Brunch cocktails that go beyond the bellini

"Bianco or dry vermouth with a soda or a tonic as your first cocktail of the day is very smart."

The Garibaldi, built on a frothy Italian mix of red bitter liqueur (usually Campari) and fresh juice, ideal for straddling the line between late-morning beverage and afternoon cocktail, in New York, April 5, 2022. Bobbi Lin/The New York Times

Brunch isn’t truly brunch without a bevy of beverages: coffee, water, juice and, if you’re drinking alcohol that day, a cocktail. Unlimited mimosas and heavily adorned Bloody Marys are longtime go-tos, but you certainly need not limit yourself to them.

Modern midday choices tend to trend away from high-alcohol options and toward drinks with lower alcohol by volume (or ABV) that pair nicely with the meal. “People want good-quality cocktails to go with good-quality food,” said Stacey Swenson, the bar director for Mattos Hospitality in New York City, which includes Lodi, Estela and Altro Paradiso.

Meant to be sipped alongside small bites, often bitter-leaning, lighter aperitifs are a fantastic foil to whatever short stack, Benedict or scramble is on the table.


“Bianco or dry vermouth with a soda or a tonic as your first cocktail of the day is very smart,” Swenson said. “If you’re a pancake or waffle kind of person, a Bellini with fresh fruit is a really good option.” She also recommends a sparkling, citrus-laced French 75 or that most effervescent, most consummate of aperitivo beverages: the spritz.

Should a mimosa be nonnegotiable, Swenson recommends jazzing up the classic combination of orange juice and prosecco by adding orange bitters or orange liqueur. Or make another orange juice-based drink, the Garibaldi. Built on a frothy Italian mix of red bitter liqueur (usually Campari) and fresh juice, it’s refreshing and sweet-bitter, and ideal for straddling the line between late-morning beverage and afternoon cocktail.

Alternatively, spike a batch of café de olla, a sweet, spiced Mexican coffee that is traditionally made in an olla, or clay pot. Infused with cinnamon and other flavorings, such as cloves and orange peels, the drink is richly sweetened with piloncillo, an unrefined cane sugar with a deep, molasses flavor.

“It’s like biting into cake; it’s meant to be super sweet,” said Marcela Valladolid, a chef, author and founder of the food and lifestyle brand Casa Marcela. If you can’t find piloncillo, Valladolid suggests mixing brown sugar with a small amount of molasses to approximate piloncillo’s caramelized flavors. Serve café de olla as is, or turn it into a brunchtime cocktail with an ounce of reposado tequila or whiskey.


Should you prefer your coffee iced, Swenson says you can swap coconut water for regular water in an iced Americano (for a touch of nuttiness and natural sweetness), and add an ounce or two of rum or amaro.

Whichever drink you choose to balance on the already brunch-packed table, make it something worthy of the space and one you’ll be inclined to sip between bites before, and even after, the sun goes down.

The Garibaldi

Yield: 1 drink

Named for the Italian revolutionary Giuseppe Garibaldi, who played a leading role in the unification of Italy, the classic recipe for this two-ingredient drink combines Campari, from Northern Italy, and fresh orange juice, a nod to Sicily in the south. This modern version features orange bitters and a pinch of salt, as well as an ounce of grapefruit juice. (If you want to skip grapefruit, you can also use 5 full ounces of orange juice.) Whether you make the classic or modern iteration, the key to the best Garibaldi is very fresh, very frothy citrus juice. For that, you’ll want freshly squeezed citrus and a firm, long, dry (without ice) shake, or, if you prefer, you can pulse the juice in a blender for a few seconds to aerate before adding to the glass.


  • Ice
  • 1 1/2 ounces red bitter liqueur, such as Campari, Cappelletti or Contratto Bitter
  • 3 to 4 dashes orange bitters
  • 4 ounces fresh orange juice
  • 1 ounce fresh grapefruit juice
  • Pinch of flaky sea salt
  • Orange or grapefruit wedge or wheel, for serving

1. Fill a Collins or highball glass with ice, add the red bitter liqueur and the bitters.

2. In a shaker, without ice, add the orange and grapefruit juices, and the salt. Cover and shake vigorously for 15 to 20 seconds. Strain the cocktail into the glass and garnish with the orange or grapefruit wedge.

Café de Olla

Total time: 20 minutes

Yield: 6 cups

Made in batches and served hot, sweet and scented with cinnamon and other spices, Café de Olla is traditionally brewed in an olla de barro, a tall clay pot. When making Café de Olla, choose quality, dark roast coffee and, if possible, grind it fresh. Second, seek out piloncillo — unprocessed, unrefined cane sugar named after the shape of the mold that is traditionally used to make it — for a richer, deeper, more caramelized flavor. If you don’t have access to piloncillo, use dark brown sugar and add a half to a full teaspoon of molasses. Lastly, take care to never allow the liquid to come to a boil, which can burn the coffee and make the final drink acidic. Serve as is, or set a bottle of tequila, rum, whiskey, cognac or amaro on the table and let drinkers add their chosen spirit to taste. If you have extra Café de Olla, store it in a covered container in the refrigerator and reheat or serve iced.

  • 4 ounces piloncillo (or use a scant 1/2 cup dark brown sugar plus 1/2 teaspoon molasses)
  • 2 small cinnamon sticks, preferably Mexican cinnamon
  • 2 whole cloves
  • 1 star anise (optional)
  • 1/2 cup freshly ground (medium-grind) dark roast coffee
  • 2 (3-inch-long) orange peels (optional)
  • Spirit of your choice (rum, bourbon or rye whiskeys, cognac or amaro), optional

1. In a small olla de barro or medium pot, add the piloncillo, 6 cups water, cinnamon sticks, cloves and star anise, if using. Set over medium heat and bring to a very low simmer, stirring frequently, until the piloncillo is completely dissolved. Do not let the liquid come to a boil. Continue to cook over medium-low for 5 more minutes. Remove the pot from the heat and stir in the coffee grounds and orange peels, if using. Cover and let sit for 6 to 8 minutes. Strain through a fine-mesh strainer or coffee filter into a large, heatproof carafe or another pot.


2. Add 1 to 1 1/2 ounces of the spirit of your choice, if using, to a 6-ounce heatproof mug or glass, and top with 4 to 5 ounces Café de Olla; serve hot.

This article originally appeared in The New York Times.


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