Remember jars of vodka packed with Gummy Bears and candy bars? It was a brief trend in the late 80s and early 90s to create cocktails based on candied spirits, but this was before you could buy whipped cream and other confectionary-flavored spirits.
Now, the idea of infusing spirits with something sweet has returned, in a method that probably needs to be sampled to be understood.
Sam Gabrielli, bar manager at Russell House Tavern in Harvard Square, Cambridge, Mass., was looking to up the ante at brunch by creating cereal infused spirits and then crafting cocktails around them that taste good, and actually highlight the cereal.
So, we have Applejacks Rose (Applejacks infused applejack, house made grenadine and lime juice); Cinnamon Toast Mudslide (Cinnamon Toast Crunch-infused Bacardi 8, Luxardo Espresso and St. Brendans Irish Cream); Golden Graham Manhattan (Golden Graham-infused Jack Daniels, Cocchi Vermouth di Torino and Angostura Bitters): and Cocoa Puff Smash (Cocoa Puff-infused Green Charteuse, Tempus Fugit Crème de Cacao, lemon wedges and mint).
We had some questions for Gabrielli – here’s what he had to say:
Nightclub & Bar (NCB): Infusing sweets into spirits isn’t new, but using cereal – unheard of by me. Where did the idea spring from?
Gabrielli: An old friend of mine (actually a bar back at Russell House Tavern) came up with the idea originally. He thought it would be cool to create cocktails inspired by cereal and we talked a lot about different ideas. After trial and error I came up with the drinks that are currently on the menu. There are a number of cereal milk cocktails out there, but I wanted to steer away from milk-based drinks so infusing the liquor with cereal was the best way to keep the idea and flavor while trying something new.
NCB: You used quality spirits that already possessed strong flavor qualities – was that a challenge?
Gabrielli: Not really because the cereals themselves actually have fairly strong flavors as well, in fact the sweetness of the cereals worked well to impart the cereal flavor into the cocktails. Take a liquor like green Chartreuse that has over 130 different ingredients – the chocolate in the Cocoa Puffs wears the flavors down, allowing for a seamless infusion, almost like they two were meant to be together.
NCB: About the cocktails themselves – designed once you liked the flavor profile of the spirit or did you have something in mind from the start?
Gabrielli: A little of both actually. I had the idea for the Applejacks Rose and the Golden Grahams Manhattan before really getting into the execution of the cocktails and when I started working with the Cinnamon Toast Crunch and Cocoa Puffs I knew the drinks would be headed down more of the dessert cocktail route. For example, the Cocoa Puffs Smash was originally going to be a Last Word cocktail but a little trial and error found the flavor profiles not really working together, so we ended up with the Smash.
NCB: Still, cereal cocktails may be a hard thing to sell to more sophisticated drinkers – the response so far?
Gabrielli: The response has been really positive! The staff has been helpful in encouraging guests to give them a try – they’ve all had a sip or two during pre-meal and after the initial giggles subside from the guests and the order is placed, there are a lot of “oohs” and “ahhs” and of course some photos taken for social media.
NCB: Any one in particular more popular?
Gabrielli: The Cocoa Puffs Smash (a play on the Whiskey Smash) has been our most popular cereal cocktail so far. I think it’s the mint and chocolate flavor – it’s refreshing but definitely packs a bit of a punch for a brunch cocktail.
NCB: Will this be something you continue to explore?
Gabrielli: Absolutely. I’m hoping to keep a rotating list of cereal cocktails on the brunch menu. We are looking at something with Cheerios, maybe Lucky Charms and possibly trying our luck with some of the “healthier” cereal options on the market today.