Behind the Bar Snap Shot

How Chain Restaurant Yard House Rolled Out Its Cocktail Program

Most customers in multi-unit restaurants play it safe with a beer or a Gin & Tonic. However, the beer-focused Yard House has proven that all previous bets are off. “It’s impossible not to be inspired by all the creative cocktails being produced in today’s environment,” says Gregory Howard, the director of beverage strategy at the 65-location, Irvine, Calif.-based Yard House.

The new cocktail program, rolled out this summer, features four new drinks, including four types of Old Fashioneds, based on fresh ingredients and house-made syrups. Howard says many of the drinks’ ingredients, from yuzu to Adriatic figs, “were chosen through trips to local natural food shops and simply roaming the produce aisles.”

Each drink, for Howard, tells a story, including the customizable Old Fashioned, which let’s guests play bartender by choosing between Four Roses bourbon, Bulleit rye, Del Maguey Vida mezcal and Zaya Gran Reserva rum. They then go on to select from house-made brown sugar, fig, sour cherry or blackberry syrups. The final concoction is served in a snifter with a skewer of orange peel and black cherry. All of the drinks are served over Yard House’s own large-format ice.

“The common thread with these new drinks, as with all of our cocktails, is fresh and simple ingredients put together in a classic, yet sophisticated, way,” says Howard. Three new drinks, all priced from $9.50 to $11 in most locations, are the Yuzu Gin Cooler, Tahitian Moonshine and Orange Blossom Special.

One of Yard House’s Old Fashioneds

The Yuzu Cooler is made with The Botanist gin and fresh thyme and is infused with fresh yuzu fruit. The Tahitian Moonshine is an island-inspired blend of vanilla, orange and pineapple flavors that play off the taste of unoaked whiskey. The drink is topped with fresh pineapple, strawberry and orange. The Orange Blossom is a bittersweet mix of Hangar One Mandarin Blossom vodka, floral honey blossom, Carpano Antica Formula vermouth, bitters and Yard House’s own citrus juice and agave blend.

Gregory Howard

The Yard House culinary team makes all of the mixes and syrups in-house. With fruits like yuzu, additional flavor components may be added, and preserves often get pureed to adjust their sweetness levels. The servers on the beverage team went through two weeks of training for the rollout.

For Howard, this is just the tip of the cocktail iceberg. More bespoke cocktails are slated to hit the menu next year, although he won’t share the details just yet.