Candy might be the last thing customers would expect to find in an adult beverage. But as some consumers gravitate toward nostalgia, operators are appealing to them through their sweet tooths. Ranging from whimsical to pure imagination, candy-garnished cocktails are eminently Instagrammable, creating instant citizen ambassadors. And these drinks drive traffic, says Maro Athanassiadou, event coordinator at Sugar Factory, a Las Vegas-based, 10-unit brasserie chain. “Customers come in to the restaurant with the intention of ordering them.” Cocktails like these can be easy to execute for operations of all stripes—Willy Wonka-esque mixologist not required. And the sweet ingredients are inexpensive and readily available, presenting a high ROI. Here are seven attention-grabbing examples.
2. S’Mores Martini
Bar Louie; multiple locations
The nostalgic treat is deconstructed at the 115-unit chain into a simple cocktail. Chocolate liqueur, vanilla vodka and toasted marshmallow and chocolate syrups provide the flavor profile, while a graham cracker rim and mini marshmallows add the crowning touch. “Four liquid ingredients, all in equal parts, mixed together and chilled to create the campfire favorite in a glass,” says Blake Rohrabaugh, VP of beverage innovation and operations.
3. Cruella Vanille
Pour Vous; Hollywood, Calif.
“As I was creating the new [drink] menu, I thought it would be nice to do something other than just the usual citrus peel garnish,” says Francois Vera, bar manager at Pour Vous. So he paired his concoction, made of rum, vanilla and black walnut bitters, with a Kit Kat bar perched on the rim of the glass. “It’s a nostalgic childhood candy, [and it’s] hard to create that flavor or feeling with just fruit,” he says. “It was a little crazy but made perfect sense once we tried it with a rum cocktail.”
4. Sloe Jams
Big Orange Midtown; Little Rock, Ark.
The new drink menu at this casual burger place (part of the Yellow Rocket Concepts restaurant group) toys with sloe gin, dry gin, lemon juice, simple syrup, a froth of egg white and orange cream citrate, sprinkled with Pop Rocks. The concept also offers the Roy G Bev, a gin and chartreuse-based cocktail topped off with a Skittles “float.”
5. Lollipop Passion Goblet
$36, serves four
Sugar Factory; multiple locations
Everything Sugar Factory does is centered around candy—there are 45 different varieties on the menu. But this is the best-seller, featuring flavors of melon, coconut and pineapple. The shareable drink, which serves four, is mixed tableside to show off the “Harry Potter fog” generated by a lump of dry ice, and garnished with colorful lollipops and a candy necklace. “All the other guests look over when they see the cocktail smoking; it’s a big show,” says Athanassiadou.
6. Cabin by the Sea
South Water Grill; Chicago
Located in the Kimpton Hotel Monaco, head bartender Dan Rook uses sweet garnishes in a cocktail that plays on two current consumer trends: interest in brown liquor and tea. Cabin by the Sea infuses bourbon with lapsang souchong tea, then mixes it with dry vermouth, maraschino liqueur and bitters; it’s topped with a fragrant toasted marshmallow reminiscent of a campfire.
7. Cotton Candy Cocktail
Straw; San Francisco
“Theatrical” is how co-owner Ari Feingold describes this restaurant serving carnival-themed comfort food. Tableside, a staffer pours a carafe with a vodka-sake blend and sparkling wine over a tuft of house-spun cotton candy. The liquid dissolves to imbue the drink with flavor and color. “A lot of customers post videos of the cotton candy magic online,” says Feingold. The showmanship prompts customers in the dining room to jump on the bandwagon, too. “Whenever we send the cocktail out, everybody else wants one.”