Restaurants around the country are upping their brunch cocktail game.
More often than not, brunch drinks aren't so pretty. Most restaurants serve asinine concoctions like the Mimosa, one of the greatest crimes against the cocktail ever created. It’ll probably be made with concentrated Tropicana orange and cloyingly sweet Prosecco.
Or it might be a Bloody Mary, made from a bottled mix or tinned tomato juice, both of which are often weighed down with excessive amounts of sugar and salt. The last thing anyone wants in the morning is a heavy drink. Therein lies the problem with many Bloody Marys: most are so thick you might as well be drinking gazpacho.
At Prune, Gabrielle Hamilton’s delightful shoebox of a restaurant in New York’s East Village, the New American eatery boasts eight different Bloodies that have become local icons, while there are a ton of bars around the country that have abundant D-I-Y Bloody Mary stations, including Saxon + Parole, also in New York, where I once helmed the bar. Elixir saloon in San Francisco has been offering their Bloody Mary operation for over a decade now, with owner H. Joseph Ehrmann putting out a cornucopia of pickles, hot sauces and spices that makes Sunday mornings in the Mission that much more bearable.
Therein lies the problem with many Bloody Marys: most are so thick you might as well be drinking gazpacho.
But it’s not all gloomy out there in Bellini Land. Some bars not only have dedicated brunch cocktail menus, but the drinks on said lists are equally thoughtful from day to night. Great brunch drinks. Who would have thought it? One only has to venture out to Brooklyn’s award winning, boozy temple Clover Club to see one of the best brunch cocktail menus in the country. Their bacon sampler plate and the pork and grits are worth the trip alone, but their morning drinks (separate from evening intoxicants) game is tight, super tight.
Owner/influential cocktail maven Julie Reiner and her team have compiled a diverse menu that goes well beyond the usual aforementioned staples found at most other joints around town. There are sections dedicated to sours & cobblers, royales (those with sparkling wine), bracers & pick ups, collins & fizzes, punch bowls, bloody mary variations and twists on the bar’s famous namesake cocktail made with gin, raspberry syrup, lemon, egg white a whisper of dry vermouth.
"New Yorkers are serious about brunch!" Reiner told me. "I wanted to create a daytime service at Clover Club that maintained the level of quality that we strive for on our evening menu. I looked at it as another opportunity to wow people with drinks that are best consumed during the day. There are so many places doing all you can drink of the cheapest spirits for brunch, which was the opposite of what I wanted to offer. There are so many amazing cocktails that are just better when the sun is out, so it was an opportunity for us to strut our stuff in the afternoon."
Last Fall, I had brunch at Clover—easily one of the city’s most underrated—and tried something bright and elegant called a Nice Pear with pisco and pear brandies, velvet falernum syrup, lemon and bitters finished in a moment of genius with Italy’s famed moscato sparkling dessert wine. Their Corporal Collins was an ambrosial mix of rum, apricot liqueur, lemon, maple, pimento, egg and soda and went down like a boozy cloud. One could compare this to what was once a classic morning drink: the Silver Fizz.
There was a time in history, not long after men stopped tying their horses to a wooden post outside saloons, that many cocktails were taken of a morning. The Fizz is a case in point. It’s a drink that shares the same DNA with that classic English highball, the Tom Collins, but the Fizz is a shaken drink that was traditionally served without ice or garnish. It was supposed to be imbibed quickly. You’re on your way to work, remember? Then there were drinks taken the morning after the night before, intended as restorative elixirs: Corpse Revivers, Pick Me Ups, Bullshots.
A great brunch cocktail list should be dotted with refreshing drinks that are neither high octane nor too complex in flavor.
More recently, Reiner added one of the greatest brunch drinks in existence: the Negroni Sbagliato, essentially an Americano cocktail with sparkling wine in lieu of the typical soda water. She uses a fine competitor to Campari called Cappelletti, as well as Cocchi Rosa, a delightful rosé vermouth. Charged with sparkling rosé, this is about as perfect as summer drinking gets.
A great brunch cocktail list should be dotted with refreshing drinks that are neither high octane nor too complex in flavor. Familiar names (lemonade, iced tea, milkshake)—that can as easily be served with or without booze—are sometimes all a hungover brain can handle. Drinks that contain sherry, vermouth, Aperol, beer or Campari are also ideal bases. I went to a bar recently that had a Dry Martini on their brunch menu. A Martini!
Kevin Diedrich, one of the baddest of bad asses in the bartending community, has been leading the creative charge in San Francisco for several years. Now at the helm of BDK, owned by the Kimpton Hotel Group, he has implemented a separate list of brunch drinks that includes the world’s greatest beer cocktail (and a superb hangover cure): the Michelada, an unlikely mix of beer, hot sauce, lime and spices.
There’s something intriguing, simply called Allspice, plus the rarely seen Death in the Afternoon (absinthe and Champagne), and his sugar snap pea cocktail with gin, manzanilla sherry, absinthe, citrus and tonic just sounds too good to pass up over a boozy brunch. Plus it has the word tonic in the recipe. That has to cure what ails you, right?