Want to impress your customers with fancy vegan cocktails? The ingredients on this list all go great with plant-based drinks.
Out of the 660, 755 restaurants in America right now, only 24,000 are listed as vegetarian-friendly, with only 1,474 being labeled as exclusively vegan. But, being vegan doesn’t have to be a buzzkill. As plant-based, vegan and conscious consumption continues to grow in popularity, many restaurants and bars are starting to see the opportunity in these numbers. One way an eatery can differentiate itself is by offering unique vegan cocktails.
What’s crazy is that with just a little bit of thought and planning, making vegan cocktails can be a simple, and even more cost-effective switch. But how can you pull it off in a way that’s not redundant and fresh? Try adding these ingredients to your kitchen.
Not a Swiss band from the 1970s. Aquafaba literally means “bean liquid” in Latin, and it’s the gooey liquid (that’s often thrown away) in a can of chickpeas. Aquafaba is an emulsifier and a foaming agent, making it an easy swap in cocktails instead of egg whites. Can goo doesn’t sound appealing, but does it really sound worse than a curdled membrane from a chicken’s vagina?
Vegans often can’t enjoy the silky but refreshing taste of cocktails like a Gin Fizz and Sours due to their use of egg whites. Aquafaba’s texture is malleable and doesn’t affect the flavor of the drinks it’s used in. Some might say that it actually smells more appealing than an egg white. Aquafaba can even be pre-flavored, which can enhance the flavor of cocktails and improve the production time of cocktails for bartenders.
The bean liquid is easier to store and manage in a bar and is cheaper than eggs. If you already have chickpeas on the menu, this can be an incredibly affordable switch. Aquafaba can also be used to make a lot of different vegan desserts like meringues and marshmallows, adding even more value and possibilities to your restaurant.
2. Coconut Cream
Dairy-free isn’t only for vegans, many health-conscious people are ditching dairy because of food intolerances, its role in causing osteoporosis, unhealthy fat content, and its negative impact on hormone levels. By offering dairy alternatives at the bar, you’re expanding yourself to a wider net of health-conscious and younger consumers.
Coconut cream can be used as a replacement for heavy cream in any cocktail. With coconut cream, you can add Piña Coladas, vegan Baileys, and White Russians to the menu. In most cities other than Los Angeles and New York City, these options will be incredibly unique and can attract a lot of buzz. You can buy coconut cream canned, or some bartenders like to even make cream from scratch.
3. Agave Syrup
Although not every vegan adheres to the no honey rule in veganism, it’s good to have an alternative option available. Agave syrup is also an essential ingredient in any classic margarita recipe, so you really can’t go wrong with adding it to your bar. Agave syrup is sweet but very neutral in taste, which makes it easy to blend into most recipes as a sweetener and alternative to simple syrup.
Unlike honey, agave nectar also dissolves in cold beverages, making it faster to prepare in cocktails than honey. Many vegans and clean eaters prefer agave nectar over processed sugar. Agave will attract non-vegan health-conscious eaters to your restaurant too. Agave has a lower glycemic index rating than sugar.
4. Plant-Based Oils and Butters
Fat-washing is a technique used to add smoky, savory flavors to cocktails. Traditionally, an animal fat like butter or bacon grease is added to a spirit and left to mix and concentrate at room temperature. After a few hours, the mixture is chilled so it solidifies. A bartender can then skim the creation onto a cocktail as a garnish, and also to add flavor.
But the same effects can be accomplished with coconut oil and plant-based butters too. Spices and herbs like smoked paprika, cumin, thyme, and sage can all be infused and skimmed. Bartenders can also get creative, using sesame oils and nut butters to create a completely different flavor profile.
5. Fresh Juice, Organic Produce, and Herbs
Cocktails don’t have to be complicated to be great. The differentiating factor between forgettable and unforgettable libations is the quality of the ingredients. Refined sugar is not vegan, because it’s filtered through bone char, so unless you are aware of the type of sugar used in the juice your buying, it may not actually be vegan. Most health-conscious people avoid refined sugar anyways, and will not want to drink highly processed juice full of sugar.
Squeezing your own oranges, grapefruits, lemons, and limes and making your own juices requires a little extra work, but can elevate the flavors of your drinks and help further solidify your brand as a healthy restaurant. If you want to get really creative, you can even opt to get a juicer and make your own cold-pressed juices to infuse with alcohol. If you must buy store-bought juice, consider partnering with a local farm or small-batch sustainable company as a supplier. This can be used in your marketing efforts, and help expand the reach of your business.
Across the board, fresh is better when it comes to produce and herbs. Think about how vastly different fresh basil or cilantro tastes when compared to the dried version. If you have space, and staff to support it, consider growing herbs indoors in your restaurant. This can help add to the healthy aesthetic and offer more functional, cost-effective decorating. If you can’t afford to buy all organic ingredients, at least stick to the Environmental Working Group’s (EWG) Clean 15 and Dirty Dozen list. Every year the EWG updates its list of produce with the least amount of pesticides, that can be purchased non-organic.
The group also creates a list of the “dirtiest” fruits and vegetables, that have the most pesticides and should always be purchased organic. Also, consider finding local farms and producers to use as suppliers instead of commercial farms. Using local ingredients is yet another way to tap into the conscious consumer demographic, and can be used as a marketing tool.
6. A Killer Vegan Bloody Mary Mix
Fun fact, Worcestershire sauce, one of the primary ingredients in a Bloody Mary, isn’t vegan. Unfortunately, traditional Worcestershire sauce contains anchovies, meaning that unless the Bloody Mary mix you’re using is labeled as vegan, it might not be. While there are vegan Bloody Mary mixes out there, they can be expensive. If you are a restaurant that specializes in brunch or breakfast, a specialty Bloody Mary mix isn’t really a sustainable option.
But, a quality, great-tasting Bloody Mary mix can be made from scratch, vegan, for cheap. There are a handful of vegan Worcestershire sauce options that are sold commercially. The rest of the ingredients in a Bloody Mary are simple and affordable like tomato juice, dill pickle juice, and horseradish. Your restaurant can pre-make your own mix, and even market it as a “secret recipe” and experiment with ingredients like the type of hot sauce or peppers, and even using the vegan fat washing technique mentioned early in this article to add a smoky, savory flavor.
7. Classic and Specialty Simple Syrups and Seasonal Infusions Made In-House
As we mentioned earlier, refined sugar isn’t technically vegan. This means a lot of commercially made simple syrups are not vegan. While agave nectar is an excellent option for a plant-based sweetener, if you’re looking for flavored sweeteners, opt for homemade options. If you want to make a seasonal lavender simple syrup, or black tea or raspberry, all you need is raw sugar, water and a high-quality supply of the item you want to extract the flavor from. Simple syrups are incredibly easy to make in-house and can be pre-made and stored.
The syrup-making process will leave you with a pulp of leftover ingredients. You can use these leftovers to also infuse spirits. This is also simple to do but is often overlooked by restaurants and bars. It’s also important to note that any bar that wants to cater to vegans should look into their spirit suppliers to ensure that their products are vegan. Whenever your budget allows for it, opt for small batch and organic spirits that will add value to your brand.
Besides looking like a “woke” business, vegan cocktails open your restaurant up to new customers and a growing population of health-conscious and ethical consumption. By simply switching your bar ingredients to vegan options, you don’t need to worry about buying double. There’s a strong chance you might actually reduce costs by making the switches mentioned in this article.
Opting to make your own, homemade juices, mixes and infusions will help you cut costs, and can be an excellent tool for branding. These changes might seem small, but they can differentiate your restaurant in a big way. Ready to create some fresh, new recipes to your drink menu? We’ve got hundreds of recipes, drink hacks and cocktail ideas ready for you! Just click “recipes” in the toolbar to start exploring!