Cool Off Customers
And Make a Profit with Fresh Sippers This Summer
"Summer cocktailing” sounds like one of the most beautiful phrases in the world—until you really start thinking about what it means. Hmmmm, where do you fit in when you’re competing against neighborhood street festivals, live music festivals, picnics in the park, backyard barbecues, plus all the new al fresco drinking destinations? It’s time to roll up your sleeves and step up your game behind the bar.
That doesn’t mean embracing every trend that comes along, however, making a few practical tweaks here and there to your mixology program may certainly make a difference. It can also be profitable for your establishment.
Go Fresh – and Local
At Bold American Fare in Algonquin, Ill., chef/partner Mathew Lucas credits fresh, locally grown produce for elevating his bar program. Ingredients like basil, rosemary and heirloom tomatoes originate from gardens in his residential backyard and at the restaurant.
An abundance of produce allows him to have plenty for the kitchen and bar. It also inspires creativity among staffers, says Lucas. “Everybody contributes in the planning of the cocktail menu,” he continues, which recently included an event where they chose three new signature Bloody Mary cocktails from 50 recipes submitted by staffers. Two include Lucas’ heirloom tomatoes, and one features tomatillos.
Lucas also enjoys putting new spins on classic drinks. “Our number-one selling cocktail is the Whiskey Tango Foxtrot, and it’s our take on the Old Fashioned,” he says. “We actually put Tang in it.”
Put an Awesome New Spin to Classics
In a sense, new drinks find their roots with classic cocktails, says Tim Webb, the cocktail director at DTB in New Orleans. “A lot of times these classic cocktails give us the inspiration, but then we kind of bring it in a new light that people might not have thought of before,” he explains.
At DTB, a summertime favorite is the Saltwater, a rendition of the grapefruit-infused Salty Dog. “What really separates our Saltwater from other cocktails you may have had with grapefruit juice is that ours is made with a basil peppercorn syrup we make in-house,” says Webb. “It really just gives it this savory taste and really draws back on the sweetness, so it is not overwhelmingly sweet.”
Another star sipper at DTB is the Silver Dollar, inspired by the watermelon margarita. Webb says they use fresh-pressed watermelon juice, tequila, house-made ginger syrup and lime. “It’s really light and refreshing,” he describes. “It’s been a huge hit for us.”
The Key to Getting Guests Hooked into a New Cocktail Menu
Chicago’s innovative The Whistler cocktail lounge celebrates 10 years in 2018. Part of its appeal is the ever-changing menus, and they’ve garnered a loyal fan base that looks forward to them. Customers trust them because bartenders use ingredients people feel familiar with and feel good about, says The Whistler bar manager Julieta Campos.
That’s why their signature summer ingredient, freshly juiced Granny Smith apples, is so popular. It’s not only an ideal ingredient in a light cocktail, but guests have a choice of pairing it with bourbon, Moscato or tequila.
“There’s sweet, there’s bitter, there’s sour (in it),” she describes. “It’s boozy and it’s kind of our summer acknowledgement.
“It’s important to have a signature cocktail for summer. Having one to three summer drinks is idea. Just make sure you do them well so they’re memorable. A full menu of signature summer cocktails can be overwhelming.”
Another key to these specialized menus is using as much local product as possible, she stresses. Campos and her team source local fruits, garnishes and even spirits to make the menus as appealing as possible.
“We’re trying to stay local, especially with all the distilleries and breweries opening,” she says. “They’re producing some really interesting products.”
“Just having fun again and remembering the social aspect of drinking is going to continue to grow.”
Lynn House, Heaven Hill Brands
Proper Education Turns Trends into a Movement
Trends come and go in the cocktail culture world, but one spirit experts are determined to keep around is low-ABV cocktails. Lynn House, national brand educator for Heaven Hill Brands, credits immersive, interactive education for bartenders who, in turn, educate their customers on these lower-proof drinks.
“Just having fun again and remembering the social aspect of drinking is going to continue to grow,” says House. “‘Day drinking’ has finally been de-stigmatized. … Ten years ago, it would have been frowned upon. If you look around, you’ll see more people drinking cocktails that are on the lighter side. Day drinking, session drinking, low-ABV cocktails are the big trend for summer.”
Her excitement of observing more Americans appreciating amaros, vermouths and more led her to jump aboard the Heaven Hill team that updated the American formula for Dubonnet, an aperitif that’s been around for 150 years. Released in time for summer imbibing, Dubonnet now boasts modern wrapping and a fresh taste aiming to enhance low-ABV beverages.