A casual eatery’s guide to making sophisticated libations.
Ever since the Sazerac cocktail was invented and enjoyed in New Orleans in the mid-1800s, Americans have been infatuated with specialty cocktails. Their premium ingredients and the use of specialized preparation techniques give these adult beverages a captivating depth of flavor, color and/or texture.
The Sazerac’s distinction, for example, is serving the drink in a glass that’s been coated with Sazerac Rye Whiskey before the rest of the ingredients are added. Other craft cocktails have their own preparations, usually incorporating both specific ingredients and techniques to produce a high-end result. As such, they also usually command a price tag accounting for the labor, skill and premium ingredients involved.
But craft cocktails don’t necessarily require labor-intensive artistry to produce premium results. With special techniques and ingredients, even casual restaurants lacking a highly trained bartending staff can make artisan beverages efficiently. And with the quality results they achieve, these establishments may also be able to charge more for these creations, too.
Often made by hand, craft cocktails may be stirred, shaken or blended, occasionally with frozen ingredients. Many also feature house-made additions, such as flavored syrups to supply their unique color or one-of-a-kind flavor. Typically, these recipes also involve a significant amount of time or labor to prepare. Whip-shaking, for example, may take up to several minutes per drink. And flavored syrups may require days or weeks of steeping time.
But the handmade artistry behind stirred, shaken and blended beverages, and the aging process that goes into flavored syrups, can be emulated using high-performance blending equipment. Doing so allows for a streamlined preparation, reducing both time and labor. It also increases consistency from pour to pour, allows for batch preparation of cocktails, and can reduce the chances of error.
Additionally, blending equipment allows for less aggressive types of blending depending on the container and blade type used. For example, switching out the traditional blender container with a Vitamix Aerating Container allows you to mix, foam and aerate ingredients without pulverizing them. The container features a rounded disc blade that allows you to create the same types of foams, infusions and emulsions that are traditionally done by hand or with long periods of steeping.
Frozen drinks like daiquiris, margaritas and even spiked slushies are fan favorites at many casual eateries, but they’re not necessarily easy to find. They’re often made using large-capacity frozen beverage machines, a significant investment that doesn’t promote versatility and may contribute to product losses.
Fortunately, you can make high-quality frozen beverages using high-performance blending equipment. Blenders, unlike slushie machines, can process hard, frozen or tough ingredients as well as puréed mixes, giving establishments more ingredient options.
High-speed blending equipment also allows you to process drinks only as long as necessary to achieve the texture desired, whether it’s a creamy, smoothie-like consistency or a drink with inclusions like tiny bits of ice, chocolate or fruit. And, because high-speed blenders can utilize frozen ingredients instead of ice to cool and thicken the drink, the beverages tend to remain emulsified and frozen longer.
Combine ingredients in a high-performance blender and blend. Blend speed settings and times will vary depending on your ingredients, batch size and the consistency desired.
Potential ingredients include fresh or frozen fruits, ice, chilled house-made purées, flavored syrups, and spirits. The ratio of frozen ingredients to liquid ingredients will vary depending on the ingredients and holding temperature for each recipe. Keep in mind that using frozen fruit may be preferable to using ice because frozen fruit can reduce dilution and help the drink stay frozen longer.
If you’re using large chunks of ice or frozen and tough ingredients, then it’s best to start on a lower speed setting to incorporate them before increasing the speed to high to refine.
- You may need multiple blenders behind the bar, so choose a model equipped with a sound enclosure, such as The Quiet One.
- Once you arrive at the ideal combination of ingredients and blend cycle, you may be able to use a programmed setting to help increase staff efficiency and reduce errors.
- Test and optimize each recipe to zero in on the desired level of sweetness. Note that frozen drinks using ice as a major ingredient tend to require more concentrated flavors. Also, keep in mind that the higher the alcohol content, the faster the drink will melt.
- Garnish the drink with fresh fruit, a pretty straw or a light mist of aromatics. You can also add a flavored stir stick or rim the glass with a dry spice blend or flavored salt or sugar.
Classic cocktails shaken with emulsifying ingredients such as egg whites, fresh pineapple juice and aquafaba offer a silky texture in a drink that remains light and crisp. Key examples include the Ramos Gin Fizz and the Amaretto Sour, both of which commonly incorporate egg whites, shaken with ice, to froth the drink. The ice plays a key role in this process, as the cold encourages foaming while the ice cubes agitate the mixture, aerating it. This process produces a beverage with both body and richness without making the drink heavy. When properly hand-shaken and poured, the beverages serve up a creamy top layer that pleasantly balances the sweetness, spirits or tartness of the rest of the drink.
Bartenders typically have to hand-shake these beverages vigorously with ice, one pour at a time. The process can take up to several minutes per drink and leaves bartenders unable to do anything else. The shaking process is also subject to error; in the case of egg white drinks, for example, the drink may not be shaken thoroughly enough to create the proper level of foam.
Fortunately, this same effect can be achieved much more efficiently and consistently using high-speed, programmable blending equipment, such as Vitamix’s The Quiet One, fitted with a Vitamix Aerating Container. The container blade aerates the ingredients, chilling and frothing them in a fraction of the time compared to hand-shaking. Using the blender also allows for batch preparation and frees up the bartender to attend to other tasks. And automating the task with the help of programmed blend settings helps ensure consistent quality every time.
Load drink ingredients (except carbonated ingredients) into a high-performance blender fitted with an Aerating Container. You may need to experiment to determine the ideal blend cycle (i.e., speed and time) for each recipe. Keep in mind that both factors will vary depending on the ingredients used, the size of the recipe (single serve versus batched), and the level of aeration desired. Egg whites, for example, may require far less aggressive speed settings than other foaming agents, such as aquafaba or pineapple juice.
After blending, strain the beverage into a glass and top with soda, aromatics or bitters, as desired.
- Using programmed blend settings allows you to do other things while the drink is blending; it also ensures that the blend is just right, every time.
- Use larger-sized ice cubes to reduce the amount of ice processed into the mixture.
- Maximize speed of service by optimizing recipes so they can be prepared using a single blend cycle.
- You can make a vegan version of this drink by substituting aquafaba for egg white. You’ll need to adjust the blend cycle appropriately.
Making your own syrups is a great way to add nuanced, fresh flavors to a wide variety of craft cocktails, and it can easily be done ahead of time with a high-speed blender. A key example is the simple syrup, the 1:1 sugar-to-water mixture traditionally made in a saucepan. The blend can also be flavored with spices or botanical ingredients like ginger, lavender and cinnamon.
The main drawback to making simple syrups is that they’re typically made over a stove. That means bar staff may need back-of-the-house employees to prepare them. Additionally, overcooking leads to over-concentration or a caramelized outcome.
Avoid both problems by making these syrups in a high-powered blender. There’s essentially no chance of overcooking, and the task can easily be handled in advance. Additionally, some mixologists say that simple syrups made with a blender have a unique, cotton-candy-like flavor.
Into a high-speed blender, such as The Quiet One fitted with the Aerating Container, add hot water (about 180 degrees F), followed by an equal amount of granulated or raw sugar. Adding the hot water first is important, as it allows for better blade movement and can reduce wear and tear on the blender. Blend on a continuous speed until the sugar is completely dissolved, about one to two minutes. The blender blades combined with the heat of the water will break down the sugar without allowing evaporation. Hot water in this temperature range is usually readily available to bar staff for guests ordering hot tea. It’s especially beneficial in this application, as it shaves minutes off the blend time, which translates into reduced wear on the blender as well as increased blender uptime.
You can flavor simple syrups either by steeping herbs, spices or other botanical ingredients in the hot water and removing them before blending, or by adding flavoring ingredients directly to the hot water mixture and blending in the proper blender container. For example, to make a cinnamon syrup, you’ll want to infuse the flavor from cinnamon sticks without processing them into the syrup. To do this, steep cinnamon sticks in hot water and remove before blending the water and sugar using either the Aerating Container or Vitamix’s standard blender container with wet blade. Other flavoring ingredients such as ginger root can be blended into the mix to extract flavor and color. To make a ginger syrup, for example, add peeled ginger root to the hot-water-and-sugar mixture and blend, using a standard blender container with wet blade to process the ginger root and marry the flavors.
Whether you’re serving frozen beverages, egg white cocktails or libations flavored with house-made syrups, high-performance blending equipment can help you replicate the artistry of handmade cocktails. It’s also a great way to meet the demand for premium cocktails, particularly in labor-challenged environments, and can help you boost your bar’s overall revenue stream.