Cereal cocktails have been with us awhile. The parade of milkshake-like drinks is at least as old as Instagram, and the flair has only gotten more animated since the arrival of TikTok. The genre favors a playfully maximalist aesthetic. Picture whole cereal bits resting atop tuffets of snow-white foam, glassware rimmed in cereal dust, Cheerios impaled on cocktail picks.
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Beyond the theatrics, there’s good reason professional and amateur bartenders alike have kept returning to the breakfast staple as an ingredient, prompting cereal cocktails to outlast other faddish obsessions of the drinks world. First, consider dry cereal as a culinary tool. We’re talking crannied puffs of rice, sugar-dusted flakes of corn, tori of toasted oats—the stuff is engineered to mingle effortlessly with liquid (usually milk), release its instantly identifiable flavor and yet somehow stay structurally intact. Plus, it’s widely available, has a long shelf life and isn’t too expensive. If that isn’t an infuser’s dream product, then what is?
Cereal flavors also hold significance in our minds, capable of dislodging memories of deep-seated pleasures, like spending whole Saturday mornings glued to cartoons with a bowl of Cinnamon Toast Crunch. That is some alluring magic for a bartender.
Naturally, many of the cocktail preparations lean heavily into dairy, anchored by cereal milks and cereal-infused milk punches. But newer avenues of experimentation are leaving the cow behind and getting back to the classics, proving just how versatile an ingredient cereal can be.
At the French-Viennese restaurant Koloman in New York, bartender Meg Lazar recently introduced a cereal cocktail based on the Boulevardier. Called the Bitter Truth, the drink features a combination of Japanese whisky, Campari, housemade sweet vermouth and apricot liqueur, all infused with Cocoa Puffs. The stirred cocktail is finished with chocolate bitters and served with an orange twist.
Lazar says she was developing a cocktail intended to reduce waste from leftover bits of Sacher torte (a type of Austrian chocolate cake) that the kitchen was serving at the time. Just as she was about to launch the drink, the cake was taken off the menu, but she still wanted to capture the chocolatey, dessert-like flavor. She found her solution in cereal: “Everyone loves the milk at the bottom of the Cocoa Puffs, right?”
Koloman’s Austrian chef, Markus Glocker, and its beverage director, Katja Scharnagl, had doubts, but ultimately the drink won its place on the cocktail list. “I bet my beverage director,” Lazar says. “‘Let’s special it for a night. If one gets sent back, we won’t put it on the menu. If we sell out tonight, we put it on the menu.’ And lo and behold, of course, we sold out that night.”
Lazar says the cereal ended up being a better choice of ingredient than the cake, not only because the taste of Cocoa Puffs is familiar and nostalgic for many American palates, but also because it’s an easier infusion. “You don’t need a centrifuge, [and] you don’t even need a fine-mesh bag or a nut bag,” Lazar notes. Instead, the cereal can be filtered out in a strainer, making it an easy technique to try at home.
While Lazar’s recipe calls for infusing a batch of the drink with Cocoa Puffs, others infuse just one ingredient, offering dimension to a range of cocktails. At the Milwaukee cocktail bar Lost Whale, bartender Tripper Duval has long been tinkering with cereal. Years ago, he made a Brandy Alexander with Cookie Crisp milk that he says Whale patrons adored; his current menu showcases how the confection-like ingredient can shine in tropical applications.
For the Oops Not Berry’s (a name that pays tribute to tiki maestro Jeff Berry), Duval infuses coconut milk with multicolored Oops All Berries, a fruity cereal belonging to the Cap’n Crunch bloodline. Inspired by his Wisconsin childhood, he also creates a syrup from the state’s own Jolly Good fruit punch soda. Those add fruit flavor to a mix of house-blended bourbon, rye, amaretto, lemon and Bittercube bitters (another Wisco product). To tie everything together, Duval turns to almond liqueur. “The amaretto is essentially the other half of the fruit punch … a union of light and dark flavors.” The drink is served over crushed ice in a Jolly Good soda can with the top cut off. It’s a tropical cocktail, by way of the Third Coast.
At Philadelphia cocktail bar R&D, meanwhile, bartender Resa Mueller is currently presenting a 12-drink menu themed around the months of the year, and the August cocktail—inspired by the flavors and aromas of camping—is a Corn Pops–infused riff on the Old-Fashioned called the Corn Hub. To make it, Mueller starts by soaking Corn Pops in mezcal, then amplifies that smoky-sweet profile with Mellow Corn whiskey, Demerara syrup and Bittercube Chipotle Cacao bitters.
“When guests try it, it kind of tastes like a s’more… but in a more subtly suggestive way,” says Mueller. “It has that smoke component. It has that little bit of sweetness and that earthiness. And when I tell people, ‘Yeah, you can totally make this at home,’ that just puts a light on in their head.”