Behind the Bar

If Yogurt Isn't in Your Cocktails, It Will Be Soon

A cocktail in a vintage glass.
GreenRiver's Cloud Hopper combines Benedictine, passionfruit syrup, lemon and gin infused with jasmine tea. The combination of floral, herbal, funky and sweet flavors is bound together with fluffy Greek yogurt. Photo courtesy of GreenRiver.

Because of its health benefits, yogurt has taken over the dairy section. Greek, Icelandic, whole fat, non-fat, goat, cow or sheep — there are more varieties of yogurt at most markets than all other milk products combined. But the next frontier for cultured dairy is behind the bar.

"Yogurt is creamy, smooth, moderately rich, with a mild sweetness ... and a pleasant tang," says Julia Momose, head bartender at GreenRiver in Chicago (who's also been known to expertly work cheese into her drinks). "It just takes a couple barspoons of yogurt to round out the drink."

Momose created a cocktail called the Cloud Hopper (pictured above) with Benedictine, passionfruit syrup, lemon and gin infused with jasmine tea. The combination of floral, herbal, funky and sweet flavors is bound together with fluffy Greek yogurt.

But bartenders don't have to look to the skies for inspiration. It's right there at the breakfast table.

"I think a great way to come up with some flavor combinations is to consider what you enjoy with yogurt in the morning," Momose says. "Fruit, cereal grains, nuts, brown sugar — all these accents to a bowl of yogurt work well in cocktails as well."

That's the idea behind Fruit on the Bottom, Hope on Top at Iron Gate in Washington DC. The cocktail mixes Greek yogurt and a Greek brandy with sweetened peaches, ginger liqueur and lemon. A quick look in the dairy case at the berry, stone fruit, honey or maple syrup flavors in yogurts can lead to a lot of cocktail ideas.

Although yogurt is mostly a breakfast food in the United States, it's been a part of the drinks menu in other countries for centuries. India's yogurt drink is the lassi. And while many of us are most familiar with the sweet mango version, it originated as a spiced drink. Expanding on the flavor profiles of the lassi opens up another avenue for yogurt cocktails.

"Riffs on lassis are best with gin such as Tanqueray Rangpur, light rums or Batavia Arrack," says Adam Seger, executive bartender for the iPic Entertainment Group, which includes The Tuck Room, Tanzy Restaurant and City Perch Kitchen + Bar. The company is banking on the appeal of yogurt cocktails. For the holidays, all its restaurants will feature a Greek yogurt eggnog because "Greek yogurt can give a sense of luxury and richness with less fat than cream."

Indian Accent in New York plays with texture as well as spice in its Indian Autumn cocktail that uses cardamom-infused pisco, lemon sherbet and cow's milk and goat's milk yogurts that have been whipped together and flavored with chamomile. The Rollo Raiders cocktail at Balise in New Orleans spices up Greek yogurt with aquavit, gin, Kümmel and caraway, adding the nutty sweetness of orgeat.

The culinary possibilities that come with using yogurt also come with some caveats. Momose warns against using too much acid, not only because of concerns about curdling but also because it can overpower the subtle creaminess of the yogurt.

The Honey Almond & Chevre Fizz at Top of the Monk in North Carolina is like a Ramos Gin Fizz and a cheesecake had a delicious baby. But when curator and general manager Kala Brooks developed the drink, she was careful to avoid what she calls "the dreaded chewable cocktail."

"My solution was to whip almond milk, plain Greek yogurt, raw cream cheese, and raw goat cheese into a silky liquid that could be transferred into a squeeze bottle and easily applied into cocktail form," Brooks says.

Momose has another tip for bars that think yogurt is too messy or time-consuming to include on the drinks menu.

"A little trick that may come in handy for certain applications is to weigh and freeze yogurt. This way of pre-measuring limits the mess and allows for consistency," she says. "Just make sure the yogurt ice is fully dissolved into the drink. I would suggest shaking only over the yogurt ice to incorporate, and then shaking as you normally would."

If you haven't come across a yogurt cocktail yet, you soon will. When Brooks was asked to contribute a recipe to a cocktail book, she was surprised that yogurt was one of the ingredients the other contributing bartenders requested most.

"This was the first time I realized other people were as excited by the tart potential of yogurt [as I am]," she says.

Ready to find out how yogurt can contribute flavor, texture and balance to your cocktails? Try Top of the Monk's Honey Almond & Chevre Fizz.

Marcia Simmons is a freelance writer and the author of "DIY Cocktails." She lives in the San Francisco Bay Area and would really like a Pimm's Cup right about now.

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