At Civil Liberties in Toronto, a whisky sour is made with the water in which chickpeas are cooked, replicating the foam created from egg whites.
A gluten-free vegan walked into a bar.
To his delight, he was surprised to discover he could drink just about anything on the menu.
That’s because an increasing number of bars and restaurants are looking to swap out clam juice, cream and egg whites for ingredients that are friendlier for celiacs, vegetarians and people just looking to change things up.
Sure, some of the new cocktail ingredients – chickpea juice, maple sapwater and yogurt powder, for instance – sound more like the ingredients of a juice cleanse than a drinks menu. Bartenders are going there anyway, since to them, taste is all that matters and business is better when you don’t say “no” to people with special requests.
This trend is so popular, it even warranted an entire seminar devoted to the use of aquafaba – the water in which beans are cooked – in cocktails last month at the Drake Hotel, a bar that’s generally better known for boozy mescal drinks than its Queen Street Sour, a whisky cocktail made with carrot, apple, turmeric and chickpea juice.
“The credit should really be given to pastry chefs, who started using aquafaba as a vegan alternative to egg whites,” explains Nick Kennedy of Toronto’s Civil Liberties, the bean-water enthusiast and expert who led the seminar at the Drake. “But, as an unexpected bonus, it turns out that aquafaba’s got a longer shelf life and stability than eggs.” Aquafaba, as Kennedy discovered, is in some ways even better than egg whites, since the foam stays stiff and attractive for a long time, even when bar customers nurse their drinks.
Eggs are used as emulsifiers and foamers in quite a few classic cocktails, especially sours and fizzes, which should have a frothy top that lightens up both the look and taste of the drink. Since omitting the egg white would leave the drink flat, most bartenders would rather not make it at all than serve it egg-free. But demand for egg-free foamy drinks are so high that there’s even a new product on the market, Ms. Better’s Miraculous Foamer, a botanical-rich, vegan substitute made in Vancouver by Sam and Philip Unger, with the help of consulting cocktail bartender, Tarquin Melnyk.
Demand and accidental discoveries like aquafaba have got a lot of bartenders second-guessing old formulas and recipes to see if other crunchy, healthy-sounding alternatives have promise. Maple sapwater, kombucha and green tea are all cropping up in cocktails, as is yogurt; a lighter, fresher-tasting substitute for cream that’s making its way into drinks at Vancouver’s Keefer bar and, in Toronto, at Rush Lane and Byblos.
Civil Liberties owner Nick Kennedy makes a whisky sour with aquafaba.
At the latter, traditionalist Robin Kaufman finds yogurt powder, another trick out of the baking books, to be a perfect solution in cocktails such as the Lamplighter, a smoky and sweet whisky cocktail.
“If you put a big scoop of yogurt in something, it creates a barrier between the spirits and the guests, because you have all this fat in there,” Kaufman explains. “So by using this powder, you achieve the flavour from yogurt and the acidity from lactic acid but all your other ingredients are still shining really nicely.”
The final frontier, though, is the Bloody Caesar, which is generally avoided by vegans (clam juice), celiacs (who eschew MSG) and diabetics (sugary mixes) alike. Okanagan bartender Gerry Jobe, however, finally has an answer for that with Simp’s Serious Caesar Mix, which he developed with business partner Dave Simpson.
“Dave always said it was a bit of a sham that our national cocktail was full of corn syrup, MSG and USDA Red 40 dye,” says Jobe, himself highly aware of ingredient lists from shopping for his son, who has a lot of allergies, “So we wanted to make a Caesar for the millions of Canadians who have seafood allergies, are vegetarian or are just trying to eat a little healthier.”
It took two years, multiple consultations with a food scientist and a lot of research, but the pair finally came up with a formula they love, which is a proprietary recipe that includes tamarind, balsamic vinegar, maple syrup, roasted garlic and house-made, anchovey-free Worcestershire sauce, and are launching across Canada this spring, beginning with Nestor’s grocery stores on the West Coast.
“People hear vegan, no MSG, gluten-free and they think it’s going to be some kind of diet, watered-down version of a Caesar,” he says, “but everybody who tastes our Caesar is like, that’s so bold, that’s so thick, there’s so much flavour to it.”
It’s new, but it’s already paying off for Simpson and Jobe, who say the celiac and vegan community has been enthusiastic, reaching out in droves. “That’s almost a byproduct of what we tried to do. I mean, we really just set out to make the best Caesar we’ve ever had,” says Jobe.
So those who are allergic or averse are taking over the bar in the name of healthier drinking, which sounds like good news for the everyone else. But at the end of the day, it’s still alcohol – and last time we checked, your personal trainer disapproved.