The caffeinated cocktail scene has expanded beyond Irish coffee and energy drinks mixed with vodka. “Cold-brew coffee has consumers’ attention right now,” says Donna Hood Crecca, associate principal for Technomic. “Bringing cold brew into the mix [at the bar] can pique consumer interest in cocktail offerings, as it’s very on-trend and brings a different flavor profile.” Operators hot on the cold-brew trail have the opportunity to drive alcohol sales throughout the day.
Photo credit: Adam Larkey
Cold-brew cocktails are marketable across categories, dayparts and seasons, finds Brandon Wise, beverage director for the Denver-based Sage Restaurant Group, operator of three-unit Urban Farmer and several other casual concepts. He says the cold-brew cocktails at Sage’s restaurants are popular at brunch, but the majority of sales come in the afternoon and evening, ordered both as an aperitif and an after-dinner drink.
He’s also found that these coffee cocktails are less seasonal than hot coffee. While Irish and other hot coffee drinks may be successful in winter, cold-brew cocktails have been more of an anytime beverage, he says.
Cold-brew drinks also sell throughout the day at Artisan’s Table, a casual American restaurant and bar in Orlando, Fla.—including in cocktail form at brunch. “The Tequilaccino is sort of an adult milkshake,” says General Manager Monica McCown. Made with cold-brew coffee, tequila, banana and cocoa nibs, the drink appeals to fans of Frappuccinos, she says. McCown has found that customers will order the Tequilaccino instead of a mimosa or bloody mary, but it’s creamy enough that guests will also sub the $10 beverage for dessert.
“Cold-brew coffee has a rich, intense flavor yet low acidity, and it’s super concentrated, which is why it works so well in cocktails,” says McCown. Operationally, too, cold brew has advantages over traditional coffee, says Hood Crecca. “Essentially, it’s ready to use,” she says. It’s already cold, so there’s no need to cool it or add ice and risk diluting the cocktail.
Wise also thinks cold brew adds richness to cocktails. As an example, he cites the Cafe Balsamico ($14) at Mercat a la Planxa—Sage’s tapas restaurant in Chicago—made with rum, sherry, raspberry liqueur, cold-brew coffee and housemade balsamic syrup. “It’s fairly simple to execute, but tastes quite complex.”
“One obstacle may be consumer education,” says Hood Crecca. “Including cold brew in the drink description can open up the dialog between the server and the guest that intrigues them and leads to the drink order.”
But it’s not just on-the-menu language that can start that conversation. Artisan’s Table displays two cold-brew towers at the front of the restaurant. The three-tiered glass apparatus looks like a science instrument, and many customers ask staff what the device is, serving as a talking point.
While most of the cocktail experimentation is happening in the full-service space, cold-brew coffee is appearing on limited-service chain menus. Dunkin’ Donuts, Chick-fil-A and Starbucks have offered the brew, though none have added cold-brew cocktails yet. But as more operators look to increase check averages, especially in the fast-casual space, it could present an area of opportunity. And it doesn’t have to be scratch-made coffee cocktails, says Hood Crecca. There are cold-brew concentrates that, while potent and requiring some upfront recipe work, could be used in cocktails to provide an added convenience.