Morgan & Owens
Each brunch guest at The Smith in Manhattan receives a classic Bloody mary.
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Morning Jolts

Jeffery Lindenmuth - July/August 2008

When mixing for the early crowd, bartenders are studying the brunch menu and thinking beyond the basics.

"Without cocktails, brunch is just breakfast," says Beth Gruitch, co-owner of Rioja and Bistro Vendôme, two of Denver's weekend morning destinations, both located on bustling Larimer Square. At Bistro Vendôme, the selection of Gueules de Bois, or Hangover Drinks, would surely delight Guy Beringer, the linguistic hybridizer who, in 1895, penned "Brunch: A Plea" for Hunter's Weekly magazine. In addition to advocating beer and whiskey as brunch beverages, Beringer showed prescience: "By eliminating the need to get up early on Sunday, brunch would make life brighter for Saturday night carousers. Brunch is cheerful, sociable, and inciting."

While the appearance of the Bloody Mary and Mimosa coincided with the emergence of brunch in America in the 1930s, forever securing their place in the morning-after medicine chest, diners at Bistro Vendôme are more likely to slip into a Duvet de Pêche ("Peach Duvet") with their steak and eggs. "It's our most popular brunch drink. It has a fair amount of alcohol, but it won't knock you over at 11 a.m. In creating brunch drinks, you have to remember that, unlike dinner, brunch is not a two or three hour event. And you want to go on with your day," says Gruitch.

To make the lemonade-like Duvet de Pêche, combine 1 1/2 oz. Grey Goose Citron vodka, 1/2 oz. Mathilde Pêche, 1/2 oz. orange juice, juice of 1/3 fresh lemon, and a splash of sweet and sour in a cock­tail shaker with ice. After shaking and straining into a cocktail glass, add a floating 1/2 oz. of Pimm's No. 1. In addition to the basic Bloody Mary, Vendôme also offers Bière Rouge, reminiscent of the saloon-era red beer, blending 2/3 beer to 1/3 Bloody Mary mix. Across the street at Rioja, cocktails are listed on the brunch menu as "Eye-openers," including a Lemon Quencher combining house-made limoncello, Bombay Sapphire gin, ginger ale, cava, and a squeeze of lime, as well as the griddle-inspired Blueberry Pancake, made by shaking 1 1/4 oz. Stoli Blueberi, 1 1/4 oz. Baileys Original Irish Cream, and 1 oz. Macallan Amber Liqueur in a cocktail shaker with ice and straining into a chilled cocktail glass. Garnish with fresh blueberries in season.

At The Smith, in Manhattan, Sunday brunchers are treated to a complimentary Mimosa, Bloody Mary, or the house Passion Punch, which lures with tropical juice while pushing the boundaries of brunch drinks with its rum base, according to co-owner Jeffrey Lefcourt. "Passion fruit has a flavor people are into. It has nice acidity and tartness, so it works with the food. Frankly, the Bloody Mary does not match with many dishes, but our popular brunch foods like French toast, waffles, and pancakes actually benefit from the touch of sweetness in this drink," says Lefcourt. To make the Passion Punch, combine 1 1/2 oz. light rum, 1/2 oz. fresh lime juice, 1 oz. simple syrup, and 1 oz. passion fruit juice in a highball glass with ice. Garnish with a lime wheel.

Demonstrating how thoroughly integrated cocktails are with American brunch, even wine bars dust off the mixing glass for the Sunday morning ritual. "We sell a lot of wine, but not at brunch," says Joanne Chessie, partner at Bin Wine Cafe in Chicago. Con­trib­ut­ing their own takes, Bin brought their wine flight expertise to the brunch table, offering not only Bloody Mary and Mimosa flights ($12), but milk flights for children in flavors of chocolate, strawberry, and banana ($4). "Flights are something we do well. These are popular drinks, so our distinction is more about the flight. We could do a flight of toast," says Chessie.

Each flight includes four 3-oz. servings which vary with the seasons. A Bloody Mary flight might include the Italian Mary with aged balsamic vinegar, basil, and Parmesan or an Asian Mary with pickled ginger and wasabi. Recent Mimosa flights have included versions flavored with fresh pineapple, Pom Wonderful pomegranate juice, and a Madras Mimosa flavored with orange and cranberry juices.

Bar Johnny Drink Kitchen, in the Russian Hill neighborhood of San Francisco, offers bottomless Mimosas for $9, but with such original drinks as the No. Twenty-209, a Gin Fizz made with local No. 209 gin, peach water, and orange syrup, or a Sugarplum Bellini, fragrant with lavender-flavored simple syrup and Santa Rosa plum puree, it could prove challenging to stick to the standbys.

"I've always felt a brunch cocktail should function as hair of the dog, something with a little weight and well-disguised alcohol, with cream and eggs and proteins that coat the stomach," says John Jasso, managing partner and mixologist. His back to basics ap­proach, like the reintroduction of fizzes, has an older generation jazzed even as younger diners are initially skeptical about gin as a morning tipple. And while the Bloody Mary remains a standard, Jasso prefers his drinks with most of the brunch menu. "The least food-friendly of all the brunch drinks is the Bloody Mary. Our drinks are actually balanced, innovative, well-crafted, and food-friendly. They take what's going on in cocktail culture in general and translate it to the brunch cocktail," says Jasso.

For the No. Twenty-209 Fizz peach water, Jasso strains pureed fresh peaches through cheesecloth, sweetening as necessary. For the orange syrup, he reduces a cup of orange juice by half, then adds a cup of honey over a double boiler. To mix the cocktail, combine 2 oz. No. 209 gin, 1 egg white, 3/4 oz. half-and-half, 1/2 oz. fresh lime juice, 1 Tbsp. peach water, and 1 Tbsp. orange syrup in a cocktail shaker with ice. Shake vigorously and strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Garnish with a twist of orange.

Fizzes also reign at San Francisco's Rose Pistola, where the formidable house fizz, the Ginger Gin Fizz, is made with 2 1/2 oz. No. 209 gin, 1 1/2 oz. fresh lemon juice, and 3/4 oz. house-made ginger syrup. To make ginger syrup add 1 oz. peeled and diced ginger to 1 cup simple syrup made up of equal parts sugar and water and refrigerate overnight. To mix the cocktail, combine gin, lemon juice, and ginger syrup with ice in a cocktail shaker. Shake and strain into a chilled Collins glass, top with soda water, and garnish with a slice of lemon and sprig of mint.

At Cetrella in Half Moon Bay, California, the house Gin Fizz, the Cetrella Ramos Fizz (made as a blender drink with gin, triple sec, milk or half-and-half, house-made vanilla ice cream, and orange juice) is also popular. But according to bar manager and 30 year veteran John Linhares, "Nowadays, anything goes at brunch. The 50 and older crowd are drinking Gin Fizzes, but I occasionally make everything from Manhattans to Mojitos." Linhares says juice cocktails and sparkling cocktails are among the most popular brunch drinks, including the Sparkacella, a Mediterranean Champagne cocktail: 2 oz. limoncello and a sugar cube in a flute, topped with sparkling wine.

Last year, when opening Bolete Restaurant and Inn in Beth­le­hem, Pennsylvania, co-owner Erin Shea and chef/co-owner Lee Chiz­mar brought along from Great Bay, their former workplace in Boston, a popular brunch drink called the Ghost of Mary—vodka and house-made spicy tomato water consommé shaken and served straight up. In devising more cocktails for the Bolete brunch menu, Shea created Not Your Grandmother's Greyhound. Inspired by another classic, Shea begins with a case each of ruby red grapefruit and clementines. Halve the 12 large grapefruit and roast at 350°F 15 minutes or until slightly brown. Similarly, halve the clementines and roast at 350°F 10 minutes. Once the fruit is cool enough to handle but still warm, juice them together and strain through a fine sieve. Unless you intend to freeze the juice, make small batches, advises Shea.

To assemble the cocktail, combine 3 oz. vodka, 4 oz. roasted grapefruit/clementine juice, and 1 Tbsp. brown sugar simple syrup (1:1 brown sugar and water) in a cocktail shaker with ice. Shake vigorously and strain into a turbinado sugar–rimmed cocktail glass. "The Greyhound is such an old lady drink, but it is very refreshing, so I tried to make it cooler," says Shea. Next up on the Bolete brunch menu are summer sangria and a strawberry/smoked poblano Margarita still under development as the first berries of the season arrived.