Grill Your Cocktails
Let’s face it: Everything is better grilled—cocktails included. We’re not talking about throwing a Martini onto the hot coals and inhaling the fumes (seriously, don’t do that). We’re talking about charring fruits and vegetables on the grill before juicing, muddling or infusing them into awesome, smokey, summertime beverages.
Here, five brilliant mixologists and chefs share their favorite grilled cocktail ingredients and how to use them.
Fresh pineapple is undeniably delicious. But grilled, it’s over-the-top insanely good. The heat caramelizes the sugars in the fruit adding an almost molasses-like flavor to the tropical fruit. You can simply muddle it into a Mojito or Caipirinha, or use it as a show-stopping Piña Colada garnish, but Jessica Gonzalez and Lynnette Marrero—the two badass bar managers at Brooklyn Peruvian newcomer Llama Inn—have an even better way to harness grilled pineapple’s incredible flavors: They juice it.
“Grilling pineapple gives it a savory quality with a deeper concentration of fruit flavor,” Gonzalez and Marrero explain. It’s the one ingredient they say summer drinking would be incomplete without.
The Llama Del Rey, the restaurant's signature on-draft punch, mixes the grilled pineapple juice with pisco, red wine, chicha morada (a Peruvian purple corn drink), rum, lime and pink peppercorn. It’s also used in the Tia Julia, their seasonal twist on a classic French 75 made with pisco (instead of the usual gin), Cocchi Americano, lime (instead of lemon), muña (a type of evergreen mint), sparkling wine and grilled pineapple juice.
If you’ve ever had a really good peach pie, you know how good cooked peaches can be. Grilled, they are just as sweet as they are in a pie with an added, alluring touch of smoke. At Dove’s Luncheonette in Chicago, consultant Eden Laurin uses grilled peaches in the Ponche De Verano, which mixes the sweet-smoky peaches with blanco tequila, raicilla (a type of proto-mezcal), Dove’s iced tea blend and lemon. Laurin’s love of grilled peaches doesn’t end with one cocktail. She also suggests using them to make a syrup (perfect for extra-summery Mint Juleps) and slicing them for garnishes on tequila and rum cocktails.
Chopped grilled peaches (along with pretty much any other fruit) are also a great way to instantly upgrade sangria. Chef Albert Di Meglio of Brooklyn’s Barano was inspired by his grandfather’s love of red wine-soaked peaches to create his signature recipe, which marries grilled peach purée, orange juice, rye whiskey and prosecco for a refreshingly balanced, bubbly concoction.
There’s nothing like biting into a sweet, juicy, in-season tomato, especially after months of digging through boxes of styrofoam-esque specimens during the winter. Except, of course, drinking that super-ripe tomato in a Bloody Mary—double points if the tomato is grilled first. A quick sear on the grill only heightens tomatoes’ already sweet flavors, and that hint of smoke is perfect with other Bloody Mary staples like Worcestershire sauce and hot sauce.
For the new summer BBQ brunch menu at Bedford & Co. inside New York’s Renwick Hotel, lead bartender Tommy Warren wanted to bring the flavors of the grill to the cocktail menu. For his take on a Bloody Mary, he blisters ripe beefsteak tomatoes on the grill until charred, then smokes them over the coals to add even more flavor. “Here in the city, it's especially tough to barbecue unless you have a rooftop,” Warren said. “New Yorkers love to brunch, so we want to satisfy those summertime cravings by bringing barbecue to the booze.”
Warren encourages everyone to always have a batch of grilled tomato purée on hand. It’s easy to make ahead of time. Simply throw some tomatoes on the grates the next time you light the grill to cook up some brats and burgers. Then purée them and store the mix in the fridge for smoky Bloodies whenever. Warren recommends mixing in the usual suspects (Worcestershire, horseradish and lime juice) along with ingredients like olive juice and Dijon mustard to reach Bloody nirvana.
Red Bell Pepper
Like tomatoes, sweet red peppers only get better with some time on the grill. Unlike tomatoes, red peppers don’t have a go-to cocktail. But that doesn’t mean they don’t belong in your drink.
At Quill in Washington DC, bartender Rachel Kling grills a number of ingredients to “impart wonderful headiness and developed sugars in cocktails.” She especially loves red pepper, in part because of the nostalgia factor. “Anyone who ate grilled kebabs growing up will think back to those fond emotions,” Kling says. “It draws them in.”
Inspired by her favorite salsa (mango with roasted red peppers), Kling created a cocktail with housemade roasted red pepper and sriracha syrup, roasted red pepper infused mezcal, añejo tequila, mango nectar and lime. “The cocktail develops as you taste it, finishing in a slow heat,” she says. At home, purée and strain seeded grilled peppers, then try it shaken in a Margarita or take a tip from Kling and infuse your own mezcal by dropping slices of grilled pepper into a bottle and leaving it to marry for around three days, tasting regularly.