Bri Lopez, lead bartender at Leeward, pours a Bibeeta, a nonalcoholic drink with beet verjus, grapefruit, satsuma oleo and soda. Ben McCanna/Staff Photographer

The line between dinner and drinks is blurring, and it’s not because you’ve been overserved.

Au courant cocktail enthusiasts or anyone with an adventuresome palate these days can sip drinks all around town that showcase the savory flavors of everything from fresh spinach and carrots or roasted beets to Parmigiano Reggiano cheese, brown butter, lobster, North African shakshuka sauce – even hot and sour Thai tom yum soup.

Craft cocktail lounges and high-end restaurant bar programs like Portland’s Blyth & Burrows, Broken Arrow, The Danforth, Evo and Leeward are leading the way locally in the wider trend of food-forward drinks. These culinary cocktails use savory edible ingredients to open a new world of flavor possibilities, while bringing the venues closer to their zero-food-waste goals.

“People want to try something new and exciting,” explained Nick Polo, general manager at Evo. “In cocktail programs not just in Portland but around the U.S., people are thinking out of the box more. You start incorporating food into drinks, and you can really blow the roof off what you’d imagine a cocktail to be.”

Chloe Frechette, Senior Editor at Punch, an online magazine covering the wine and spirits world, said what we’re seeing today is the latest in the evolution of the culinary cocktail. The modern era started roughly with West Coast-style cocktails from the early 2000s that relied on fresh produce and juices, leaving behind the sour mix and other inferior convenience items, and giving rise to the “farm-to-glass” approach.

In 2022, Double Chicken Please, the buzzy New York City bar known for its food-based cocktails like Cold Pizza and Mango Sticky Rice, was ranked sixth on the prestigious World’s 50 Best Bars list. “To me, it feels like a natural progression,” Frechette said. “It’s gone from cocktails incorporating fresh food to cocktails that replicate food.”


“The cocktail scene in Portland has come a long way,” said Bri Lopez, lead bartender at Leeward. “We have a more informed clientele in general, and I think they understand what it is that makes a good cocktail.”


More and more, what makes a good cocktail are thoughtfully prepared recipes that push the boundaries of what customers may expect.

As fresh ingredient cocktails were gaining traction in the aughts, leading-edge bars like Manhattan’s East Village speakeasy Please Don’t Tell started playing with techniques like fat-washing. PDT’s influential Benton’s Old-Fashioned – a bourbon drink infused with hickory-smoked bacon from Benton’s Smoky Mountain Country Hams and Bacon in Tennessee – lit creative fires at bars around the country.

“I think that has evolved into what a lot of bar programs do at this point,” said Carlo Caroscio, head bartender at The Danforth.

Fat-washing is one key technique that allows bartenders to incorporate fat-laden items like bacon, butter, sesame oil and cheese into their cocktails. The method involves soaking the featured ingredient in the cocktail base for hours or days, depending on the size of the batch and the desired flavor intensity. The fully infused liquid is then strained and chilled so the leftover solidified fat can be easily skimmed from the top.


Another crucial technique is clarification, or making what bartenders call milk punch. The process is similar to clarifying beef stock into crystal-clear consommé by heating the broth with egg whites to produce a “raft” of cooked albumen that ensnares all the miniscule solids floating in the hazy mix.

With milk punch, bartenders combine milk (often heated) with the food-fortified drink base and an acidic ingredient like citrus juice to curdle the milk. The broken milk and its coagulated proteins then clarify the beverage just like a consommé raft. As a bonus, the strained liquid – retaining color and flavor from the infused foodstuffs – gains body and a lush, silky mouthfeel.

The Joe Formaggio at Leeward: two gins and two vermouths infused with Parmigiano Reggiano rinds and garnished with lemon oil. Ben McCanna/Staff Photographer

At Leeward, the house martini is the Joe Formaggio, a blend of gin and vermouth fat-washed with Parmigiano Reggiano cheese rinds, an umami-packed byproduct that accumulates quickly at the upscale Italian restaurant. Lopez said the idea for the drink came from customers always wanting the savory, faintly meaty hit of a blue-cheese stuffed olive in their martinis.

These complexly infused drinks are prepared in large batches, so it’s possible to pour them to order. But the batches themselves take several days to fully infuse.

“They’re more labor-intensive. It’s a labor of love,” Lopez said. “It’s also a creative outlet.”



Like bartenders at other top local restaurants, Lopez said one aim of her bar program is to develop symbiosis with the kitchen in a way customers can appreciate. She recalled a pasta and squash dish at Leeward last fall featuring brown butter, fried sage and toasted pepitas.

So Lopez fat-washed scotch with browned butter, made orgeat nut syrup out of pepitas, and dehydrated sage into a powder for the rim of the glass. “That was fun to talk about with guests, and it was really nice to have that cocktail and that dish live in the same space for a while,” Lopez said.

As Polo puts it, “If the drinks don’t talk to the food and the food doesn’t talk to the drinks, there’s no cohesion.

“If someone on the bar team makes a beverage, the first people they like to have try them is the kitchen,” Polo continued. “Getting the palate of the chefs involved is very key to the success of the drinks.”

“Being able to also access a chef’s brain for input is pretty awesome,” agreed Lopez, who consults with the Leeward kitchen regularly while she’s researching and developing new drinks. Her bar menu has 13 featured cocktails, including some low-abv and nonalcoholic drinks like Bibeeta, which derives its main flavor and color from roasted beets steeped in verjus.

Lopez also works closely with the pastry department. One current experiment involves dried pulp leftover from juicing carrots for a nonalcoholic carrot cocktail: Leeward’s pastry chefs are seeing if they can use the pulp in their carrot cake gelato dessert.


“We try to use each others’ waste as much as possible,” Lopez said.

“There’s a lot of usable secondary product coming out of kitchens that can then be utilized in the bar,” said Broken Arrow General Manager Jessie Robb. “It’s good for the restaurant and good for the planet. Broken Arrow is dedicated to a reduced-waste bar program. That’s definitely something woven into the concept of the restaurant.”

Lola Bunny Cocktail at Broken Arrow, showcasing carrots steeped in aquavit. Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Staff Photographer

Robb and Broken Arrow Bar Manager Brian Walnicki point to Lola Bunny, one of their winter cocktails. The drink is made by infusing herby aquavit with fresh carrots, which are in abundance in the Broken Arrow kitchen this season.

As with other bars exploring the parameters of food-centric cocktails, Broken Arrow also has some highly inventive concoctions that are just plain fun, like their espresso martini served with butter syrup that’s been spiced with cinnamon, vanilla, allspice and tea. The Broken Arrow crew uses a powdered emulsifier to keep the liquid uniformly smooth and lend more body.

The emulsifier add-in is an example of how today’s innovative bartenders are adopting techniques that first emerged in fine dining’s molecular gastronomy phase in the early 2000s, led by such superstar chefs as Ferran Adria of the former El Bulli in Spain and Grant Achatz of Alinea in Chicago.

“Restaurant bar programs are starting to expect their bar managers to have practiced thinking in terms of these techniques and flavor profiles, very similar to the way the folks in the kitchen are thinking,” Robb said. “That is a new expectation. I don’t think it’s a new set of practices across the board, but it’s certainly a new standard.


“These drinks don’t taste weird. They’re not pushing the boundaries of what you might enjoy,” she continued, noting that the decades-long popularity of umami-packed drinks like briny, dirty martinis suggest that “people have been open to more savory drinks without even realizing it.”

“We put plenty of thought into these drinks, not just random food scraps,” added Walnicki. “People end up surprised by how delighted and in fact comfortable they are with these drinks. When you’re drinking a cocktail and not only is it reducing waste, but it’s tasting good to the point that you’d want to make it at home. I think that’s blowing people away.”


Still, part of the point of drinks like these is that the average person can’t easily make them at home. Lopez notes that the innovation and time-consuming techniques are part of what justifies putting them on a bar menu. “Or else someone thinks, ‘I can make that at home, so why would I pay $16 for it when I’m out?'” Lopez said.

“At Blyth, we’ve always wanted to be able to serve cocktails you can’t make at home, so this is kind of a natural progression for us,” said Caleb Landry, co-creative director at Blyth & Burrows along with Adam Sousa. Blyth & Burrows has been serving food-focused cocktails for a few years now, arguably longer than other craft cocktail venues in the area.

Their bold concoctions are attention-grabbers: cocktails based on clam chowder or lobster rolls, a drink inspired by Landry’s go-to breakfast of toast, goat cheese, blackberries and honey, and another called The Spinacher (after Popeye’s boat), featuring spinach blended with cashews, fenugreek and gin.


“We definitely do it for the giggles, a little bit,” Sousa said of their surprising creations. “But we wouldn’t put it on the menu if it weren’t executed well.”

Blyth & Burrows co-creative director Caleb Landry pours The Spinacher, a drink named after Popeye’s boat and made with gin, lemon, cashews, sugar, spinach and fenugreek. Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Staff Photographer

Their signature food-focused cocktail is the Tom Yum Punch, a gin drink in which they clarify a house-made Thai Tom Yum soup – replete with lime leaf, lemongrass, Thai chiles, galanga, ginger, chile paste and fish sauce.

Tom Yum cocktail at Blyth & Burrows. Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Staff Photographer

“It’s been on the menu for a few years now, and it’ll probably stay on until the end of time. It’s a little scary on paper, but once people try it, they’re usually hooked,” Sousa said. “You move people a little bit outside their comfort zone – bewildered but excited, where they weren’t expecting what arrived, but they’re having an enjoyable experience still.”

The fashion for food in cocktails might strike some as gimmicky or overreaching. And some bar pros say they prefer to pursue a course independent of trends.

“In my almost 20 years working in cocktail bars, I’ve seen the trend of co-mingling food and spirits come and go more than a few times,” said Andrew Volk, co-owner of Portland Hunt + Alpine Club. “I always love seeing a new generation of bartenders work on pushing the envelope to find what works in cocktails. At Hunt, we tend to develop drinks that aren’t quite as trendy, but instead highlight technique and stellar product.”

Still, the bars producing culinary cocktails say they like the expanded creative outlet they provide. “It lets you broaden your avenues a little bit and not be pigeonholed into one approach,” Landry said.

“It’s been liberating and a fun exercise for bartenders to be able to think of a cocktail as something other than just gin and vermouth,” said Frechette, who noted she visited Portland last summer and enjoyed a Caprese milk punch – flavored with tomato, mozzarella and basil – at Via Vecchia.

“It’s a fun trend that I’m happy to see,” Frechette said. “It tricks your taste buds, and I think a lot of people just enjoy that experience.”

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