Yogurt has all sorts of culinary uses—in a smoothie, topped with granola, mixed with cucumbers for tzatziki, served alongside spicy food—but lately it’s been turning up at bars in everything from blended drinks to cocktails over pebble ice and even in mocktails.
At first, this whole idea might sound a little strange, but consider yogurt’s two best qualities, creaminess and tanginess, and it starts to make a whole lot of sense in a drink. The beauty of it is that a little yogurt goes a long way. Just a barspoon of it will imbue a drink with a richer texture and tart edge, both perfectly refreshing this time of year.
Sisters Alexis and Britt Soler opened Old Glory earlier this year in a 1930s dry-cleaning factory, with the focal point being an smokestack that goes clear to the 60-foot ceilings. This bright magenta-colored cocktail is just as striking. Here, Britt combines earthy Del Maguey Vida mezcal with raw beet juice, lime, agave and just a barspoon of Greek yogurt to give the whole thing a smooth, tart edge.
Wine and cocktails are very important at Claus Meyer’s new Agern restaurant at NYC’s Grand Central, but mocktails are, too. For this nonalcoholic drink, mixologist Jonas Andersen puts to use whey (a liquid byproduct of yogurt production), which he sources from artisan yogurt maker Homa Dashtaki of The White Moustache in Brooklyn. Whey is well-known by health enthusiasts to be a great probiotic packed with enzymes. “On its own, whey is a lot like yogurt, except it’s super light and a little watery,” says Andersen “It definitely needs to be mixed with something.” He gives it a bit of acidity, by adding tart grape-based verjus and a lemon-thyme-infused simple syrup. “This is what I’d drink if I had a day off,” he says.
Every summer at Marvel Bar, bartenders Peder Schweigert and Matthew Voss put together a Blender Bar menu of half a dozen or so frozen cocktails that utilize textural ingredients, like avocado and frozen bananas, that otherwise wouldn’t work in a drink. This year, they’re trying their hand with whole-milk Greek yogurt to whip up a cocktail that Schweigert describes as “an adult breakfast drink if I’ve ever had one.” The Sloedown is a blend of yogurt with berried Hayman’s sloe gin, Luxardo amaro, honey and a crack of black pepper.
When Ryan Wainwright was tasked with coming up with drinks at L.A.’s new Korean barbecue joint Hanjip, there were two restrictions: the restaurant doesn’t have a liquor license, so no hard alcohol, and there wouldn’t be an actual bar. Wainwright decided the only way to go was to make soju-based cocktails and bottle them. He and chef Chris Oh sat down with 30 sodas from the local Korean market to figure out signature Korean beverage flavors, the most common of which were yogurt, coconut, melon and aloe. The Psy-co (named for Korean pop icon Psy) is a mix of lime-infused soju with coconut water that’s served with a fluffy vanilla-bean-flecked yogurt foam.
This frothy gin and cassis drink from Paley’s Place is named with chef Vitaly Paley’s Soviet Union roots in mind and can be made with either yogurt or kefir, combined with lemon, lime and honey. The name translates to “drink of the gods,” called such because in researching the drink, bartender Jon Lawson found that kefir and honey have been called “food of the gods” for thousands of years. Here, Lawson uses egg whites in addition to the yogurt, giving the cocktail a real ethereal quality.
Rather than using straight-up yogurt in this cocktail, Matt Polzin, the bartender at James Beard Award–nominated Olde Bar, creates yogurt-washed gin, an infusion of sorts, which gives all of the tart flavor components and richness of yogurt without the creaminess. Served up, the gin is shaken with blackberry and ginger syrups and lime juice, resulting in a texturally complex but super refreshing drink. When asked about the name, Polzin says, “Ophelia is the name of Jamie Lee Curtis’s character in the movie Trading Places, which was filmed in Philadelphia. Her love interest in the film has the last name Winthorpe. Curtis went on to be in commercials for Activia yogurt. Thus, Ophelia Winthorpe.”
The Silk Road menu at Pouring Ribbons is dedicated to flavors encountered along the spice route, and in this cocktail, mixologist Shannon Tebay surprisingly combines gin and rhum agricole to make a coconutty lassi-inspired drink. To keep the drink from being too heavy, Tebay uses coconut water (rather than coconut milk) and just a teaspoon of yogurt, pouring the drink over crushed ice in a snifter.