Monday, April 4, 2011

Coco loco

Remember how acai berries in cocktails were going to make us all live forever and let us get drunk at the same time? That was a total thing a couple of years ago. Bygone cocktail trends can look silly in retrospect; it's like looking through the abandoned-photo graveyard on your Myspace account. Yikes. 

The lesson here is that it's always good to be skeptical of the marketed fads. It's even better to raise an eyebrow or three when it comes to supposed health fixes. Life isn't a video game where we can find instant power-ups to replenish the glowing hearts that float above our heads, no matter how awesome that would be. So determining whether coconut water - a trendy drink that's being used in cocktails at bars like Clink, Gargoyles on the Square, Hard Rock Café, Pops, Sam's at Louis, and Masa, to name a few - is going to do anything for you physically is beyond my pay grade here. It does have a lot of electrolytes, I suppose. But then again, so did that stuff they used to fertilize plants in Idiocracy. Determining whether it tastes good, now that I can do.

The answer is, um, I think so? I finished about four of them in a day, still unsure whether I loved it as I reached for another. If you've never partaken, coconut water is the clear liquid inside young coconuts; people have been guzzling this stuff by the coconut load pretty much since coconuts, people, and guzzling were invented, so something is going right here.

Vita Coco is one of the most popular brands at the moment in an ever-increasing market. Industry-wide sales have increased from roughly $30 million three years ago to an estimated $150 million this year, company rep Arthur Gallego told me. While it's not a message they necessarily push, one of the strengths of coconut water is how well it mixes with alcohol, Gallego admits. "It's tropical, and it's refreshing, two staples of any good cocktail menu." 

"We always talk about coconut water providing optimal hydration," Gallego says. "There is a lot of folklore and legend around the benefits of coconut water. I've heard everything from cleaning the intestines to making your skin smoother. . . . We don't like to make a promise to a long list of things coconut water may or may not do, but generations of South Americans, Asians, and Indians have sworn by it as an elixir of life, whether it's immunity-boosting or as a digestive aid."

In Boston bars at the moment, it's mostly being used as a getting-you-buzzed aid. "I see a lot of people drinking it in the industry as a hangover cure," says Jon Parsons of Sam's (60 Northern Avenue, Boston, 617.295.0191). He says the fact that it has such a subtle flavor that could be easily overpowered in a cocktail made it a fun challenge to take on. He's mixing one called the Antilles Wedge ($12), made with Kilo Kai spiced rum, Frangelico, Marie Brizard crème de menthe, Kamora coffee liqueur, and mint. The spiced rum is a natural tropical pairing with the coconut, Parsons says. "It's very drinkable; you don't taste the alcohol. I think it kind of endorses the product the best."

At Gargoyles on the Square (219 Elm Street, Somerville, 617.776.5300), Paul Christie is mixing coconut water in his Hair of the Dog ($6.50) for the restaurant's Disco Brunch on Sundays. It's a perfect fit for the morning after, he says. "Coconut water is a more natural alternative to sports drinks. It is beneficial to your health due to the high levels of potassium and magnesium." Adding vanilla vodka, pineapple juice, and a candied orange helps you get the process started all over again. 

John Gould, general manager at Pops (560 Tremont Street, Boston, 617.695.1250), thinks the hydrating factor is a plus as well. "When you have coconut water in a cocktail, you are in fact preemptively avoiding a hangover," he says. In the Material Girl ($10), he uses PAMA pomegranate liqueur, Hendrick's gin, and Vita Coco, which he also likes because it's a natural sweetener. "The cocktails are light, clean, and crisp, not overly sweet and sugary, which we avoid highly here at Pops." Apparently now you can avoid a hangover there too. We're gonna live forever! 

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