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Drink Fresh – Part Two

July 29, 2011

Fresh isn’t a word I find very useful, although I do understand what Ruby Tuesday’s means when they invoke it on their new cocktail menu. Last week I explored what Drink Fresh means to me and by now you may have even seen Albany Jane’s rundown of the drinks we sampled.

As a reminder, we were there as guests of Ruby Tuesday’s and VeeV to try the new cocktails that were especially created for this açaí flavored spirit. That is the polite way of saying that we paid nothing for these drinks.

So, what did I think of the changes to the bar program at Ruby Tuesday’s? How did the drinks measure up to their Drink Fresh descriptions? And what did I think of this new spirit? Well, let’s say for starters, it’s not all bad.

I’m sorry to report that I’m still not 100% certain about VeeV itself. Not in my perceptions of it, mind you. We were poured a taste of the spirit on its own, and I thought that it could make for some enjoyable cocktails. It’s fruity and a bit sweet, but it has some bitter complexities that keep it interesting.

In theory I’ll be getting a sample of it to play around with, and see if I can craft it into better drinks than the people at Ruby Tuesday’s corporate headquarters. But what is Veev? Well of that I’m not 100% certain. Some call it an açaí spirit, while others call it a liqueur. The bottle uses both terms.

But to call it an açaí spirit seems wrong, since as far as I can tell it’s distilled from Idaho winter wheat and infused with açaí. But it also contains some form of prickly pear and acerola cherry. How those get into the bottle I do not know. The statement that VeeV contains no added sugars and only has 60 calories per serving, given its noticeable sweetness, also perplexes me.

Regardless of what it is or how it is made, I don’t think that any of the Ruby Tuesday’s cocktails do a great job at highlighting the subtleties and nuances of VeeV. Although, there was one that I actually liked.

The best of the bunch was the Açaí Mojito. It contained VeeV, freshly muddled mint, fresh-squeezed lime, agave nectar, a splash of pomegranate juice, and topped with club soda. Now it may not get you ripped, given the base spirit of this drink is the relatively lightweight 60% 30% ABV (60 proof) VeeV. But it’s refreshing as hell, with a good punch of bright mint and tart lime to balance out the sweeter ingredients.

The purist in me isn’t thrilled about calling a drink made without rum a mojito, but in this case I’m willing to overlook it. It was also garnished with a stick made from sugar cane, so I thought this was a fitting nod to the origins of the cocktail.

However from there it only went downhill.

I had walked into the bar most excited about the Superfruit Cooler, which was a tempting blend of VeeV, Absolut Berri Açaí Vodka, Elderflower Liqueur, fresh cucumber, and organic agave nectar. It’s not listed on the menu, but it does also contain a pre-made lemon sour-mix. The best word I could use to describe it was cloying. This one seemed to have all the ingredients for a killer cocktail, but it was lacking acid. Had the sour-mix been replaced by a hefty dose of freshly squeezed lemon juice, this could be amazing. But it’s not. It is just sweet and sticky.

In its defense, as the ice melted and the sweetness dissipated, the drink became more drinkable. The same could not be said for the Watermelon Martini.

And just in case you are wondering, I cannot forgive this use of the word martini.

The menu lists this drink as containing VeeV, Grey Goose vodka, fresh watermelon, cranberry & watermelon juices. But the thing is that it’s not exactly watermelon juice. It’s watermelon concentrate. And let me tell you something, I looked at the ingredients on the bottle and there is nothing fresh about it.

Which is unfathomable because this drink requires the bartender to muddle actual cubes of fresh watermelon first. I’m flabbergasted by the decision to take actual fresh watermelon and obscure it behind a sticky watermelon flavored syrup. What a waste of the bartender’s time and effort. And as a result this drink too was more akin to an artificial Jolly Rancher than anything resembling a fresh watermelon and could not be saved by melting ice, as it was strained into an oversized cocktail glass.

But the worst was the drink made with Minute Maid Light Lemonade. I didn’t realize this was a diet cocktail until I tried it. There is nothing fresh about:

Pure Filtered Water, Lemon Juice from Concentrate, Less than 0.5% of: Natural Flavors, Citric Acid (provides tartness), Modified Cornstarch, Glycerol Ester of Rosin, Sodium Benzoate and Potassium Sorbate and Calcium Disodium EDTA (to protect taste), Aspartame, Acesulfame Potassium, Sucralose, Yellow #5

Even adding an entire freshly squeezed lemon couldn’t mask the unique and awful aftertaste of artificial sweeteners.

So what’s the good news?

The good news is that Ruby Tuesday’s is trying. They have a seasonal cocktail menu that changes about three times a year. They are muddling fresh fruit and squeezing citrus to order. The optimist in me says the big wigs who design the drinks at the corporate office just haven’t quite shaken their old ways. Sweet and sticky cocktails are for places like TGI Fridays with all the tchotchkes on the wall. But Ruby Tuesday has reinvented itself and more balanced, interesting, and dare I say elegant cocktails would seem to be a natural part of it.

A little more citrus and a little less syrup and they are there. The mojito proves they can do it. Now they just need to commit to this new direction and leave those candy cocktails in the past.

6 Comments leave one →
  1. July 29, 2011 11:11 am

    60% ABV? That’s 120 proof. Most spirits are 80-100 proof.

    • July 29, 2011 11:45 am

      Yikes! This and a few typos are what I get when Mrs. Fussy doesn’t look over my work. That should be 30% ABV (60 proof). It will be corrected momentarily.

  2. July 29, 2011 11:19 am

    I’m not a big cocktail drinker, but when I do enjoy one I like it to be fairly basic and clean, though I do enjoy a good G&T, where the tonic used is often questionable. Using premium mixers like Fever-Tree is a bit cost-prohibitive but worth it (though I still question “natural flavors” on the label).

    I’ll have to muddle my own fruit and try a few homemade cocktails. I really dislike anything syrupy sweet, which is why I seldom order a cocktail out. Any technique you recommend for rather pulpy fruits (straining, etc.)?

  3. Stevo permalink
    July 29, 2011 11:53 am

    I think Ruby Tuesday is just doing what most of their cocktail customers (read Moms and the under 30 set) want. 95% of these casual drinkers do not want to taste the spirits in a cocktail. They want something that is sweet, cold, and that will get them tipsy.

    • July 29, 2011 12:11 pm

      That’s the reality, yes. I do like that they’re branching out though. They’re the first mega-chain to really embrace craft beer as well. TGI Friday’s missed the boat with their “better with brew” menu but missed the “better brew” part of the equation. Of course TGI Friday’s also thinks that Lagers by default are lighter than and have a lower ABV than Ales, so I think it’s pointless in educating them (lagers have cleaner flavors but are usually heavy by definition). Anyway, a beer nut like me should just be happy that some places are starting to give a nod to beer not made by AB-InBev and MillerCoors.

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