Posted on | July 31, 2013
Written by | Brandy Rand
Bartenders rethink frozen drinks for the modern cocktail age.
Ask a bartender what he or she thinks about blender drinks and you’ll likely get an earful about all that is wrong with these tooth-tingling vacation-destination concoctions: too sweet, too watery, too processed. But we all secretly love a good frozen drink for nostalgic qualities, from childhood milkshakes to spring break shenanigans.
So it was only a matter of time before carefully curated cocktails emphasizing fresh ingredients edged over to frozen drink territory. With a twist, of course. Welcome to the era of spiked slushies, saucy snow cones and amped-up blender drinks.
“Blended drinks, in any incarnation, are just fun,” explains Tad Carducci, owner of The Tippler in New York City, which has a year-’round “Lushie” selection on the menu. “They allow us a bit of a mental or emotional escape to an exotic locale. Historically, they have not been made with the highest-quality ingredients, so for many years they were eschewed by craft cocktail bartenders. Over the last couple of years, these bartenders have realized that frozen drinks can be as viable a delivery method for artisanal spirits and ingredients as any, and can be a really fun ‘hook’ on their menus.”
In fact, just about any cocktail can work in a blender, points out Carducci. He says, “Have fun and experiment with recipes that have proven successful as ‘on the rocks’ or ‘up’ drinks at your bars.”
Righting the Wrongs
Kim Haasarud of Liquid Architecture, and author of 101 Blended Drinks, says most bartenders associate the blender with just four drinks: the Margarita, Piña Colada, Strawberry Daiquiri and milkshake. “In my opinion, I think the blender is probably one of the most underrated tools at a mixologist’s fingertips,” says Haasarud. She recommends investing in a high-performance blender that can keep up with a busy night without breaking down. And with noise the number one complaint for most bartenders, there are commercial models that have been developed to address the problem, like The Quiet One by Vitamix.
If blenders aren’t an option because of your bar’s volume, or if you just don’t like them, go big like Max Toste at Boston’s Deep Ellum. He purchased a BUNN Ultra Gourmet Ice frozen drink machine and along with General Manager David Cagle set out to reinvent the frozen margarita. With no fresh recipe in existence for a commercial machine, creating the perfect recipe was a long process. “Most frozen margaritas are not strong. We wanted something flavor-intensive so we had to figure out how to freeze the alcohol, sugar and water and still make it taste good,” says Cagle.
The result is a base that uses a mix of fresh lime, lemon and orange juices, simple syrup, a housemade orange peel syrup (in place of orange liqueur), water and both reposado and añejo tequilas. (“Blanco gets lost and does not have the presence of flavor we wanted,” says Toste.) Every week, Deep Ellum changes an element of the mix, adding fruit purées, liqueurs or infusing the simple syrup. They’ve even used watermelon water and basil-infused simple syrup; and have made versions with prickly pear, cucumber, mint and strawberry rhubarb. For a bar known for its craft cocktails and beers, having a frozen machine might seem a little ironic. But as Toste explains, “We’re serious about what we do, but the end result should be fun.”
The Right Mix
Serious bartenders all agree the key to a good frozen drink is fresh ingredients. Not only does a blender purée items that would otherwise be a challenge to use in a shaken or stirred drink, it actually combines them differently. Says Carducci: “For the guest, it’s a completely different sensorial experience. The body and temperature of frozen drinks really change the way the ingredients are perceived.”
Because you’re adding ice, dilution is also an important factor to consider when translating a recipe for the blender. Haasarud advises: “If you just want to cool it and aerate it, a few cubes of ice are all it takes. However, if you want a drink that is very thick and slushy, you may need to add more sugar to help carry all the flavors through the extra ice. Always have extra sugar (or whatever sweetening agent you are using such as agave nectar, honey, etc.) on hand.”
Another popular way to have fun with frozen drinks is to use the blender (or an ice crusher) to make adult snow cones like Chiwawa, a Mexican restaurant in Memphis that offers customers a shot of any spirit over snow cone flavors like lemon or strawberry. Even celebrated Chef Marcus Samuelsson is having fun with snow cones at his Harlem restaurant Red Rooster with Tres Leches and Cherry Cola versions. Carducci is known for his Snowgroni, a Negroni-inspired drink that encapsulates the convergence of a classic with the commercial. “We were obviously being a little bit cheeky and stirring the pot a bit, while still paying homage to the drink and its origins,” he says.
Blender drinks—or anything frozen on a stick or crushed in cup with a splash of spirits—have an element of novelty that works in a variety of establishments. No longer relegated to poolside, these light-hearted libations liven up menus and add a fun twist to staid classics. When done right, using quality ingredients, frozen drinks have all the pluses of a craft cocktail with none of the pretense. And who can turn down a milkshake?
STRAWBERRY CHATA SHAKE
1 part RumChata
1 part ice cream
1 part fresh or frozen strawberries
½ part rum
1 part ice
Blend until smooth. Pour into milkshake glass.
Created by Cooking Channel’s Nadia G, Nadia G’s Bitchin’ Kitchen
½ oz. Van Gogh PB&J Vodka
1 cup milk
½ cup vanilla ice cream
1 heaping Tbsp. of smooth peanut butter
1 heaping Tbsp. of raspberry jam/or fresh strawberries
Blend. Serve in a tall glass with a banana slice or raspberry garnish.
2 oz. Flor de Caña 7 Year Rum
1 scoop chocolate ice cream
½ oz. vanilla syrup
½ oz. Licor 43
4 mint leaves for garnish
Pour all ingredients into a mixing glass. Shake for 20 seconds. Serve in chilled martini glass. Top with layer of caramel foam.
*For caramel foam:
2 oz. heavy cream
½ oz. liquid caramel syrup
Dash of cinnamon
Combine heavy cream with syrup and cinnamon in a dry shaker until emulsified.
Created by Tad Carducci at The Tippler in NYC
1 oz. Gin
1 oz. Campari
1½ oz. Carpano Antica (or other sweet vermouth)
2/3 cup ice cubes
Add all ingredients to a blender with 2/3 cup ice and blend. Pour into an Old Fashioned glass and garnish with orange slice.
LIVIN’ THE HIGH LIFE MARGARITA
By Kim Haasarud, Liquid Architecture
and the book 101 Blender Drinks
2 large grapefruit chunks, peeled to flesh (no pith)
½ lemon, peeled to flesh (not pith)
1 lime, peeled (if possible)
2 oz. silver tequila
¾ oz. Grand Marnier
½ oz. Aperol
3 Tbsp. sugar
4 oz. Miller High Life beer
Combine all the ingredients, except the beer, in a blender cup. Blend on High for 20 seconds without ice. Add the beer and 1 cup of ice. Blend on HIGH for 15 seconds, then take it down to about 10% or lower and blend for about 15 seconds. This will alow you to have a cool, liquidy product with a slight ice crunch.
CANTALOUPE CAMPARI POPS
Recipe by People’s Pops in Brooklyn
Cantaloupe, about 2 lbs., peeled and seeded
¾ cup (6 fl. oz.) simple syrup (1:1)
¼ cup (2 fl. oz.) Campari
Cut the cantaloupe into large chunks and purée in a food processor or blender. You should have about 2 and ¼ cups (18 fl. oz.) of purée. Transfer the puréed cantaloupe to a bowl or measuring pitcher with a pouring spout. Add the simple syrup until the cantaloupe tastes quite sweet. Now dribble in the Campari until you can detect its flavor. Campari is less alcoholic than most spirits, so this mixture can handle more of it, but it has such a strong presence that you want to be careful not to overdo it.
Pour the mixture into ice pop molds, leaving a little bit of room at the top for the mixture to expand. Insert sticks and freeze until solid, 4 to 5 hours. Unmold and transfer to plastic bags for storage or serve at once. Makes 10 pops.
Created by Jonathan Pogash, The Cocktail Guru
1½ oz. Van Gogh Pomegranate Vodka
¾ oz. Grand Marnier
1 scoop French vanilla ice cream (or light ice cream or frozen yogurt)
¾ oz. heavy cream (can also use low-cal substitute of choice)
Blend in a blender and pour into chilled cocktail glass. Garnish with a candied orange peel and freshly grated nutmeg.