You’ve heard of the boozy breakfast, but what about breakfast-y booze? Possibly due to Bols Yogurt Liqueur’s launch in 2013, and the yogurt category’s general growth as a healthy food, the creamy ingredient is now appearing in inventive cocktails nationwide. Bartenders across the country are embracing yogurt’s sour, acidic, and silky notes, and using it to build libations that are light, bright and refreshing — despite containing dairy.
“I was a bit obsessed with coming up with acidic components [as an] alternative to citrus,” a vital element in most cocktails, explains Jessica Retif, head bartender at New Orleans’ hit Israeli eatery Shaya. “Labneh — strained yogurt — is somewhat of a staple ingredient when it comes to Mediterranean and Israeli cuisine, so I wanted to highlight that flavor.”
When considering how to construct boozy yogurt drinks, Retif contemplated breakfast flavors like fruit, honey, and herbs. She introduced a vodka, pear liqueur, and lavender number that incorporated yogurt last fall. This summer, she replaced it with Milk of the Poppy, another vodka-fueled yogurt cocktail flavored with a medley of peach liqueur, rose water, and vanilla extract.
Julian Cox likewise considered breakfast flavors when devising a yogurt cocktail for Chicago’s Mediterranean restaurant Ema this spring. His creation, The Balm.com, combines lime, blueberry, and coconut with Greek yogurt, vodka and cachaça.
While drinks with dairy can often feel heavy on the palate, Cox favors yogurt as it adds “sour and tart flavors,” plus “a light creaminess,” which yield a “very light cocktail” overall. He warns that when making yogurt tipples, a little bit goes a long way.
“Use a small amount of a high-quality brand of yogurt,” he advises. “Make sure you adjust the sweetness … and check the balance, as yogurt is quite acidic and can throw your drink off balance.”
The team behind Chicago’s Annex at GreenRiver is keen on yogurt’s unique texture, creamy finish, and how well it imparts acidity and works with botanicals. The sibling bar to GreenRiver, an American eatery from Danny Meyer and The Dead Rabbit crew, Annex at GreenRiver debuted a cocktail called the Cloudhopper as part of a flower-themed menu last summer. Comprised of passionfruit, lemon, Benedictine and yogurt, the complex drink also featured Pisco and jasmine green tea-infused gin.
“The reason we used yogurt in this drink was … to get [a] creamy texture and consistency,” explains Annex at GreenRiver bartender Amit Gilad, adding, “It plays so well with the jasmine, passion fruit and Pisco.”
Given the popularity of the lassi, a thick Indian yogurt shake, it seems fitting that Indian restaurants offer a spiked riff. Steven Brewer, beverage director at New York’s newly relocated Babu Ji, added an adult version of the traditionally non-alcoholic drink on the hip Indian restaurant’s menu in June. Pondicheri, another modern Indian haunt in Manhattan, offers a rotating roster of liquored-up lassis, featuring vodka and house-made yogurt alongside lemon, cucumber, mint, dill, egg white, and soda.
A yogurt mocktail called Fountain of Roots headlined the opening menu of a new outpost of Alta CA, award-winning chef Daniel Patterson’s fleet of contemporary California canteens. Bar director Aaron Paul created the drink as a riff on a mango lassi, combining beet and carrot juice, yogurt, Serrano pepper and spices.
According to Paul, balance is imperative when working with yogurt. He advises those creating spiked or virgin yogurt drinks to use the tangy ingredient in small doses, and consider adding simple syrup or lime juice for broader appeal.