The countdown continues for Starbucks, as the coffee company prepares to open its largest store ever along downtown Chicago’s famous Mag Mile. Chicago’s Starbucks Reserve Roastery should open on November 15 and servers will pour much more than coffee. Starbucks has assembled three of Chicago’s top bartenders to create exclusive cocktails, including one featuring the city’s most infamous spirit: Jeppson’s Malört.
The 35,000-square foot and five-level building at Michigan and Erie will be the world’s-largest Starbucks. It’ll sell pizza and baked goods from Princi, the bakery Starbucks brought over from Italy. The first Princi location in America opened last year in Seattle and another debuted later in 2018 in the West Loop.
Starbucks has opened similar flagship locations in five cities (Seattle, Shanghai, Milan, New York, Tokyo) giving the coffee giant a place to showcase its products in a high-end setting. As brick and mortar retail dwindles thanks to online sales, companies need to find more creative ways to invest in real estate.
This isn’t the first time Starbucks has dove into cocktails. Fans will remember Starbucks Evenings, the chain’s defunct attempt to bring customers into stores after sunset. Management is taking a different approach at the new roasteries, bringing in Chicago’s Menu Collective to create their drinks. Menu Collective is a cocktail consultant that employs some of Chicago’s better-known bartenders.
With that local flavor, Starbucks will continue to normalize malört with a riff on a boilermaker. It’s an ode to Chicago’s dive bar culture where shots and beers reign. This might feel out of place along Michigan Avenue but the trio of bartenders involved in the project — Annie Beebe-Tron (Fat Rice), Julia Momose (Kumiko, Oriole), and Rachel Miller (Community Tavern) — felt they needed to represent as much of the city’s drink culture as possible. Chicago is a city where drinkers will pay for both $15 fancy drinks or $2 canned beers without batting an eyelash. They haven’t released pricing for Chicago, but drinks at the Starbucks Reserve Roastery in New York top at $20.
The setting allows bartenders to introduce tourists and downtown workers to new ingredients. Momose spoke about how there’s still an unfamiliarity with matcha for some Americans. Using it in a Starbucks drink has a chance to unlock a gateway.
Enter the “Roastery Boilermaker” ($16): an innocent mix of malört, Starbucks’s Veranda Blonde Cold Brew, Koval Four Grain Whiskey, bitters, club soda, and grapefruit juice. The drink quenches like a Steigl Radler and served with an orange slice. The bartenders wanted it to also appeal to IPA and shandy drinkers. This boilermaker comes with a shot of Rhine Hall bierschnaps that can be gently poured into the main cocktail.
The three bartenders have worked on past Starbucks’s bars, called Arriviamo, in places including New York, Milan, and Tokyo. Momose, who grew up in Japan, especially took to the latter location. Starbucks gave them a rare chance to collaborate and learn from each other.
“I think a lot of people who run creative programs don’t actually get a chance to work with other people who run creative programs very often,” said Beebe-Tron. “It’s really exciting to see each other’s development process.”
The malört cocktail is akin to a drink Momose formulated for the Starbucks Roastery in New York. The “Black and White Manhattan” combines New York’s iconic classic cocktail with the black and white cookies Bavarian immigrants brought over in the early 1900s. That drink isn’t available in Chicago. A Starbucks rep said each bar will be tailored, in a way, to its market.
Miller grew up in Old Irving Park, not too far from Community Tavern. She’s beaming with hometown pride and was “super hyped” when she learned of Starbucks’s plans for Chicago.
Besides malört, the cocktails include many local distillers like Koval. That’s something CH Distillery found Tremaine Atkinson appreciates. CH produces Jeppson’s Malört.
“We are stoked that Starbucks is supporting local spirits with their new concept and particularly happy they’re embracing our dark side!” Atkinson texted.
Working with Starbucks obviously gives the bartenders access to plenty of coffee. Another Chicago exclusive involves pour over coffee. The presentation is meant to pique curiosity. Perhaps there’s a tourist walking by that hasn’t seen a barista pour over.
Before adding coffee, the “Pour over Bijou” ($16) is the kind of cocktail to slowly sip at a dimly lit bar. Bitter and herbaceous, it’s made with Nikka Coffey Gin, Carpano Bianco, Green Chartreuse, and Liqueur Strega. When the bartender pours over Indonesia West Java Coffee, it adds a new richness and makes the drink smoother and a little sweeter.
There are other drinks not exclusive to Chicago and more that Starbucks wasn’t prepared to talk about. Momose is a big proponent of spirit-free beverages, and she’s made alcohol-free drinks for other roastery locations. It’s a good bet to expect a few to make their ways to Chicago. The “Roastery Old Fashioned” ($14) is available in New York and Seattle. It’s made with Starbucks Reserve Cold Brew, Iwai Tradition Whisky, Amaro del Capo, New York maple syrup, and balsamic vinegar of Modena. The drink’s a mix of cultures served in a glass tumbler with lines that remind Momose of the spires from an Italian cathedral.
The world’s-largest Starbucks opens in a month. Stay tuned for additional coverage.