COLORFUL COCKTAILS: Freckled Lemonade® serves as the inspiration for Agua Frescas at Red Robin Gourmet Burgers. The Absolutely Absolut® Freckled Lemonade combines strawberries, Absolut® Citron and Minute Maid® Lemonade.
Few people understand how to better quench thirst than Janos Wilder, celebrity chef and owner of Janos and the J Bar, two of Arizona's most acclaimed restaurants. "Tucson has become a popular tourist and convention destination, which means that we're surrounded by posh resorts, hotels and spas. Guests come to our restaurants expecting to sample authentic and expertly prepared margaritas. So we're held to extremely high standards. I think our margarita now exceeds expectations, but frankly it didn't always."
Ensconced on the grounds of the Westin La Paloma Resort and Spa, Janos' trendsetting cuisine marries the sensibility and subtlety of French cooking with the ingredients of the American Southwest, while the more casual J Bar features a menu with the flavors of Latin America and the Caribbean.
Wilder and staff recently revised their drink menu and took the opportunity to reassess their specialty cocktails, including their signature Janos' Margarita. "After thoroughly disassembling how we were making the drink, I felt strongly that there was room for improvement. The disconnect turned out to be the mix we were using in the cocktail. I had my staff prepare numerous different mixes using various ratios of fresh lime juice to simple syrup. I was looking for the perfect proportion between tart and sweet. Once we created that mix everything clicked into place."
Made with Sauza Gold, Grand Marnier and the aforementioned lime sour mix, the revamped Janos' margarita is vibrant, flavorful and refreshing. Several of the J Bar specialty Margaritas rival the character and pizzazz of the original. A prime example is the Cranberry Habanero Margarita, crafted using a puree made with cranberries, pineapple, habanero chili and apple cider vinegar.
"Buoyed by that success, we began incorporating fresh juice into all of our cocktails. One of the strokes of brilliance that came out of the process is our Blackberry Mojito, in which we muddle fresh black-berries, limes and simple syrup. It's become a popularly requested drink. So too has our revamped sangria, which we now make with fresh orange, lime and lemon juice. Personally I can't image a more delectable way to quench a thirst."
Whether to convert a beverage-program over to fresh juices and drink mixes is a business decision. Look at the most frequently requested cocktails at your bar and assess whether there's room to enhance their taste, quality and presentation. If they could stand a little improvement—and let's face it, whose couldn't—then all that's left to decide is what changes need to be made and how can they best be implemented.
Another popular eatery building a reputation for featuring cocktails made with fresh juice is Tres Agaves in San Francisco. The Mexican restaurant is renown for its margaritas, all of which are made with freshly squeezed lime juice and sweetened by agave syrup.
The creator of Tres Agave's beverage program, noted mixologist Jacques Bezuidenhaut, says, "Using the freshest possible-ingredients yields the freshest,-most vital cocktails.
"Detractors of the strategy are correct that fresh ingredients are more expensive and labor intensive, but something done exceptionally well normally is," he adds. "Bumping the price of a drink a few quarters will adequately offset the increased cost. The overriding consideration should be drink quality. People are willing to pay a little more to drink better quality cocktails."
Along with award-winning margaritas, Tres Agaves specialties include the La Paloma, a succulent blend of tequila and fresh grapefruit juice; and the La Rosa, a cocktail made with hibiscus punch, creme de mure, fresh lime juice and tequila.
Pairing the freshest ingredients with the finest spirits seems to be the path to cocktail glory.
Other Agua Fresca drinks at Red Robin Gourmet Burgers: Blueberry, Peach, and the Purple Craze with blueberries, Absolut® Vodka, Blue Curacao, Torani® pomegranate syrup and a fresh lime wedge.
Robert Plotkin is a judge at the San Francisco World Spirits Competition and author of numerous books, including Successful Beverage Management¯Proven Strategies for the On-Premise Operator.