Fall and winter drinks often highlight spices like cinnamon and cloves, which have long been hallmarks of cold-weather drinking. But at bars across the country, another pantry staple is adding warming notes to cocktails: toasted oats. The reason for their current popularity? Besides their versatility—toasted oats have made their way into everything from Espresso Martinis to tropical drinks—you can thank your local coffee shop. The rise in oat milk drinks at the coffee counter is carrying over to the bar.
At The Fox Bar & Cocktail Club in Nashville, bar manager Laura Unterberg was directly inspired by a beverage at the bar’s sibling concept, Elegy Coffee. The latte was designed to taste like Cheerios and milk. “That cereal milk has a beautiful, rich, malty flavor,” Unterberg says. To translate that into a cocktail, she combines vodka, Elegy cold brew and Faretti Biscotti Liqueur with a syrup made by lightly toasting store-bought oat powder in a pan before adding water and cooking it down with honey, maple syrup and cinnamon and allspice tinctures.
Matthew Ross, co-owner and general manager of Austin, Texas’ Roosevelt Room, says that toasting helps harness the flavor of oats by getting them to release some of their oils. “It brings the flavors to the forefront,” he says. It also helps to pair toasted oats with aged spirits like rums, whiskeys and sherries. “Sherry has that nutty flavor, and nuts and oats pair well.”
For Roosevelt Room’s Far From the Tree cocktail, Ross makes a toasted oat–apple syrup with apple juice in place of the typical water. Mixed with almond butter–washed Scotch, rum, amontillado sherry, Abbott’s bitters and a salt tincture, the final drink is full of balanced, nutty flavors and fits perfectly into autumn drinking.
Patty Dennison, head bartender of Brooklyn’s Grand Army, taps similar ingredients for a cocktail on the bar’s Mean Girls menu. Kalteen Bar, inspired by the granola bar in the movie, also features a toasted oat syrup. “The syrup is almost like an oatmeal cookie,” she says. Dennison combines the sweetener with oloroso sherry, Angostura and a peanut butter–washed blend of bourbon, Mellow Corn whiskey and rum. Dennison chose to use oats to mirror the flavors in the spirits, but also appreciates the body they add to the drink. “Oats have starch, so they lend texture,” she says. “People are focusing more and more on that in drinks, and this is a way to give an Old-Fashioned-style cocktail a nice texture and viscosity.”
Tom Smith, bar manager at The Linwood Restaurant & Cocktails in Bay Shore, New York, also notes that having toasted oats in a cocktail “changes the mouthfeel.” At The Linwood, Smith has served two different drinks with toasted oats. For one, Pier Pressure, he infuses a blend of rums and peach liqueur with toasted oats to serve as the base, which gets blended with lime juice and a fresh syrup made with mango and coconut water. “The toasted oats bring some contrast to the summery tiki-style flavors,” he says, and they can help transition tropical drinks to the colder seasons. For the other drink, Float Your Boat, he combines the same rum blend with green Chartreuse, banana liqueur, lemon juice and an orgeat made from toasted oats, finishing it with whipped cream flavored with more of the orgeat for extra caramel flavor. In place of the typical nuts in orgeat, Smith says, toasted oats make a range of tropical drinks more accessible to those with allergies.
With toasted oats being a staple of many pantries, they punch above their weight in terms of what they add to a drink: a textural boost, interesting, malty flavor and a warming dimension that’s perfect for cold-weather drinking. As Dennison says, “Adding the toasted flavor to the simple syrup is a really easy way to add complexity to any cocktail.”