Although the idea of drinking for health—drinking alcohol, anyway—is about as sane as going on a mayonnaise cleanse, bars these days are serving cocktails that are nearly indistinguishable from those fancy pressed juices everyone’s downing in the name of better living. At Alembic in San Francisco, the menu description for the Southern Exposure calls out the antioxidants in the shot of celery juice it lists among other ingredients that include gin, mint and lime. At Percy & Co. in Seattle, the Mother’s Helper pairs gin with kombucha, while bargoers can add health-enhancing “tinctures”—for “brain power,” “complexion” or “female balance”—to any drink. Tanya’s Cafe in London has even gone full juicery-for-party-people, offering a line of “Superfood Cocktails” that includes the Maple Maori, with gin, kiwi, pomegranate, apple, calendula, carob and chlorella.
How did we get here? A theory is that once bartenders made the switch from neon green sour mix to fresh mixers, cocktails were already halfway down the road to smoothiedom. House-squeezed fruits and vegetables are far more palatable than bottled juices; matcha, bone broth, shiso and coconut water add unexpected twists to traditional flavor profiles; and kombucha tastes much like the vinegary shrubs that have taken the mixology world by storm. Add the massive popularity of clean eating and you’ve got a trend, no matter how silly it might sound.
“When I first got hired, I thought, ‘Oh, my God, how am I gonna make healthy cocktails when alcohol is bad for you?’ ” says Johnny Swet, a bar consultant who developed the drinks menu for health-conscious bistro Cafe Clover in NYC. Swet visited juice bars and vitamin shops, then worked with a nutritionist to build cocktails like the What’s Up Doc?—which contains Linie aquavit, carrot, pineapple and parsley, but certainly tastes like nothing your doctor has ever prescribed. “I mean, I always think a cocktail is going to be a little unhealthy,” Swet says. “But you can make it better, and cleaner. And you can have less of a hangover the next day.” For anyone who made a habit of another recent cocktail trend—four-shot Manhattans made with overproof rye—that’s pretty unassailable reasoning.