Designing a Themed Cocktail:
A “Themed” cocktail could be anything. It could be intended to reflect a certain ambiance / setting or emotion / feeling. Most restaurants and bars will generally want their cocktails to align with the setting of the establishment. If you walked into a high-end Italian restaurant, it’d probably feel a little out of place to find a Tiki drink on the menu.
Understanding your “Theme”
Think about the setting where the drink will be consumed and the type of environment you want to create. Do you want it to be feel warm, cozy and inviting or bright, vibrant and exciting? Think about how a cocktail might differ if it were in an elite leather-clad cigar bar versus a 4th of July Pool party for Twenty-somethings. Once you have a good sense for your setting and / or audience, you should be able to start to identify ingredients that align with that theme. A Cigar bar is a good candidate for bourbon or brandy based cocktails, whereas you may aim for fruity, bright, rum or tequila drinks for the pool party.
Case Study 1: The Tavern Sour:
In this case, I was tasked with creating a drink that aligned with the warm, traditional decor and feel of the restaurant. This drink took me several re-adjustments to get right, so I’ve included each step & chart below to help you see the creative process end-to-end.
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- I started by choosing Bourbon as the base spirit and deciding to incorporate herbs from our famous Fried Chicken.
- Looking at the cocktail, I realized there was not enough depth of flavor. So I added Yellow Chartreuse to bring out the herb influence, plus a touch of alcohol content and sweetness.
- At this point I created the cocktail and quickly realized the flavors were not cohesive. I decided to incorporate egg whites to smooth the edges of the drink, which as a side effect muted the flavors.
- The cocktail lost a bit too much flavor with the Egg whites so I increased the Bourbon and lemon juice.
- This drink was very, very close. I decided to finish it off using an aromatic garnish. I made an herb-gin infusion and used an atomizer to spray each cocktail. I then floated a single sage leaf on the egg white. This extra aromatic quality filled in the tiny flavor gap left in the cocktail and aligned perfectly with my goal of the drink. The final product was delicious and very well received.
Case Study 2: The Pomegranate Fizz
This drink was intended to capture the holiday feeling of walking through San Francisco’s Union Square when it’s all decorated for the holidays. So how did I go about capturing this feeling in a cocktail?
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- I actually worked backwards on this cocktail. I had the idea of creating a garnish that looked like a Christmas tree – a sprig of Rosemary with Pomegranate seeds tucked in to look like ornaments. Having this decided, I now knew I was going to be working with Pomegranate and Rosemary at the bare minimum. With Rosemary bringing an herbal side, gin seemed like the logical choice, and I decided to use pomegranate juice instead of the sour, and use a rosemary infused simple syrup.
- Right away, it’s obvious there isn’t going to be enough acidity in the cocktail, but I wasn’t sure how much. So I decided to add a quarter of an ounce of lime juice and experiment from there.
- Even though were three items listed that contributed to depth of flavor, when I actually made the cocktail I found that it was still lacking in flavor. This is when I decided to introduce Brachetto, a sweet sparkling wine.
- The Brachetto increased the flavor, alcohol and sweetness. To balance that, I removed some gin and some of the our sweetening syrup. Finally, I decided to actually reduce the juice over the stovetop to remove some of the water (one of the key ways we talked about for increasing flavor in the cocktail.) After several iterations, I finally achieved a cocktail with the balance and theme I wanted.
These two were both very tricky cocktails that required a lot of iteration. I think you’ll find it unusual that you’ll have to re-balance so many times – but now you know how if you need to.