August 2010

Sweet Success!

By: Fred Minnick
New Tres Leches Cream Liqueur Takes Mixology by Storm

Tiquio Serratos, bartender at Javier’s Cantina & Grill in Newport Beach, CA, is a big fan of Tres Leches.

At the touch of a fork, a tres leches cake releases sugary, delicious goodness from its spongy pores filled with condensed, evaporated and heavy cream. This moist, but not soggy cake, topped with smoothly whipped cream, sweetens the palate with sugar, cream, vanilla and hints of caramel sensations that cannot be found in any other form. And although historians do not know the cake's exact origins—Nicaragua, Guatemala, Mexico and Panama have all claimed creating it—tres leches is Latin America's apple pie.

Perhaps that's why the new Tres Leches liqueur, a Caribbean rum-based triple cream that hit the market in September 2009, has taken mixologists, chefs and consumers by storm. It won Best Spirit of Show and Best Cream Liqueur at the 2010 Wine & Spirits Wholesalers of America (WSWA) Spirits Competition in Las Vegas, as well as a Double Gold medal at the 2010 San Francisco World Spirits Competition. One distributor said that in his 30 years of supplying the industry he's never seen a new product grow so quickly.


"I would think this is something every mixologist should have behind the bar right now," says Javier Sosa Jr., owner of Newport Beach, CA-based Javier's Cantina & Grill, one of the hottest Latin restaurants in Southern California. "There are not many cream-based products I would put my name behind. This is something of the future."  "It tastes just like the tres leches cake!"

"There's just so much you can do with Tres Leches liqueur," says Samir Dhurandhar, corporate chef and partner of Dallas-based Nick & Sam's Steakhouse, Nick & Sam's Grill and Coal Vine's Pizza. "I look at new products all the time. When I was introduced to Tres Leches, it was poured over crushed ice and was perfect for a hot sunny day.


The Laguna Beach Special is a signature cocktail at Javier’s Cantina & Grill. It combines Tres Leches with Patrón XO Café liqueur, a splash of Frangelico and is topped with cinnamon.

"It gives you that sweetness you're looking for, but is so mellow, so smooth on your palate that it drinks really well. It tastes just like the tres leches cake."

And it makes a great Coke float, says Jay Long, Manager of the Goody Goody Liquor retailer, the largest retailer in Texas. "We have one of the largest stores in the country; 15 new products come across our desk every day. There's usually not a lot we get excited about," Long says. "But with Tres Leches, we have. It's something different. There are so many creamy liqueurs . . . this just has a different taste than the rest."


Tres Leches's sweetness gives it great flexibility, especially for dessert enthusiasts. Some restaurants serve it as a shot next to a featured dessert. Mojito's Tapas in Louisville, KY, presents a shot alongside a goat cheese flan with cajeta ice cream and almond brittle. Dhurandhar currently blends Tres Leches in ice cream, a banana caramel bread pudding and gelato and plans to make a Tres Leches chocolate truffle. His restaurants also serve it as an after-dinner drink and in coffee, but he says the liqueur doesn't need much help for people to fall in love with it.

"To me, Tres Leches was created for how popular the dessert is. It's so easy to have this in a shot, in an after dinner drink or in a dessert," he says. "It's a comfort food. Tres Leches has become such a universal flavor that I think people will recognize this more than they would a Grand Marnier or a glass of cognac."


Tres Leches liqueur's unique, sweet flavor profile lends itself as an easy replacement to other cream liqueurs. But that same flavor inspires creativity. New York City's renowned Summit Bar and Miami-based Texas de Brazil are playing with Tres Leches behind the bar, while mixologist Pablo Moix, of La Descarga in Hollywood, CA, recently added to his menu the Bad Spaniard: one ounce of Cruzan Blackstrap rum, one ounce of Averna Amaro, one ounce of Tres Leches liqueur and one egg yolk.

Martini's Italian Bistro mixologist and partner Gary Gruver, who won the 2009 Bombay Sapphire Most Inspired Bartender title, named a cocktail after the spirit, using Three Olives vanilla vodka, Tres Leches liqueur and coffee. Gruver has also created a milk shake with Tres Leches and a French Cream Martini, both of which have become hot sellers among women at the Louisville restaurant. He intends to experiment with Tres Leches in bourbon drinks, especially a Bourbon Ball, a recipe that typically calls for a hazelnut liqueur and crème de cacao.

"This is a very appealing, flexible spirit," Gruver says. "It blends with other liqueurs really well and can be used to replace heavy creams in some drinks to make them a more full-bodied drink."

Other popular Tres Leches cocktails include the Coconut Cream Pie: Tres Leches and Coconut rum served on crushed ice; the Blackberry Cream: Tres Leches and blackberry-flavored whiskey, mixed and served over ice; the Peaches & Cream: Tres Leches and peach brandy served on the rocks.

Truthfully, the spirit could be the lead ingredient, a sweetening touch or enjoyed alone, on the rocks or as a dessert. At the Right Time Morningstar beverage liquor analyst Phil Gorham says Tres Leches could be jumping into the market at the right time. He says if the economy continues to improve, consumers will begin buying more premium products.

"Consumers ask for other cream liqueurs by name. They don't order a cream-based liqueur on the rocks," Gorham says. But that's from a macroanalyst point of view.

A satisfied customer at Martini’s Italian Bistro in Louisville enjoys a Tres Leches Milkshake created by mixologist and partner Gary Gruver, who won the 2009 Bombay Sapphire Most Inspired Bartender title.

From a mixologist's viewpoint, Tres Leches is not like the other leading brands of cream liqueurs. "This has a completely different taste profile," says Gary Gruver. "Tres Leches definitely has its own nice niche to fill."

  On this month's cover: 

Gary Gruver of Louisville's Martini's Italian Bistro makes a Tres Leches cocktail.


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