Dished: Most Popular Cocktails in Senior Living

From onsite pubs and Bloody Mary bars to home brewing beer, senior housing as of late has aimed to appeal to the happy hour lover in every resident.

Nearly 70% of assisted living residents drink alcohol—and more than one-third drink daily, according to a University of Pittsburgh study published in Research on Aging in 2012. Among independent living residents, those figures are likely even higher. As such, it makes sense that senior living providers come up with creative ways to incorporate alcohol in programming and concoct crafty cocktails.

Just because seniors like their alcohol doesn’t mean they’re necessarily drinking heavily, though, says Faye McCune, an 81-year-old resident who has lived for seven years at Lenbrook, a not-for-profit continuing care retirement community (CCRC) located in Atlanta.

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“I’m a lightweight—we all are pretty much,” McCune says.

Rather, residents simply want to have a drink or two like they might have done in their previous homes, which is why McCune leads a happy hour every day except Sundays, from 4 p.m. to 5:30 p.m.

Below are some of the most popular cocktails in senior living, as reported by the residents and providers themselves.

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1. Home-brewed beer

Home brewing beer isn’t an activity reserved for hipster millennials. In fact, Aspen Ridge, an independent living, assisted living and memory care community owned and operated by Frontier Management in Bend, Oregon, introduced beer brewing as part of its enrichment programming, as described in Senior Housing News’ latest report, “Innovative Food and Dining Trends in Senior Living.”

Image courtesy of Frontier Management
Image courtesy of Frontier Management

Residents who participate in the “Brew Crew” help to create 13 labels of beer through every phase of production, and the recipes have resulted in statewide recognition. Plus, they can enjoy the brews themselves, and families frequently drop by to pick up a six-pack.

While there are certainly national brands of beer that are popular at communities, residents also remain loyal toward regional brands, and craft breweries are gaining traction, as well, says Chris Greve, national director of culinary for Unidine, a food and dining management services company with 230 senior living clients.

2. Bloody Marys and other originals

Who doesn’t love a spicy Bloody Mary with all of the fixings? At The Solana Deer Park, an Atria Senior Living Community located in Deer Park, Illinois, residents have access to a full-blown Bloody Mary bar every day from 4 p.m. to 7 p.m.

Trends are also toward more margaritas and creative martinis among senior living residents, Greve notes.

Photo by James Kruml
Photo by James Kruml

“The craft cocktail world has not really reared its head into senior living as much,” he says.

That’s not to say that residents aren’t open to testing out different concoctions. They’re in the know on the latest trends thanks to social media and other Internet outlets, so if a vanilla vodka martini or different flavors of Cosmopolitans are presented, they’re much more well received within senior living than they may have been in the past.

3. Themed drinks

As the weather gets colder, residents turn more to hot toddies and coffee drinks for tea parties and evening socials, Greve says. And as the holiday months approach, hot chocolate with a creme de menthe liqueur would be quite common. Otherwise, seniors like when cocktails are paired with themed meals.

Communities with Revera Inc., one of Canada’s largest senior living owners, operators and investors, enjoy creating signature drinks for each season. For example, at September open houses, lots of properties mixed up cranapple martinis, and in the summertime, they play off the backyard barbecue theme, serving staples like pina coladas at different events.

4. The classics

Classic drinks like rum and Coke and other spirits tend to be very popular among Revera residents, as would be the case for senior living residents overall. They love what they love, and they’ve had many years to develop their favorites, says John Curtis, Revera’s national director of culinary services.

“It’s all about choice for our residents, and empowering those choices,” he says.

Vodka or gin martinis are the norm for residents at The Clare, a high-rise CCRC located in Chicago’s Gold Coast neighborhood. Manhattans are also still quite popular.

That’s largely because their go-to drinks represent what’s comfortable for them, or they remind them of social gatherings in their past, says Francesco Tardio, director of dining services at The Clare.

For McCune at Lenbrook, a well-made whiskey sour does the trick. During the winter months, she uses her happy hour drink tickets to have Angie the Bartender whip up this whiskey, lemon juice and sugar cocktail. However, over the summer, she prefers vodka sodas with lemon and orange slices.

Written by Kourtney Liepelt

Featured Image: Solana at Deer Park, photographed by James Kruml

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