The addition of fresh vegetable juices brings unconventional flavors to cocktails, while conveying the perception of a healthier tipple.
At the Chicago outpost of Fig & Olive, guests eat their goat cheese/caramelized onion/chive crostini and lemon/pine nut/zucchini carpaccio alongside drinks such as the Sweet Red Pepper, wherein the star ingredient unites with tequila, Aperol, freshly muddled strawberries, lime juice, passion fruit syrup, and bitters. Likewise, at Jacob’s Pickles in New York City, the Kirby Cuke Cup brings together pressed Kirby cucumber juice with cucumber-infused Farmer’s Organic Gin, fresh-squeezed lime, homemade triple sec, and organic cane syrup.
Spawned from fresh produce, these tipples certainly sound healthy—even if at first glance they appear an oxymoron. How can cocktails, when they showcase liquor, actually be good for customers? That notion may forever remain in wishful thinking territory, but the addition of fresh vegetable juice undoubtedly brings a nutritional jolt to a cocktail while diminishing the guilt associated with ordering one. An increasing predilection for weaving unconventional juices into such libations, however, is just another reflection of bartenders capitalizing upon all tools in their well-brimmed arsenals to craft imaginative drinks, and imbibers shouldn’t be shocked by the sight of them on menus. Nothing, these days, is off limits at the farmers’ market.
Consider vegan chef Chloe Coscarelli, whose proprietary recipes include the Giving Tree Juice by CHLOE, an energizing mix of kale, spinach, wheatgrass, apple, and lemon. It is one of the featured ingredients in her Orange Giving Tree, a cocktail in which orange vodka melds with Found elderflower sparkling water and an orange wedge. This thoughtful drink, along with other like-minded ones, will complement the abundance of good-for-you plant-based food at By Chloe, her forthcoming New York eatery in partnership with Esquared Hospitality.
Colorful beets not only look striking in a glass, but their flavor profile is also a natural fit for spirits. At the Florentine, inside the JW Marriott Chicago, manager Chad Pozmantir makes the Beet It, combining fresh-squeezed beet juice with Mount Gay Black Barrel Rum, blood orange purée, vanilla, and Fentimans ginger beer. Similarly, at nearby Bottlefork, barman Andrew Turner makes a Beet Fizz in which the earthy vegetable steals the show, but is accompanied by thyme-infused Rhine Hall apple brandy, as well as allspice dram, orange flower water, lemon juice, egg white, and cream.
Elmer Mejicanos, bar manager for Tony’s Pizza Napoletana in San Francisco, also loves beets and infuses an organic juice with serrano chilies for his El Matador, made with Espolón silver tequila, fresh lime, ginger beer, and mint. “I think people like sweetness in their cocktails, and often when they think of sweet, fruits are what come to mind,” he says. “Now, many are starting to see there are some vegetables that are far sweeter than fruits when juiced. And as they are learning this, bartenders are starting to use them more, too.”
Bryan Schneider, head barman of New York restaurant Park Avenue Summer, had a cocktail on the menu during the seasonal-shifting restaurant’s Park Avenue Spring iteration, which called for snap pea juice: the “Peas”co Sour with pisco, lime, absinthe, and Peychaud’s Bitters. “Since the beginning, mixology has been about experimentation and finding unexpected but tasty flavor combinations. It only makes sense that bartenders are moving to the vegetal realm after so many years with fruit as their muse,” Schneider says.
Still, he does warn that working with vegetables is often more challenging than fruits because of their hard-to-tame savory elements. “Sweet can always be balanced with sour or bitter flavors, and for the most part sweet and sour fruits can pair well with any spirit for a tasty cocktail—as long as the cocktail isn’t overly sweet or sour,” he explains. “You have to be a bit more careful when you bring in something savory like vegetable juice, but when used well it can add its own layer of flavor that complements the base spirit without affecting the balance of the cocktail.”
Mejicanos tends to find success by pairing dark vegetables—like those beets—with spirits such as tequila; lighter ones, including carrots and celery, he believes, make fine companions to vodka and gin instead. Corn he prefers meshing with whiskey, “probably because it’s made from the same stuff,” he points out. The main challenge, he has discovered, is ensuring that the vegetables always remain fresh. “Unlike citrus,” he notes, “the fresh flavor doesn’t last as long, and the color fades more quickly, too.”
Of course, turning guests onto creations beyond the traditional fruit juice cocktails can sometimes prove challenging as well. “It’s always hard to get people to try something new, something they are not used to, but I find that if I take the time to explain—and add a bit of showmanship—they’ll eventually give it a try,” Mejicanos says.
By emphasizing a drink’s presentation as much as its taste, Schneider says he is able to make a favorable impression on guests with libations flaunting seemingly strange additions like that snap pea juice. “The most effective way to sell a cocktail with unusual ingredients is to have it look great going across the dining room or bar. Customers will want it before even knowing what’s in it,” he assures.
Eben Freeman first started making juice cocktails nearly a decade ago when he worked at Wylie Dufresne’s New York restaurant, WD-50. Now, running the beverage program at AvroKO Hospitality’s Genuine Superette, also in New York City, Freeman finds himself churning out four different juice blends a day. During the afternoon, the Emerald with kale, cucumber, fennel, apple, lime, celery bitters, and oleo saccharum might appeal as a rejuvenating pick-me-up; at night the liquid gets amplified with tequila, St-Germain, lime juice, and green Chartreuse. Alternatively, the Copper, made with carrot, orange, parsnip, turmeric, lemon, and ginger shrub, transforms into a cocktail with Fords gin, Combier triple sec, lemon juice, and kümmel.
Consistently turning out this plethora of juices, however, does pose a logistical problem. “You have to always make it fresh,” Freeman says. “You have to follow different prep and sanitation codes. A serious program like this requires an investment in quality equipment and a walk-in large enough to accommodate all you will need.” But it’s worth it, he believes, because vegetable juice in the cocktail sphere has “proven to be a viable concept. People get a kick out of boozing and juicing, ordering something healthy and indulgent at the same time.”