“Go bananas!” These same words from John Stanton of Sable Kitchen & Bar in Chicago and Joanne Spiegel of Dead Rabbit Grog and Grocery in New York City set me on a quest to find out more about banana cocktails.
For most of cocktail history, bananas have been an almost forgotten ingredient. They are difficult to use fresh and, in the past, most liqueurs on the market have been cloyingly sweet and about as close to actual banana flavor as grape bubblegum is to real grapes. Now, with a resurgence of interest in tiki drinks, the renaissance of the craft of bartending, and high quality banana liqueurs like Giffard’s Banane de Bresil and Maison Briottet’s Crème de Banane, bananas cocktails are appearing on drink menus all over the world.
So where did all of this sudden interest in banana cocktails come from? Joanne Spiegel, bar manager of Dead Rabbit attributes her interest in the category to South African bartender Denzel Heath’s entry into the Bacardi Legacy cocktail competition, the Lennox.
“I guess we have a lot of mutual friends because next thing there are shout-outs and banana memes from all over the world in my feed. I guess it just sunk in.”
Sable’s Stanton points to the Tiki renaissance as his inspiration for using bananas in cocktails. San Francisco mixologist Jackie Patterson-Brenner, who works with Giffard added,
“I like to think the introduction of Giffard Banane du Brésil to the US in 2013 had a lot to do with the current trend of banana in cocktails. Certainly credit is due to the Tiki renaissance that we have been experiencing for the past six years as banana is a natural flavor fit there. But until our liqueur made its way to US shores there was really no consistent, easy, natural, and high quality way to add banana flavor to cocktails.”
What about fresh bananas? “Using fresh bananas in cocktails is quite a challenge because of the texture as well as the concentration of flavor. Bananas don’t have much flavor and can add an unpleasant chalky texture when muddled. I have seen them used in blended drinks with some success, but again, there just isn’t much oomph behind the flavor”, said Patterson-Brenner.
Asked about infusing bananas into alcohol, Sable’s Stanton said, “The one piece of caution I’d advise is that some amount of particulate will most likely remain in your spirit, and will eventually spoil despite the presence of alcohol. You should be mindful of shelf life because of this.”
Despite these hurdles, some master bartenders, like Tel Aviv, Israel’s Oron Lerner of Hide & Seek, have conquered the fresh banana cocktail. His drink, the Mentirita, a Cuban-inspired libation, combines fresh banana with Havana Club and Appleton rums, Palo Cortado sherry syrup, lime juice, and a dash of salt water. Lerner notes that
“Seeing as bananas are always in season in Israel we make a point of having one banana drink on every menu.”
Brian Means of San Francisco’s Dirty Habit uses banana purée in his Cinnamon Toast Punch, a shared drink featuring Avua Amburana cachaca, Lustau Amontillado sherry, Meletti amaro, and whole milk.
Banana liqueurs have their fans as well.“Using banana liqueurs instead of fresh bananas in cocktails is just easy-peasy”, says the Dead Rabbit’s Spiegel. Her Coco Chanel has coconut rum, Giffard’s Banane du Brésil, Ancho Reyes chili liqueur, Altos tequila, egg white, tiki bitters, and toasted orgeat. Kevin Diedrich at San Francisco’s BDK Restaurant and Bar uses Giffard’s Banane du Brésil, along with Herradura Reposado Tequila, Palo Cortado sherry and orange bitters for his drink named simply, “Banana”.
While both of those cocktails use Giffard, Sable’s Stanton leans towards Briottet, explaining “I really like the Maison Briottet Crème de Banane. It’s one of the few banana liqueurs that I’ve encountered that really has a banana-like flavor, not just artificial flavor and sugar.” Ultimately, it’s the quality of both Giffard and Briottet that draws bartenders attention.
“In the late 1990s and early 2000s there was always a banana liqueur on the rail, but it was always used in sweet shots and rum drinks, and the best kind of guilty pleasure — frozen drinks. Right now I’m using Giffard Banane du Brésil. It’s definitely cleaner than the other brands I’ve tried.”
The introduction of high quality banana liqueurs has clearly put bananas front and center in many bartenders minds. However, not all banana cocktails run towards the tropical.
“When people see banana on the list of ingredients, their minds might go straight to banana daiquiris or other tropical cocktails that are on the sweeter side. It’s hard to work around that association, and you risk people dismissing a cocktail based on it,”
says Sable’s Stanton, whose Eve’s First Kiss features gin, Herbsaint, and rosemary syrup along with banana liqueur. Chad Phillips at Seattle’s Pennyroyal mixes Copperworks gin, Cappelletti peritivo, rhubarb bitters, and lemon juice with banana liqueur for his A Preferred Blur.
Whether fresh or in liqueur, bananas have become a serious flavor trend in cocktails, both in the United States and internationally. Bartenders have risen to the challenge and are making bananas a regular part of cocktail menus around the world, and are breaking out of the Tiki mold to become a surprisingly versatile cocktail ingredient.
Courtesy of Kevin Diedrich, BDK Restaurant & Bar, San Francisco
- 2 oz. Herradura ReposadoTequila
- 3/4 oz. Palo Cortado Sherry
- 1/2 oz. Giffard Banana Du Brésil
- 2 dashes Orange Bitters
- Lemon Twist, for Garnish
Preparation: Stir ingredients together and strain into a martini glass. Garnish with a lemon twist.
Cinnamon Toast Punch
Courtesy of Brian Means, Dirty Habit, San Francisco
This is a punch bowl/shared cocktail
- 8 oz. Avua Amburana Cachaca
- 8 oz. Whole Milk
- 4 oz Lustau Amontillado Sherry
- 4 oz. Meletti Amaro
- 6 oz. Banana Purée
- Cinnamon Sticks, for Garnish
Preparation: Combine ingredients in a punch bowl. Serve with cinnamon sticks.
Courtesy of Joanne Siegel, Dead Rabbit Grocery and Grog, NYC
- 1 1/2 oz. Altos Tequila
- 3 dashes Coconut Rum
- 3/4 oz. Fresh Squeezed Lemon Juice
- 3/4 oz. Giffard Banane
- 1/2 oz. Ancho Chili Liqueur
- 1/4 oz. Toasted Orgeat
- 1 Egg White
- Dash Tiki Bitters
- Banana Chip, for Garnish
- Nutmeg, for Garnish
Preparation: Stir until chilled. Strain into a coupe-style glass. Garnish with a banana chip and just a touch of nutmeg.
Eve’s First Kiss
Courtesy of John Stanton – Sable Kitchen & Bar, Chicago
- 3/4 oz. Gin
- 3/4 oz. Herbsaint Liqueur
- 1/2 oz. Fresh Lemon Juice
- 1/2 oz. Rosemary Syrup
- 1/4 oz. Crème de Banane Liquor
- Dropful, Crème de Mure
Preparation: Shake, strain, and serve in a Georgian-style glass. Garnish with one dropper of Crème de Mure.
Courtesy of Oron Lerner, Hide & Seek Bar, Tel Aviv, Israel
- 30 ml Havana Club 7, or other Cuban-style rum like Cana Brava
- 30 ml Appleton 8
- 1/2 Very Ripe Banana, Mashed to Pulp
- 20 ml Fresh Squeezed Lime Juice
- 20 ml Sherry Syrup (1:1 Palo Cortado Sherry and Sugar)
- Dash of Salt Water
Preparation: Shake and strain into a Nick and Nora-style glass.
A Preferred Blur
Courtesy of Chad Phillips, Pennyroyal, Seattle, WA
- 1 1/2 oz. Copperworks Gin
- 3/4 oz. Banane du Brésil Liqueur
- 1/2 oz. Cappelletti Aperitivo
- 1/2 oz. Fresh Squeezed Lemon Juice
- Lemon Twist, for Garnish
- 1 dash Rhubarb Bitters
Preparation: Shake ingredients together and strain into a coupe. Garnish with a lemon twist.