Beyond Bloody Marys: Drinking Your Veggies At Your Favorite Cocktail Bar

We’re just about one month into 2018. How are you doing on your New Year’s resolutions? If you vowed to eat more vegetables this year, you may just find them in an unexpected place: the cocktail bar.

Though savory Bloody Marys are omnipresent at brunches and cucumber regularly plays nicely with vodka and tequila, these local establishments are looking deeper into the garden for fresh ideas. Beets, carrots, tomatillos, squash and other veggies and herbs are making their way into these popular restaurants’ libations.

Max Amore in Glastonbury serves a Macho Man, made with beet juice, Corralejo reposado tequila, Angostura amaro and Fiorente liqueur, and Max Burger in West Hartford features the What’s Up Doc?, with carrot juice, jalapeno-infused tequila, agave, lime juice, sprigs of cilantro and a salt rim.

Max Restaurant Group has been using vegetable influences in its cocktails for several years, says Brian Mitchell, Max’s beverage director. Inspiration came from the restaurant group’s annual farm dinner series.

“We were working with things that were applicable for the focus of the dinners, what was in season at the moment,” Mitchell says. The team first experimented with a beet Negroni about seven years ago.

“It just turned out to be kind of a cool drink; I think it’s also a little of that element that people just don’t expect beets in their cocktail, and they’re pleasantly surprised by it.”

At Zohara in West Hartford, the menu is inspired by fresh Mediterranean flavors and exotic spices. Cocktails follow that theme, like the 24 Carrot with carrot juice, vodka, cardamom, honey and lemon juice and the Root Down with beet juice, bourbon, dry curacao, star anise, lemon juice and turmeric. The bar has also experimented with a cauliflower sour, says DORO Restaurant Group partner Scott Miller.

A cocktail menu section dedicated to “vegetal” drinks (or “sides in drinks’ clothing) helps balance out The Cook and the Bear’s rich barbecue-inspired cuisine like burnt end sliders, fried chicken and waffles and mac and cheese gratin.

The Green Monster features poblano-tomatillo sorbet, gin, mezcal, pineapple and lime and a What’s Up, Doc has carrot juice, orange juice, cumin, ginger, lemon and rye. A unique “Bloody Bear” incorporates beets served from the smoker, which are pureed with pickled beet brine, chipotle peppers, white soy sauce, a little of the restaurant’s Texas black pepper BBQ sauce, and a touch of maple syrup, said Aaron Stepka, bar manager at the West Hartford restaurant. The veggie drinks are also available as booze-free mocktails.

At Flora, the new plant-based restaurant in West Hartford’s Blue Back Square, guests are encouraged to be “as vegan as they want to be.” The bar’s “boozy refreshments” offer the chance to even drink your veggies, with cocktails like the Garden Party (organic blanco tequila, kale-ginger juice, lime and agave.)

In New Haven, the "Yale Beets Harvard" cocktail at New Haven’s Anchor Spa, a nod to the Ivy League rivalry, melds beet syrup with brown-buttered Plantation rum, Smith & Cross rum, orange acid and molasses.

At Ordinary, bartenders have made vegetable juices, shrubs and dehydrated powders, and more recently, they’ve been making rotating winter vegetable syrups, starting with butternut squash, said co-owner Tim Cabral. The “Lite & Easy” cocktail uses the veggie syrup with Hacienda reposado tequila, Barbadillo sherry, fresh grapefruit and lime juice and winter bitters, Cabral said, and it’s garnished with a stick of edible candied butternut squash.

At Mystic restaurants Engine Room and Oyster Club, fresh produce from their partner farm, Stone Acres in Stonington, inspires the seasonal cocktail list at each location. Engine Room bar manager Nick Georgetti says the bar team will visit the farm to taste products, talk to farmers about what’s available for the upcoming seasons and come up with flavor profiles.

“My goal is to try to incorporate as much as we can from the farm, just because we’re supporting our own business,” he says. “Every season, there’s always something coming from the farm, whether it’s an herb, a spice, fruit or vegetables.”

Engine Room’s La Flama Blanca combines Lunazul reposado tequila, Del Maguey Vida mezcal, green chartreuse, tomatillos pureed with cilantro, lime juice and sugar. Georgetti says the cocktail was first created for chef James Wayman’s “Oaxaca Meets Thailand” dinner at the James Beard Foundation in October.

Oyster Club’s Buzzed Bunny is a take on a pisco sour, with shrub made from Stone Acres carrots, lemon and egg white, shaken and served garnished with housemade chili oil. It replaces a recent Santa Rojo, with fresh-pressed beet and ginger juice, lime juice, Amaras mezcal, agave and chocolate bitters.

Vegetables have “wonderful, earthy” flavor profiles that pair well with a lot of liquors, Oyster Club’s Heather McDermott wrote in an email. “As a bartender, it’s really nice to have something new to experiment with. It’s also nice in the winter to be able to incorporate something fresh and local into our cocktails.”

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