Yes Whey: Using Yogurt in Cocktails

The Nicolaki at Iron Gate in D.C., made with Greek yogurt, Sobieski vodka, honey, lemon and rosemary. | Courtesy of Iron Gate
The Nicolaki at Iron Gate in D.C., made with Greek yogurt, Sobieski vodka, honey, lemon and rosemary. | Courtesy of Iron Gate

Step into your local grocery store’s dairy aisle and you’ll be confronted with scores of Greek yogurts, goat milk yogurts, drinkable yogurts—you get the idea. You might look upon those shelves and see breakfast possibilities, but bartenders see row after row of drinkspiration.

Here, a guide to the boozy side of yogurt.

How Bartenders Are Using Yogurt in Cocktails

In just a few years, Greek yogurt has gone from relatively unknown to accounting for about half of all yogurt sales in the U.S. Prolific as it is, it’s no wonder bartenders have started including it in drinks. What is surprising, though, is just how well it works in cocktails. At Mediterranean restaurant Iron Gate in Washington, D.C., for example, bartender Nick Farrell uses Greek yogurt in the popular Nicolaki (above). Originally developed by former bar director Jeff Faile, the full-bodied cocktail also includes Sobieski vodka, honey, lemon and rosemary.

For Farrell, the cocktail potential for Greek yogurt is nearly limitless. “The Nicolaki is made with vodka—but Greek yogurt works really well with gin as well,” Farrell says. “Or any sort of fruit brandy you can think of. If it’s a flavor you would mix into Greek yogurt, then it will go well in a cocktail. You can really branch out and do a lot with it.”

Joaquín Simó of Pouring Ribbons in New York City is equally enthusiastic about boozing up Greek yogurt. “It’s a tremendous foil for things that are sweeter, things that are fruitier, things that are tart,” he says. “You get to play off of a lot of things.” He has developed a number of cocktails with yogurt, both at Pouring Ribbons and previously at Death & Company.

Right now, Pouring Ribbons’ menu includes one cocktail made with Greek yogurt, the Snake in the Grass, which was developed by co-owner Shannon Tebay. Designed to emulate a lighter Indian lassi, the drink includes Tanqueray, lime, 100-proof Rhum J.M., coconut water, Greek yogurt and makrut lime leaf. “It’s that funk that the 100-proof agricole rhum brings to the drink that acts as a bridge between that bright, botanically-intense, resin-y gin and that tangy, rich yogurt,” Simó says.

But bartenders aren’t limiting themselves to Greek yogurt. Sommelier Daniel Beedle, beverage director and assistant general manager of Indian Accent in New York, uses standard cow’s milk and goat’s milk yogurt in the Indian Summer. He whips the yogurts together and infuses the creamy mix with chamomile before shaking it with cardamom-infused pisco and lemon sherbert.

“Goat’s milk adds a touch more acid. Cow’s milk has more fat,” Beedle explains. “The yogurt adds a lot of body and, just like with any shaken acid cocktail, it also gives it that creamy coating—like the malt in an IPA—which can bring balance to the tannins from other ingredients.”

Not interested in thick, creamy yogurt in a drink? Try one made with yogurt whey, the foggy, tart liquid strained off in yogurt production. Jonas Andersen of Agern in New York mixes a mocktail called the Whey Better with yogurt whey, verjus and a lemon-thyme syrup. Whey was also previously featured at Trick Dog in San Francisco in the Sagittarius, which paired the whey with Irish whiskey and meyer lemon cordial.

You can also opt for kefir, a sort of drinkable, fermented yogurt. Eamon Rockey, the general manager of NYC’s Betony, recently introduced the Juan Deere cocktail to the menu, which calls for kefir, tequila and sugar snap peas. Bartender Jon Lawson also uses kefir, along with gin and cassis, in the Napitok Bogov at Paley’s Place in Portland, Oregon.

Or, you could just forgo mixing a cocktail with yogurt entirely and instead infuse it into a spirit. Matt Polzin of The Olde Bar in Philadelphia makes yogurt-washed gin for his Ophelia Winthrope cocktail.

How to Mix Cocktails With Yogurt at Home

If no bars around you are mixing cocktails with yogurt, don’t be afraid to give it a go at home. “It’s like making cocktails with egg whites—but much easier,” Farrell says. “It adds body and texture—and there’s no dry shaking necessary.”

Simó agrees. “What I like about yogurt drinks is they’re very forgiving when it comes to the preparation,” he says. “You can shake with it. You can flash blend it. It can go into a crushed ice drink. It can be served up.” He has just one warning. “Check your expiration dates,” he says.

If mixing straight yogurt into a cocktail still seems like too much, Bols offers a yoghurt liqueur made with fermented cow’s milk, designed specifically for cocktailing purposes. We can personally vouch for the liqueur in a take on a Piña Colada.

So, the next time you’re feeling too lazy to dry shake an egg white or you’re craving something equal parts creamy and refreshing, reach for the yogurt. Then preach the good dairy word to all your drinking buddies.