Restaurant Chains Embrace Mixology

In this month's issue of The Atlantic, writer Wayne Curtis notes that even casual dining chains are hopping on the craft cocktail bandwagon. He writes:

"Consumers are becoming increasingly sophisticated about what makes a balanced cocktail, and the chains don't want to be caught flat-footed, the way the major beer labels were when regional microbrews arose."

The article, "Can the Manhattan Go Suburban?" examines how chains from Chili's to Ruby Tuesday have started to heed the demand for fresh juices, quality spirits and bartenders who know how to combine the two. It's not such a crazy idea when you think about it. If Chipotle's can hire Nate Appleman to make decent burritos with fresh and oftentimes local ingredients, then why can't Applebee's squeeze a lime or two? As Curtis points out, switching to fresh juice doesn't add too much to the cost of making the drink and usually means the restaurant can charge quite a bit more for it.

Of course, you still see such abominations as T.G.I. Friday's German Chocolate Cake Sipper, made with Jagermeister and Kahlua and Baileys and Butterscotch Schnapps and Malibu rum (hilariously posted in the "Classic Cocktails" section of the menu). But even this loudest of chains recently added a line of "Skinny" cocktails. They still make use of sour mix instead of fresh citrus, but incorporate agave instead of a more malicious sweetener. The Cheesecake Factory, known for drinks like its Flying Gorilla (from the website: "A Kicked-Up' Chocolate Banana Milkshake with Dark Creme de Cacao and Banana Liqueur"), is also now doing caipirinhas with Leblon cachaça and fresh lime juice; and cucumber martinis with Hendrick's, Yellow Chartreuse, cucumber, orange, and lime.

It's not like you should abandon your local craft cocktail bar and head for the nearest mall. But it seems like nothing but good can come from chain restaurants using less artificial ingredients to create better drinks.