Brunch Cocktails Up Their Game

Standbys have their place, but new brunch drinks bring excitement.

As brunch drinks diversify, mixologists like beverage director Todd Johnson from Marsh House in Nashville are creating such light and fresh cocktails as the Marine Biologist (pictured).
As brunch drinks diversify, mixologists like beverage director Todd Johnson from Marsh House in Nashville are creating such light and fresh cocktails as the Marine Biologist (pictured).

Bloody Marys and Mimosas have long reigned at brunch, but bartenders are now putting modern spins on those classic offerings and also creating entirely new drinks for the morning menu. Horsefeather tavern in San Francisco, for example, offers both traditional drinks and creative new cocktails during brunch. The venue lists eight specialty brunch drinks, including several twists on familiar favorites.

“Brunch cocktails need to be food-friendly,” argues Dzu Nguyen, Horsefeather’s general manager. “The complexity can be toned down, but boldness should remain. Brunch is an excuse for day drinking, so our guests want something refreshing and hydrating. We look for unique flavors like aloe, ancho chile, and hibiscus.”

Horsefeather’s brunch drinks ($10-$12) include the Bordeaux Holiday, which mixes Lillet Blanc aperitif, Chareau aloe liqueur, lime juice, and tonic. Also featured is the Puerto del Rey, blending Arette Blanco Tequila, Ancho Reyes chile liqueur, Pierre Ferrand Dry Curaçao, agave syrup, and lime juice, as well as the Lowrider, made with hibiscus-infused El Silencio Espadín mezcal, muddled cucumber, agave syrup, and lemon juice. The venue also offers an updated Bloody Mary that incorporates flavors and spices from Mexican street food and a sparkling Spritz enhanced with cachaça and grapefruit.

Weekend brunch is popular in Nashville, and the seafood-focused Marsh House in the Thompson Nashville hotel lists staples and signatures ($12). Its Bloody Mary and Mimosa can both be personalized with different spirits and juices, and they’re joined by drinks like the Marine Biologist, made with Espolòn Blanco Tequila, Dolin Blanc vermouth, Dolin Génépy des Alpes liqueur, house-made cucumber syrup, and lime juice, and the Delores, blending Cathead vodka, Merlet Lune d’Abricot brandy, Peychaud’s bitters, house-made hibiscus syrup, and lime juice. “When I have brunch, I want cocktails that are light, fresh, and crushable,” says Marsh House beverage director Todd Johnson. “That’s definitely the intent behind most of the drinks we feature on the brunch menu. In Nashville, weekend brunch is quite the drinking endeavor.”

Nashville brasserie Henley trends more toward the traditional for brunch drinks ($10), listing a Grey Goose vodka-based Espresso Martini, a Balam raicilla-enhanced Michelada, a Tanqueray No. 10 gin-based Gimlet, and a House Cup mixed with Pimm’s No. 1 liqueur. Meanwhile, chic Nashville diner The Mockingbird puts twists on classic brunch drinks, offering a Frida Kahlo Blanco Tequila-enhanced Paloma popsicle, a Coca-Cola float made with Licor 43 liqueur, a regularly changing seasonal punch served in a juice bag, and a sparkler made with Tang orange drink powder and Poema Brut Cava (drinks are $8-$12). The  Mockingbird’s general manager and partner, Mikey Corona, says brunch is always busy and that cocktails are a key part of the experience. “About 80% of our guests try at least one cocktail during brunch,” Corona says. “We take classics and add a slight twist so they’re still familiar, but different enough to create a new experience.”

Sparkling cocktails and coffee drinks are always brunch crowd pleasers. Three-unit Dallas restaurant The Biscuit Bar offers both styles—a punch made with The Infinite Monkey Theorem Snooze Booze sparkling wine and the Caffe Lolita coffee liqueur-based Tipsy Joe (drinks are $4-$8). In Miami, Ariete restaurant boasts a full roster of sparkling drinks, including the Dimelo Viejo, made with Santa Teresa 1796 Solera rum and Chinola Passionfruit liqueur, which are shaken with mint and topped with Primaterra Prosecco, and the French 95, named for the venue’s proximity to Interstate 95 and blending St-Germain liqueur, Gruet Brut sparkling wine, muddled cucumber, and basil (cocktails are $14-$16). “Bubbles bring a fun and revitalizing sensation to the palate,” says Ariete beverage director Bobby Gilardi. “Sparkling wine also lightens the abv, which is important for brunch cocktails. The goal for brunch is to have easy-drinking crowd pleasers.”