While so many cocktails can be shaken or stirred year round, the tomato drink defies permanence. But when tomatoes are at their peak, as they are now, there’s a world of tomato drinks beyond the Bloody Mary or Michelada, where the fruit offers subtle umami flavor, without weighing a cocktail down.
One method for adding the fruit to a recipe is by simply muddling it into a drink. For example, Leyenda bartender Leanne Favre’s New Crush introduces tomato into the Spanish Vermut & Tonic format by muddling cherry tomatoes with simple syrup. The technique adds savory depth to the two-part drink, with the vegetal note echoed in a cucumber ribbon and cucumber-flavored tonic water. The sweetener, however, can be used to add seasonal, savory intrigue to any drink that calls on simple syrup, from a Gimlet to a Cobbler.
At Thyme Bar in New York, beverage director Jeremy Le Blanche incorporates tomato flavor through the use of tomato jam in the Solanum Negroni. (Solanum is the name of tomatoes’ botanical extended family.) At the bar, Campari is cooked sous vide with tomato jam, lending the bitter aperitivo a sweet, slightly acidic flavor that harmonizes with an “umami powder” spice mix–infused gin. For an at-home version, Le Blanche says you could heat the Campari to around 158°F before adding tomato jam, blending the two together and filtering the liquid through a cheesecloth.
While the jam infusion method brings out the sweetness in tomatoes, others turn to its earthy flavor, amplifying it with salt and brine. At Little Coco’s in Washington, D.C., the Ode to Tomatoes is a dirty Martini–adjacent drink with vodka, tomato water (prepared by combining cherry tomatoes with fresh herbs and salt, blending, then straining) and a housemade tomato pickle brine (cherry tomatoes, basil, white vinegar, water, salt, sugar and coriander seed, jarred for two days). The drink is inspired by the “smell of a summer garden,” though general manager Anna Wonson says removing the herbs from the recipe, if preferred, can yield a more delicate, “purely tomato flavor.”
But the simplest way to incorporate tomato flavor—which can also keep the essence of that transient Peak Tomato in the backbar year-round—comes from a one-of-a-kind liqueur: Laurent Cazottes 72 Tomatoes. Made in France by a biodynamic winemaker using macerated tomatoes, 72 Tomatoes is the focus of the House Martini at Brooklyn’s Place des Fêtes. “It highlights the [tomato] flavor without being gratuitous about it,” says beverage director Piper Kristensen, contrasting the delicate nature of the liqueur to the more heavy-handed effect of tomato juice. At Place des Fêtes, it stars alongside a vodka base (specifically, the cascara-based GOOD vodka), mineral-forward manzanilla sherry and Vichy Catalan mineral water, whose salinity boosts the tomato flavor. At the bar, 72 Tomatoes is such a unique liqueur that it’s “a conversation piece with people,” says Kristensen.
Outside of a Martini, he says, the liqueur could work well in a Margarita, subbed for Curaçao, to pair with the earthiness of tequila. But it can also shine neat or “stretched out a little bit” with mineral waters, such as Vichy Catalan or Gerolsteiner and a slice of lemon.
Along with its many flavor virtues, there’s something to be said for the devotion the tomato has garnered from those who work with the ingredient— whether savoring its short season or extending it via maceration, infusion or distillation. In a bartending world where flavors are often panseasonal, the fleeting nature of Tomato Drink Season is just another part of its charm. Of his tomato water Martini, the editor Dan Saltzstein wrote on Twitter, “I wait for it every year.”