Amped Up Blender Drinks!

When it comes to cocktails, your customers are used to shaken, stirred and straight up. This summer, amplify menu offerings with innovative frozen drinks that turn a hot profit. Commercial blenders have come a long way, giving operators a chance to think outside of the box when it comes to whirling up custom concoctions. No longer just about cartons of mixers, bartenders are using everything from bitters to grilled fresh fruits to change the way we think about blended cocktails. We talked to a few experts to get their tips on how to build a successful frozen drink program.


The Challenges

Somewhere along the storied path of tippling, frozen drinks got a bad rap. Bartenders even started unplugging the blender at the start of their shifts to claim it was broken recalls Kim Haasarud of Liquid Architecture, and author of many cocktail books including “101 Blended Drinks.” She cites the Tiki fad’s correspondence with the invention of the blender for the rise in tropical frozen drinks. “Many bartenders at the time really gravitated to the blender, for they could create cold, icy drinks for their Tiki bars.” Then, too –sweet mixes replaced homemade syrups and frozen drinks became a bad brain freeze in more ways than one. Luckily, an inventive crop of bartenders are starting to look at the blender in a new light, bringing back quality drinks and changing our perception.


The Right Ingredients

As any bartender who has experimented with frozen drinks will tell you, there’s more to it than just throwing a bunch of ingredients in to a blender. Scott Marshall has worked behind the bar at two of Boston’s most acclaimed cocktail bars, Drink and now holds court at Boston’s The Hawthorne. Though many would be surprised at his passion for the art of blending, he points out it’s simply being proficient in every aspect of bartending.  “The guys that opened PKNY in New York did tons of research, and I read it! They studied sugar content and tested so many variations, and were so critical, that it was amazing to read.” Marshall says he and his team have experimented with frozen classics like the Negroni, a house favorite. Their motto? “We will blend anything…at least once!”

Scott Marshall at The Hawthorne Boston

Richie Moe, a partner and mixologist at the Citizen Public House in Scottsdale, Arizona says, “The best advice I can give is to always build a cocktail to be pretty intense before blending it down, that way you do not end up with a diluted drink. “ Marshall calls this “waterization” or making sure not to blend so much ice that the drink ends up tasting like water.  Another important factor in the art of blending is texture, having a smooth drink free of lumps and chunks of ice. “Our old friend Coco Lopez works wonders for texture,” he says.

Moe also suggests using a whole piece of fruit in a blender to add an explosion of flavor.  Marshall agrees: “I also like to add a little texture from real fruit...bananas make drinks really creamy, and berries add such vibrant colors and fresh flavors.” Fruit is also a crucial part of the garnish, and Moe uses a lot of lime, lemon and orange zest to add aromatics, or a good squeeze of lime juice on top of the finished drink.

Fresh is always better, and even in the case of cocktails, it’s healthier. Hassarud explains that blending raw, organic foods allows our bodies to absorb 15-20% more phytonutrients than just eating them. Even when with blended alcohol in a cocktail, the phytonutrients in fresh fruit, for example, are a positive benefit.  “So, that’s a great angle if a bartender or manager wanted to work with a nutritionist in putting the cocktail menu together,” Hassarud says. She warns to stay away from packaged mixes, which contain a lot of sugar, fat and preservatives, especially when it’s so easy to create a “healthier” blended drink with quality ingredients.

The Proper Tools

Take a look at your equipment – a store bought blender isn’t equipped to handle the volume of a bar. Invest in a commercial blender that can offer speed and consistency. Haasarud stresses the importance – and benefit – of having the right tools. “With many of the high-performance blenders on the market, such as Vitamix, you can do so much more than just make a frozen margarita. You can change the texture and temperature of the drink, how you add the ingredients and regulate the speed. You can create nut butters and put that into a cocktail. You can create alcohol creams and put that into a cocktail. You can make purees, grind spices, almond-rice & coconut milk in the blender and use that in a cocktail. You can even make hot buttered rum out of a blender!”

If you’re looking for something simpler for your staff to execute, Tim Provost from Blendtec says his company’s products are “blenders with a brain” that can be customized with pre-programmed blend cycles to match an establishments needs. And if noise is an issue, Vitamix makes a commercial blender for bars called “The Quiet One” that is four times quieter than the standard blender. Kara Gastin, marketing events supervisor at Vitamix sees more and more culinary-inspired cocktails on menus across the country, many calling for syrups and purees made with fresh fruit. “The biggest reward with blending overall is that blenders can extract flavors and create infusions at a molecular level that can’t be matched with a shaken or stirred drink,” she says.

Matt Harrington from Hamilton Beach Brands also stresses the importance of ensuring the equipment fits well within the bar service area based on size and volume requirements, and cleaning well to ensure longevity. Once operations run smoothly, he says “The reward is the ability to serve very high margin drinks that customers are asking for, and making your location a destination that stands out among competitors.”

The Presentation

Most customers equate frozen cocktails with fun, so keep it that way! Market your drinks under a special section on the menu and get creative with naming. The Tippler in New York City has a permanent rotation of “Lushies” using ingredients typically scene in craft cocktails: The Wise Cold Sage (J.M. white rhum agricole, creole shrubb, grapefruit, sage, sirop de canne) and the Hot Piece of Aztec (Blanco tequila, Italian chocolate liqueur, Mexican mole bitters, honey, chile)

The Hawthorne takes advantage of their patio by promoting Tiki-inspired blender drinks during their summer-long “Swizzle Sundays” program. Marshall draws a crowd of cocktail enthusiasts and industry friends with his fun and funky drinks like the Electric Boomerang Banana (crème de banana, rum, blue curacao, coconut) and the Fino Swizzle (fino, Cognac, port, tart cherry).

And don’t forget to educate – not only your staff, but consumers. Putting a little extra thought behind an old concept can reap new profits, just in time for summer!

For Featured Frozen Drink Recipes, Click Here!

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