasses, and Pimm’s) with a nonalcoholic version also available.

The drinks—alcoholic and non—are put into old-fashioned metal kegs with soda and then pressurized.

Next: Giving guests pop


Giving guests pop

Oak at Fourteenth’s Winter Campari and soda

“The hardest part is getting the CO2 deep in the batch itself and getting the pressure you want, so when you pop it to pour for the guest, it’s still got the fizz,” Dayton says.

“You need to pressurize it and get it really cold. So we bring it down for almost 48 hours under carbonation. Once we are ready to put it into the bottles, we do a second CO2 process, similar to what you’d see on a production line. It’s a pretty in-depth process, and there is a lot of work on the front end but less when customers are in there.”

The cocktails are made in small champagne bottles because they can withstand more pressure than other bottles.

The bottles are individual, so when a guest orders a cocktail, it’s brought to the table. “People are surprised when we pop the caps at the tables. They want to know where the alcohol is and are surprised when they know it’s in there,” Dayton says.

The nonalcoholic drinks are prepared in larger bottles because the restaurant goes through them so quickly. It sells a lot at lunch, especially with kids. They can also be mixed with the alcohol of a customer’s choice.

All in all, Oak at Fourteenth bottles five drinks, which change through the year. There are typically two cocktails, a nonalcoholic fruit drink, a root beer, and a ginger beer.

The cocktails cost $7 to $9 and the nonalcoholic drinks cost $4. The restaurant’s costs on them run around 22 percent.

Seasonal fruity drinks are also moving into the forefront at the three Kenny Bowers popular restaurants in Dallas (Kenny's Wood Fired Grill, Kenny's Italian Kitchen and Kenny's Burger Joint.

Next: Fresh food and drinks


Fresh food and drinks

“We’ve tried to redesign the menu for all three locations and tried to eliminate sweet and sour and overly sweet things,” says Shaena Rowland, who created these drinks with Grey Goose Vodka, which distributes many of the products in them.

Among the drinks Rowland created are:

  • June Bug, made with fresh-squeezed orange and pineapple juices, coconut rum, banana liqueur, and Midori, and garnished with a little grenadine. “It’s lime-green with a cherry at the bottom, and the grenadine sinks to the bottom,” Rowland says.
  • Fruity house sangria, with fresh limes, oranges, lemons, and cherries, which are muddled and mixed into red wine (or white if the guest requests it), ginger ale, sweet vermouth and Cointreau. The drink gets fruitier as the night progresses, she says. The sangria is available by the glass, but a punch bowl option will be offered as the weather gets warmer. 
  • Strawberry Shortcake Martini, featuring fresh pureed strawberries, fresh-squeezed lemon juice, vodka, and Prosecco.

Kenny Bowers’ Fruity house sangria

“We have a lot of happy-hour guests, and a lot of women will start off with a really fruity drink then swap off into a glass of wine,” Rowland says. “Because we have really fresh and fruity ingredients, you can drink a lot of these drinks—it’s not like they’re loaded down with sweet and sour mix.”

Rowland went the fresh fruit route to avoid the skinny cocktail trend.

“I didn’t want that on our menus,” she says. “All of our food ingredients are fresh, so this fits in. And seeing your bartender use fresh fruits is just such a nice thing to see, rather than them shaking up a carton and pouring it into your glass.”

Kenny Bowers restaurants aren’t the only ones serving sangria with fresh fruits—so are the 46 Hurricane Grill and Wings locations.

The drinks were introduced as a limited-time offer last summer, but sold so well that the chain retained them on the menu. This summer it’s introducing two new ones—one red, one white—with mango rum in the white sangria and guava rum in the red sangria—as well as the wine and more fruit.

Last year the fruits were lemon, lime and orange. “This year we’ll have those plus mint and pineapple—fruits that have a good flavor and look great,” says chief operating officer Mark Snyder.

Next: Fruity eye appeal


Fruity eye appeal

Hurricane Grill and Wings’ sangrias

Hurricane Grill and Wings uses all fresh fruits. “That’s what customers want, and it’s the same with food,” Snyder says. “They want fresh drinks—from a flavor standpoint, from a visual standpoint, and from a taste standpoint—but it’s more for eye appeal and flavor than the nutrients.”

The sangrias are made fresh daily, with the fruits prepped in the morning and the drinks built as they are ordered so they’re not too fruity.

Last year they were served in a hurricane glass, which is narrow at the top and bigger at the base, but this summer they’ll be served in an inverted hurricane glass, which Snyder expects to show off the fruit more since it will float at the top.

The drinks cost $4.95, and the new ones with rum will run about a dollar more. Costs run about 20 percent.

The best-selling fruit drinks at Asia de Cuba are punches that come in pitchers to serve three to five or six to eight people, says Tremmel Johnson, assistant food and beverage director at the chain’s Los Angeles location.

The Watermelon Punch includes fresh watermelon, white rum, ginger liqueur, POM syrup, and fresh lemon; and the Guava Punch ingredients are guava juice, fresh lime, white rum, dark rum, and Crème de Pêche.

Next: Infusion Drinks


Fun to share

Asia de Cuba’s Triple Berry Mojito

The restaurants infuse the punches for about a week in large infusion jars.

“They’re very popular,” Johnson says. “I think a lot of people look at it as being very festive, communal, and like being able to serve themselves at the table. It’s really fun and a great way to interact with other guests.”

Asia de Cuba also has three individual fruity cocktails:

The Triple Berry Mojito contains blackberries, raspberries, an aged rum, and a fresh mint-infused simple syrup. Shaved ice is added to the drink, then soda, then fresh blackberries, raspberries, and strawberries are piled on top.

“Some guests eat the fruit immediately; others drink through it,” Johnson says. “I think most like the look. The presentation of the drink is beautiful with all the colors—both the drink and the fruit on the top of it.”

There’s also the Chili Passion Fruit Caipirinha with fresh passion fruit puree, lime juice, a drop of sriracha (a Vietnamese hot sauce), and Cachaça liquor from LeBlon. The drink is garnished with fresh passion fruit and red chili. “So there’s a little heat, a little fruitiness,” Johnson explains.

The third drink is a Cantaloupe Pisco, which has fresh cantaloupe chunks muddled with a pisco liquor, lemon juice, simple syrup, and egg whites.

The egg white adds a thickness and a frothiness to the drink, Johnson says. “You add it into the drink and whisk it to get it fluffy but not too much—we don’t want it to be too fluffy, too airy.”

The cocktails are $14—in line with Asia de Cuba’s other cocktails, and ingredient costs are around 15 percent. The punches cost $35 for three to five people and $59 for six to eight, and costs are similarly low at about 17 percent.

Fruity cocktails can meet several trends at once: seasonal, local, and healthy. Your guests can have their fruit, and eat it, too.

Next: A special twist on fruity drinks


A special twist on fruity drinks: grilling

New York mixologist Marshall Altier of J Bird in New York City is doing something different with fruit: He’s grilling it before adding it to drinks.

“We started with pineapple, caramelizing it to bring out the natural sugars,” he says. The fruit is then muddled with simple syrup and vanilla bean then this mixture is double strained to keep the fruit out of the drinks. Next it’s added to Denizen Oak-Aged Caribbean Rum and fresh lime juice, and finished with a dusting of black pepper.

The cocktail, the Grilled Pineapple Smash, is also garnished with the charred fruit.

“We have really focused on the pineapple because it works well with rum, lime, and vanilla,” Altier explains. “And the oak in the rum really comes out when you do the char.”

And as we move into peach season, that’s what Altier will be next putting on his grill. “It will pair well with rye whiskey, especially as we get into golden peaches deep in the summer. The spiciness of the rye will work really well with it,” he says.

Customers love these drinks because they’re only available for a limited time, Altier says. “And we see guests pay more attention to what’s seasonal because it’s best for them and the environment.”

The grilled fruit drinks are not on the menu but just offered verbally, which also helps sell them, Altier says. “It’s like the bartender’s letting [guests] in on a secret if it’s verbal. It’s something that’s not going to be there forever.”

J Bird also has a couple of specialty fruity syrups—blueberry and raspberry—that are added to many drinks.

The J Bird Swizzle is a rum drink with blueberry syrup; the Imperial March contains cognac infused with black tea, lime juice, raspberry syrup and Champagne; and The J Bird includes pineapple juice, blueberry syrup, almond syrup and a jasmine-infused rum.

The syrups are simple syrups that are made regularly from fresh fruits. The syrups are infused overnight, then strained, then bottled and kept for five to seven days.