Boozy Cocktail Soups

What you need to know to pull it off for your next get-together

Looking to add a buzzy twist to your next dinner party? Start with the soup course—then throw booze into the mix.

At Mizuna in Denver's Capitol Hill neighborhood, bar whiz Austin Carson reimagines soup in cocktail form and vice versa, serving everything from habañero oil-drizzled strawberry margaritas to a watermelon gazpacho spiked with smoked tequila (get the recipe). For the relentlessly inventive Carson, who recently announced the opening of his own place, Bistro Georgette, with Mizuna exec chef Ty Leon, the project began as a means to alleviate creative "envy for what chefs can do with plating and textures."

For you, it presents a novel way to transition from passed hors d'oeuvres to sit-down courses—and a sly way to solve the perpetual dinner party pairing conundrum. The concept is ultimately as simple as it is versatile.

Carson explains, either you can "make soup and add booze or make a cocktail and put it in a bowl." Cups works, too, with Carson suggesting tea service-style vessels for full effect. As for technique, look no further than carrot-ginger soup, a dish which Carson is known to transform by cooking a carrot-heavy mirepoix in butter and chicken stock, then deglazing the pan with coconut rum, passing the mixture through a chinois, spiking it with bitters and more rum to up the proof, and finally garnishing it with apple-beet and vanilla-lotus yogurts.

Or, take classic beer cheese soup, which Carson steers toward beverage territory by adding whiskey and IPA syrup. Conversely, he says, "you can basically build a cocktail, but then bump the viscosity up with xanthan gum"—or, more conveniently, a product like Small Hand Foods' gum syrup, which, he feels, is balanced enough "that you can add a fair bit without adding too much sugar."

Of course, such hybrid creations can play a role at any point in a meal. For instance, Carson's working on a couple of different recipes involving amari and wild fungi (he's also an avid forager) that would essentially function as digestifs—one a fernet-infused mushroom bisque, the other a Cynar-laced mushroom-artichoke consommé. The latter especially appeals to him not only insofar as "consommé gets a little closer to the way a cocktail looks and feels," but also for its associations with the restoratives of old—"as if you'd come into a restaurant in the 1790s and I gave you some warm broth," he says.

Even dessert is an option, as with Carson's floating island using eggnog—which "already has a bisque-esque texture to it," he points out—in lieu of crème anglaise.

However and whenever you choose to serve your boozy spiked soup, the payoff, of course, is seeing the reaction from your guests. "When people are eating a cocktail out of bowl, it forces this altered perception," Carson says. "If I can pivot your expectations just enough, it deepens the dining experience."

Ruth Tobias has been living, and writing about, the (mile) high life in Denver for 10 years and counting. Follow her on Instagram at @Denveater.