The days when a Piña Colada adorned with a pineapple chunk or a simple stick of celery in a Bloody Mary were the nearest you’d get to finding fresh fruit and veg in a cocktail bar are currently being consigned to history thanks to a new wave of mixologists relishing in the sophisticated savoury. Produce Business UK takes a look at the alcoholic produce trend that’s here to stay, as well as the new fruits and veggies that are gracing bartenders’ shakers
Carrot Margarita, Pumpkin Bellini, Avocado Daiquiri, Green Bean Martini and even a Kale Martini; if you’ve not had at least one of these cocktails in the last year, you’ve not been going to the right places. A trend that’s arguably come to the UK from across the pond in New York – where the green movement is so hot it’s running away with itself – fruit and vegetables are now ‘the in thing’ to pair with your spirit. Not only do they taste good (stirred by the right hands, of course), all those antioxidants and nutrients counteract the guilt too.
London has jumped on the produce cocktail bandwagon in the last couple of years, starting off at too-cool-for-school establishments like City Social, where Jason Atherton’s Pealini – a salted pea cordial, spearmint, absinthe and prosecco cocktail – made a splash, and at the Langham Hotel, which offered a mushroom and a parsnip cocktail (but not together, that would be awful).
In general, over the years experimentation has mellowed a little and the art of the produce cocktail seems to have been fine-tuned into a regular offer, even making its way into the supermarkets in 2016 with Marks & Spencer’s own launch of a pea and mint vodka.
“Vegetable cocktails is not a trend, it’s definitely here to stay,” says mixologist and owner of Oskar’s Bar, located within Fitzrovia restaurant Dabbous, Oskar Kinberg, who mixes me a marvellous mint-green concoction of avocado, kiwifruit, lime, condensed milk, gin and a fat wash of olive oil, named Two Tickets to Paradise.
Having been on the veg for a while, I finish off with a Root to All Evil cocktail, which looks the part thanks to blood-red beetroot, a red wine reduction, tequila and lime, mixed together to bring a powerful punch of tequila, then lime, followed by a mellow, earthy beetroot smoother. Having tried these drinks, I’m inclined to believe Kinberg’s assertion.
“Mixing good cocktails comes from a journey and a certain maturity, which usually starts with an experimentation of spirits – the core ingredients as well as herbs, fruit and vegetables play a massive part in that,” he continues. “Making syrups out of herbs and sugar is where it all starts.”
Four years since it opened, Oskar’s Bar usually has five or six produce cocktails on the menu. Some get reinvented, some disappear to return the same, but Kinberg is always working on new inventions. When I arrived for this interview he was experimenting with gooseberries and kaffir limes, two ingredients that are set to trend in general this year.
“I had a lot of fun mixing cocktails earlier in my career, and then the real interest in ingredients and the science of flavour pairing came later,” shares the mixologist, who met leading chef Ollie Dabbous whilst they were both working at The Cuckoo Club some 10 years ago. “Herbs and vegetables are great for making cocktails a bit more sophisticated. Strawberries are kind of a fruit for kids, but when you add marjoram, the flavours become a lot more complex.
“Cocktails and cocktail bars are generally a lot better than [they were in] the 1990s; there’s more availability of ingredients for the bartender, a good deal of influence and idea sharing and, most importantly, people are more willing to give something different a go.”
One London restaurant and bar that has thrived on those facts since it opened in Kings Cross two-and-a-half years ago is the Grain Store. With a bar led and stocked by artisan cocktail bigwig Tony Conigliaro’s The Drinks Factory, which is also behind Conigliaro’s own watering hole, The Bar with No Name (at 69 Colebrooke Row), Bar Termini and another restaurant and bar he co-founded called Zetter Townhouse, the Grain Store has become known for its fruit and vegetable cocktails that pair especially well with particular dishes from the restaurant menu.
“The whole concept is that the drinks complement the menu and we use the same ingredients a kitchen would,” explains bartender Dimitar Vasilev, whose personal favourite is a Carrot Gimlet, which combines gin with carrot, a candy beetroot cordial and cumin, that pairs with the restaurant’s full and spicy Green Tomato, Miso, Chilli & Lime Glazed Grilled Octopus salad.
“Our Celeriac Bellini [celeriac purée with prosecco] goes with a really flavoursome risotto that comes with Jerusalem artichokes, leeks and mushrooms,” says Vasilvev. “The cocktail adds to the meal as well as complementing it. Our Sesame Martini is very dry and powerful on its own, with a sesame oil fat wash and black pepper.
“We get very good feedback on our use of veg in cocktails – the good definitely outweighs the bad and people are open to our twists and turns on the classics, but cocktails are a personal preference. Obviously, if you don’t like celeriac, the Celeriac Bellini isn’t for you.”
Sourcing for bars
When it comes to sourcing, the Grain Store stays as close to home as possible, using a range of different local, small suppliers that it usually deals with directly. “We are fans of small producers and we think ethically,” Vasilev says with energy; explaining that these small producers also get a taste of stardom when their name appears on the menu, as with the case of the Biodynamic apple juice from Brambletye Farm.
“It does depend on what we do though, and we do need to go further afield for more niche stuff. Our Sweet Potato Bellini was originally supposed to be made with a particular potato variety you could only get from Japan. It turned out to be too expensive to get it to London.”
Oskar’s Bar also uses the same fruit and veg suppliers as the kitchen it shares within Dabbous, namely New Covent Garden Market companies Mash and Wild Harvest. “You can get all sorts of ingredients now and a lot of obscure bits can be found on Amazon in bulk,” says Kinberg, who started to experiment with the mellow and aromatic kaffir limes after receiving them by mistake instead of the leaves.
“The menu goes through three big changes every year, and we work with what we have, but we also ask suppliers for new things. The best cocktail bars are when you don’t really see all the work that is put into the drinks – like recipe development, fat washes, syrups and new techniques. I like traditional methods with curious combinations.”
More trends afoot
According to Lucie Greene, director of global trends practice JWT Innovation, inhalable cocktails, fermentation cocktails and the Brazilian spirit cachaça are all on their way up in the trending stakes for 2016.
So modern it seems a little on the fad side, inhalable cocktails are set to come more into the mainstream. I first tried one during a Birdseye press event of all places, where I stuck my head into a large goldfish-bowl shaped dome that dispelled red pepper and vodka vapor. It was fun and, once you inhaled, it tasted good.
More recently, a drinks company that’s mainly known for bitters, Bompas & Parr, created a pop-up called Alcoholic Architecture that allowed guests to immerse themselves in a cloud of gin and tonic. The Café ArtScience in Cambridge, Massachusetts, also uses a device called Le Whaf to turn spirits into fogs as a non-alcoholic amuse-bouche.
But enough of the smoke and mirrors, and back to the future – the ‘Pickle Back’ (a shot of pickling vinegar followed by one of whisky) is evolving and fermented fruit is being used in cocktails. A trend in restaurant food last year, the art of fermentation has hit London’s Dandelyan, where fermented peach and fermented Peychaud’s Bitters are used in the cocktail Peach In A Pine Cone. London’s Korean street food restaurant Jinjuu infuses with kimchi, while the Little Red Door in Paris uses fermented fruit syrups.
In what could be testament to the Olympic aftermath, Brazil’s national spirit cachaça is also getting a bit more attention in the bars than just the mainstay Brazilian cocktail Caipirinha. It also helps that the low valued Brazilian Real has made the spirit a cheap buy.
Other popular cocktails from Brazil may well make their way onto menus in the UK this year too, bringing lots of interesting fruit and veg with them. Potential candidates include: the Batida cocktail – made from lemon juice, passion fruit and coconut milk; the Caju Amigo – a mix of cachaça and cashew juice; and the Royce – that combines orange, lemon, lime and guava juice.
Try a produce tipple
Go to The Folly bar for the Roots Manuva (tequila, triple sec, carrot juice and coriander). Prices range from £4.95 to £9.95 (Monument, London).
[The Bar With No Name] at 69 Colebrooke Row is an award-winning, tiny speakeasy with a 1950’s style. It’s very experimental and on trend, so expect the unexpected. The cocktail menu currently has a birch vodka, birch syrup and birch bitters on it, as well as the Prairie Oyster, described as a tomato yolk, horseradish vodka, Oloroso sherry, shallots, pepper sauce and celery salt cocktail with micro herbs. Prices range from £6.30 to £12.50 (Islington).
BYOC is a new concept where you bring a group and a bottle of a spirit for a team of trained mixologists to show you how it’s done with a range of fruits and vegetables including lavender, rose petal, hibiscus, pimento, rooibos and herb syrups. It’s £25 per person for two hours – and don’t forget the spirit! (Brighton, Covent Garden, Camden)
Rust & Stone is a raw food and organic café bar that has a small seasonal menu with just four vegetables cocktails. It’s known for its Sweet Potato and Thyme Bellini and biodynamic wine. Cocktails are £7 to £7.50 (Manchester).
The Juniper serves an aptly titled Oxymoron, which combines orange vodka, carrot juice, orange and lime juice, agave nectar and ginger beer, as well as a garnish of carrot peel (£8). (Edinburgh).