Is it just us, or have brunch cocktails become their own genre?
From the drinks at Oakland's hip Hopscotch to the sips at San Francisco's Jasper's, breakfast libations have suddenly gotten a lot more interesting. Mixologists are still shaking up the classics, of course, but the fizzy mimosas and spicy bloody marys have been joined by the Anejo Fizz, the Settlement and the Oakland 75.
When bar manager Kevin Diedrich craves a brunch cocktail, he wants one with bright flavors and alcohol that's low enough that he can sip it all day. Bubbles are good, but a little acid is even better to stimulate his palate before a big, leisurely meal.
With these hallmarks in mind, he designed the new brunch cocktail at Jasper's Corner Tap & Kitchen with a range of bloody marys, royales, fizzes, morning bracers and boilermakers. Like many Bay Area bartenders, Diedrich tweaks the classics and takes a seasonal approach to brunch cocktails that may reflect what the chefs are doing with food.
At Hopscotch, for example, co-owner Jenny Schwarz likes to turn the classics on their heads. She adds wasabi to the bloody marys and makes her own version of an Irish coffee that swaps bourbon for Irish whiskey and maple syrup for sugar. But one of her favorites is the Oakland 75, a cross between a French 75 and a power-boosted mimosa, made with gin, house-made grenadine, fresh orange juice and sparkling wine.
"It's just a big wine glass full of delicious brunch juice," she says.
At Haven in Oakland, the brunch cocktail program is an extension of the food, which is rooted in local, seasonal ingredients, says Ron Boyd, director of operations for the Daniel Patterson Group, which also owns Plum in Oakland and Coi in San Francisco.
"We think about what's the next fruit or vegetable coming into season and how we can manipulate that into something to give a classic a twist," Boyd says. "For us, every season is the next push into something new."
One version of Haven's bloody mary is made with a half-dozen types of tomatoes, which are smoked and pureed with several kinds of chilis and topped with house-made pickles. Also popular at brunch: That's My Jam, a bourbon-peach jam cocktail, and the Flash Gordon, a salty, herbaceous blend of celery juice, gin, fresh yuzu juice and soda that pairs well with food.
In some cases, the drink may look familiar but the packaging has received a major overhaul. Case in point: At Waterbar in San Francisco, head bartender (and my boyfriend) Joe Wrye favors a classic bloody mary gussied up with garnishes on steroids, including jumbo prawns, bacon and cucumber coins. Who can argue with an appetizer and cocktail rolled into one?
Many brunch cocktails share a few commonalities. They're playful, in keeping with brunch's more casual, low-key vibe. Many are lower in alcohol to keep guests from getting too tipsy. Diedrich likes sours and fizzes, including the Anejo Fizz, which he compares to an iced tequila cappuccino.
"They are light, approachable cocktails ready for day drinking," Diedrich says.
The ingredients often fill a purpose too, with bubbles and acid serving as a pick-me-up for the palate -- and sometimes a calm-me-down for the belly. Bartender Hans Losee created the Settlement cocktail for San Jose's The Table to settle the stomachs of guests who've had too much fun the night before, says Brian Nicholas, The Table's general manager.
"The idea is that if someone comes in with a hangover and might still be feeling a little uneasy," he says, "they can start off with this cocktail and hopefully, they'll get to start their day all fresh and new again."