Bloody Mary bars. All-you-can-drink pitchers of Mimosas. Special Bellini spins. All of these are the standard drinks that grace the brunching table at home and out on the town. Yes, every once in a while, there is a coffee beverage or a gin-based tipple on the menu, but for the most part, these staples are your weekend breakfast choices.
“Brunch usually early in the day and people don’t want to drink too much since they probably have things to do the rest of the day. Also, brunch tends to be a longer leisurely meal, so people tend to want to be able to have a few drinks without getting too drunk,” says Jason Suss, founder of A Proper Pour.
But, explains Suss, this doesn’t mean that you have to stick to the OG brunch drinks. With a little imagination, you can expand your breakfast horizons. The first type of drink that should be making an appearance on your table: Spiked coffee cocktails.
“A good trick for incorporating coffee into a more brunch-style cocktail is to use cold press coffee to make a cold and refreshing cocktail. Whiskey, amaro, maple syrup and cold-pressed coffee together is one of my favorites. A little sweet, a little bitter and that caffeine kick that people want in the morning,” he says.
Lynnette Marrerro, co-founder of Speedrack, explains that variations on the spritz have been increasingly popular for cocktails, which allows would-be imbibers to combine spirits with sparkling wine, increasingly the flavor profiles but not the chance for an afternoon hangover.
“I love spritz variations because you can use lower proof fortified wines with base spirits like Zacapa 23, but extend them with bubbles! You can lean into some juices like cucumber or ginger to create cocktails that fit the daytime light cocktail vibe,” she says.
But, notes Suss, liquors like bourbon and whiskey are not off-limits for brunch, either. He notes that scaling back your portion and getting creative with mixers will give you the early-morning sipper of your dreams.
“Instead of a full shot of bourbon, just use a small amount and perhaps mix it with other lower-proof ingredients like an Amaro, or lighter aperitif like Aperol. Then, you can add a variety of lengtheners, like soda, or ginger beer, hard cider, or sparkling wine,” he says.
Adds Marrerro, “In these cases, I like to pair them with coffee or in a ‘Mary’ because they lengthen the cocktail and you can consume them over a longer period of time. If you’re having more of a Manhattan-style drink, then I like to use a reverse formula where I use less of the higher proof spirit and more of the lower proof spirits,” she says.
While we may be talking about drinking booze before noon, there is something healthy here, says Suss — fruits and vegetables.
“Fresh juice is always great with brunch. Blended drinks, with lots of fresh fruit are great. Fruit juice with sparkling wine, or a dry cider is great. And, don’t forget the vegetables. There’s so many variations of the Bloody Mary — tomato, tomatillo, carrot juice, etc.,” he says.
And, he says, trying new spins on traditional cocktails can also be palate appeasing, especially if your guests are already partial to one. For example, he says, with a Bloody Mary, you can use a variety of base spirits, no spirit at all and just beer, like in a Michelada.
If you’re still stumped, but still want to create something your friends will be talking about for weeks, Suss says to look to the menu for inspiration. Lots of great cocktails can be created using complementing flavors to the foods that often grace the breakfast table.
“I like to use traditional breakfast flavors in the drinks. Maple Syrup, fresh orange juice, coffee. I worked at a restaurant that did a fun take on an Orange Julius. Fresh orange juice, spiced rum, vanilla orange liqueur…delicious,” he notes.
And, have fun with the garnishes, too, for an extra special touch. “Brunch tends to be more casual and playful. Use breakfast garnishes on a Bloody Mary like a mini-waffle, or an everything bagel.”
But, explains Grace Ramirez, global chef ambassador for Zacapa 23, no matter what type of brunch cocktail you are planning, ensuring all of your flavors work together both in the glass and on the dish will be your key to success.
“Layers of flavors and balance are the key. When you are building a menu you need to think of the meal as a whole, which people normally don’t, they season each ingredient separately and then when the meal comes together its just a bit much. Think of all the elements you are going to put out and don’t over season,” she says.