As Plant-based Popularity Grows, Profit from Vegan Cocktails

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Vegan diets, which used to be maligned and just for “weird eaters,” are everywhere these days.

Now existing typically under the moniker of “plant-based diets,” more Americans are turning to them as they discover that diets without meat make them feel better and are better for the planet.

People who eat plant-based diets tend to want to do things thoroughly, and that means drinking vegan products too. Vedge in Philadelphia caters to these customers.

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This restaurant offers a full bar, including six rotating cocktails, all of which are vegan. It's not difficult to come up with a vegan cocktail list, says beverage director Daniel Miller.

He says these cocktails appeal to vegans, but by no means exclusively. People come to Vedge for vegetable-forward food and drinks, and the cocktails are intended to appeal to all.

Miller says that you do lose a couple of spirits off the bat—Chartreuse and Benedictine—since they both contain honey. But there are alternatives, such as Genepi, which he says is “like a baby Chartreuse, with a lot of the same botanicals.”

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And, of course, all cocktails containing dairy have to be avoided, but Miller has found that oat milk tends to work well. Other plant-based milks work, he says, but he prefers oat because “it doesn't add too much sugar and has a nice richness in texture.”

Egg whites are obviously off limits, but Miller’s found aquafaba (whipped chickpea water) works really well as a replacement. “It’s a great emulsifier and you get that creamy, foamy head,” he says. This allows him to prepare any egg white drink, such as a Pisco Sour. “We use a lot of garbanzos, so we use the water and don’t waste it. Garbanzos are pretty good for you and we’re excited because it’s important for us to waste as little as possible.”

Miller also steers clear of any wines that are not vegan due to the fining or filtration process (which can use egg whites or isinglass, which is made with fish bladders), so he checks into all provenances from his suppliers. He makes sure all his wines are quality “because why would you use nice spirits and great quality vegetables yet use a cheap wine?”

Since the restaurant offers only a plant-based menu, there’s always a lot of produce around, so it’s often included in the beverages. This means the cocktails change with the seasons: the Something Like Autumn cocktail ($14) containing fennel comes off in the late fall, and berries are used a lot in the summer, for example. Because of this, winter cocktails tend to be more citrusy, with more spices, Miller explains.

The food costs for the vegan cocktails may be slightly higher than for a traditional cocktail, Miller says, “because of the fresh ingredients and because we make sure we’re using the highest quality.” The spirits, he says, are also good quality, which work well with the produce, but aren’t more expensive. Overall, he aims for a 20 percent food cost.

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The best-selling cocktail on Vedge’s menu right now is the Pinky’s Prize ($15). It features mezcal, Pimm’s, black walnut liquor, lime juice, local beet brandy and fig-mustard syrup (figs, molasses, whole grain mustard, sherry vinegar). It was inspired by the accoutrements to a cheese plate. “It’s a refreshing and balanced drink,” Miller says, and he’ll keep it on the menu for as long as he can get fresh figs.

There are always little surprises that make certain beverages non-vegan, however. This includes winemakers who line their corks with beeswax, and McCallan Scotch, which is filtered through seashells. “Some guests were upset about that, so we took it off. That’s the strict end of things but that’s where we want to be; we want our customers to trust us.”

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