Bloody Marys have been integral to brunch menus for as long as there were. But a new generation of establishments from New York to Hong Kong is trying to expand their cocktail offerings with savory drinks inspired by anything from Waldorf Salad to roasting Chicken.
Is the inclusion of the Thai beef salad drink on the menu of a bar an attempt to be subversive and make a statement? Is there a genuine desire for these types of drinks?
Margaret Eby, deputy food editor of The Philadelphia Inquirer, believes that an increase in interest in delicious cocktails is directly linked to the increasing popularity of mocktails.
“The feedback is that every non-alcoholic standard drink that you get is really sweet,” Eby says. Eby jokes about referring to some savory cocktails in the form of “hard soups.”
She also points out that many common cocktail ingredients, including simple syrups and fruit juices, typically have sweetness neutralized by alcohol. However, if you remove the whiskey or vodka, the sweetness pops out more.
As global price fluctuations cause certain ingredients to be more costly or complicated, Eby thinks it’s a good habit for bar and restaurant owners to expand their business. When it comes to savory cocktails, she states, “you get to use a lot more of the supermarket than you would necessarily before.”
The Bloody Mary may be the most well-known savory drink; however, tomatoes were used differently to make a drink known as the Tomatini.
Mediterranean Restaurant Group LPM developed the drink to integrate two main ingredients of the menu – tomatoes and vinegar – into a glass.
It was first released in the year 2010. The cocktail was introduced in 2010 and comprises Ketel One vodka, white balsamic vinegar, black pepper, and cherry tomatoes. The edges of the glass are in the same spot where you’re more likely to find maraschino cherries or a slice of lemon in the mirror, and you’ll find a tiny, perfect round tomato.
“Back in the early days of the cocktail, some guests were hesitant (to try it) due to the idea of having a savory cocktail,” Tibor Krascsenics of LPM Restaurant & Bar’s Global Bar Manager informs CNN and adds that a lot of customers wanted to know if it was similar to gazpacho.
“However, on trying it, they realized that the flavor is very delicate and fell in love.”
The presentation helps, too. It is served as a coupe rather than a martini glass and has a pinkish hue with foam over the top.
It is believed that the Tomatini has become a standard in LPM worldwide, including Miami, Dubai, and London.
How non-alcoholic drinks are changing bars
Expanding the possibilities
But tomatoes- technically fruits but frequently grouped with vegetables – aren’t the sole ingredient that makes an otherwise bland cocktail.
Hong Kong bar The Savory Project, which opened in May 2023, celebrates various ingredients you’d never see on menus for cocktails, like corn husks and beef jerky.
“We’re not shy of using ingredients that are not common in drinks,” said Jay Khan, the co-owner Jay Khan. “For instance, beef, or using different kinds of fungi like mushrooms and things like that. We experiment with any fungi we can think of, and try to recreate it into the form of a drink.”
Khan founded Coa Coa, a tequila and mezcal bar rated the top bar in Asia in 2022.
The sight of Hong Kong locals growing to take pleasure in the Mexican drinks and the saltier umami-flavored pairings was one reason he decided to focus on savory cocktails for the next project.
He, along with co-founder Ajit Gurung, has divided his Savory Project menu into two sections: non-alcoholic and alcohol, and include illustrations of the most popular flavors – such as a mushroom, the clam, and the leek, etc. – alongside the names of drinks so that they are more accessible.
“We can create super adventurous drinks, but what’s the point if the people who’re drinking it do not understand the flavor that they’re drinking?” Khan states.
However, only some bars have decided to make a full-on effort of savory drinks.
New York City hot spot Double Chicken offers two different areas: the front room, which serves more traditional cocktails, and the back room, which offers drinks that are more experimental for guests.
In the back in the back, nine of the most popular cocktails are on the menu and broken into three categories: “appetizers,” “main courses,” and “desserts,” just like a menu for food.
In the first category, the drinks are influenced by Waldorf salads and Japanese cold noodles. In the middle, there’s the cocktail known as Cold Pizza, which contains parmesan cheese.
Tako Chang, who is Double Chicken’s manager of branding marketing and communications, describes the menu’s best items as”a “reverse pairing.”
Red Eye Gravy is inspired by the famous Southern dinner of country ham served with gravy over the top. The roles are different. The sauce, a mixture of Irish whisky coffee, butter, and mushrooms, is the star, and prosciutto serves as an ornament instead of the main ingredient.
Double Chicken The restaurant was praised by World’s 50 Best as one the best bars in North America last year. The heightened attention indicates that more customers have, according to Chang, “done their homework” before tasting any item.
Certain people ask for a specific drink you’ve seen on Instagram, and others can study the menu before making reservations.
One thing is sure: Non-sweet alcoholic drinks aren’t a trick.