Bloody Marys are a brunch staple that has existed for as long as brunch menus. A new wave of bars, from New York to Hong Kong, is trying to diversify cocktail menus by adding savory drinks, including everything from Waldorf Salad to Roast Chicken.
Is it just a provocative way to stand out and be different? Is there a genuine interest in such drinks?
Margaret Eby believes that the growing popularity of mocktails is directly related to the increased interest in savory cocktails.
Eby jokes that some savory cocktails are “hard soups” because they taste sweet.
She points out how alcohol usually offsets the sweetness of cocktail ingredients like simple syrups and fruit juices. When you remove the vodka or whisky, the sweetness is more prominent.
Eby believes it is a good idea for bar and restaurant owners to diversify their menus, as the global food price fluctuation makes some ingredients harder to obtain or more expensive. She says that with savory cocktail recipes, “you can use more ingredients from the supermarket than before.”
Bloody Mary is the most famous savory cocktail. However, tomatoes have been interpreted very differently to create the drink known as the Tomatini.
The drink was designed for the Mediterranean restaurant group LPM to combine two key menu ingredients, tomatoes, and vinegar, into a beverage.
The cocktail was first introduced in 2010. Ketel One vodka contains white balsamic, black pepper, and cherry tomatoes. The tiny tomato is on the rim, typically a slice of lemon or maraschino cherries.
CNN reports that in the beginning, guests were hesitant to try the cocktail because they thought it was a savory drink. Many customers also asked if it was similar to a Gazpacho.
They fell in love with the delicate flavor after trying it.
The presentation helps too. It is served in a coupe instead of a Martini glass and has a pinkish tint with foam on top.
Tomatini has become a favorite at LPM restaurants around the globe, including Miami and Dubai.
Expanding your options
Even though tomatoes are technically fruits (though they’re often grouped with vegetables), they’re not the only ingredients that can make a cocktail savory.
Hong Kong bar The Savory Project opened in May 2023 and celebrates ingredients not usually found on cocktail menus. These include beef jerky, corn husks, and more.
Jay Khan, co-owner of the company, says they are fearless in using ingredients not commonly found in drinks. “For instance, using beef or different types of mushrooms, for example. We experiment with anything imaginable and then replicate it into a beverage.
Khan founded Coa in the past, a bar that specializes in tequilas and mezcals. It was named Asia’s best bar in 2022.
His next savory drink-focused project was inspired by the fact that Hong Kong residents were enjoying these Mexican liquors and their saltier umami-tinged combinations.
The Savory Project menu is divided into two sections: alcoholic and not-alcohol. Illustrations of the primary flavors are placed next to the drink names, such as mushrooms or clams.
Khan asks: “What’s the use of creating super-adventurous drinks if people don’t understand the flavor they are drinking?”
Not every bar is a fan of savory cocktails.
New York City’s Double Chicken Please offers two distinct areas: a traditional room for guests who prefer more conventional drinks and an experimental space for those more adventurous.
The menu in the back room is divided into three sections, just like the food menu: “appetizers,” main courses,” and “desserts.”
The first section includes drinks inspired by Japanese cold noodles and Waldorf salad; the second group contains a cocktail named Cold Pizza, made with parmesan.
Tako Chang is Double Chicken Please’s manager of marketing and communication. He calls one of the menu’s most notable items a “reverse pairing.”
A popular Southern dish of country ham and gravy-inspired Red Eye Gravy. The roles are reversed: in this recipe, a mixture of Irish whiskey, coffee, mushroom, and butter is the main ingredient, while the prosciutto piece is merely a garnish.
The World’s 50 Best recognized Double Chicken Please as North America’s top bar in the past year. Chang says that the surge in attention is a sign that more people are doing their research before coming to try something new.
Some people request a cocktail they saw on Instagram, while others study the menu before booking.