Simon Difford led the 2010 42Below Cocktail World Cup class of bartenders through a discussion of What Makes a Great Bar Great using his study of great bars the world over as case studies. The teams competing in Cocktail World Cup might be mixing cocktails at the moment, but most men and women mixing behind the bar have aspirations of owning their establishment one day.
Difford hit upon beer and wine listings. Every great bar should serve beer, but why not include tasting notes with each style? Belgium bars provide an excellent example for other markets with their use of unique glasses for each variety of beer. Beer should also be served chilled when appropriate and in pre-chilled glasses. Wine lists have become standard on many bar and restaurant menus. They have also become quite ordinary. Rather than keep only the usual varietals on hand for patrons, include a few quirky wines to pique their interest.
Simon touched on several areas that interested me during the bar discussion. Spirits definitely topped the list. His thought that one bottle does not take up that much space behind a bar should sink in with bar owners and managers. My eye sweeps a back bar instantly when stepping up to a bar. It is telling as to the bar’s capability and willingness to serve cocktails not only I will appreciate, but what each consumer who enters the bar will enjoy. When spirits are limited, choices are limited. Why limit what the consumer will enjoy? Isn’t the point to create an environment to pleasure the senses with delicious drinks? Extremely important: Do not lecture the customer about what spirits they choose to order. If a customer chooses Bacardi – serve it. If a customer chooses Smirnoff – serve it. If a customer orders a spirit you do not stock within the bar – stock it. To that end, why stock several bottles of vodka and only one bottle of gin or several bottles of vodka, but not varieties within types of vodka. Stock your bar well and it will be the starter base to serve you well.
Cocktails are the heart of The Intoxicologist site. Simon touched upon cocktails as the ‘cool’ trend, but also the problem child of the bar. The reasoning he gave were three variables that must come together for consistently well built cocktails.
- Ice – Large square ice that is double frozen works beautifully.
- Accuracy of Measure – What matters most is fraction measurements. Over pour on the spirits selection matters, but it is not nearly as important as inaccuracy in sugar and sour.
- Quality of Ingredients – Spirits usually come down to particular taste of the consumer, but quality of sweetener and fresh fruits make or break a drinks quality and consistency factor.
Signature cocktails are key for bars and restaurants. A few that were mentioned: Bank Exchange in San Francisco’s Pisco Punch, the Bellini from Harry’s Bar, Singapore Sling from the Raffles Hotel in Singapore and Cuba’s famous El Floridita. Each continues to be famously known for its cocktail whether the bar remains in existence or the cocktail remains true to its original formulation. The reason for pointing out famous bars with signature cocktails is signature cocktails sell. Every bar should have a signature cocktail that tops the list of drinks.
42Below challenged the Cocktail World Cup 2010 contenders to a Mocktail challenge Tuesday. Simon’s bar discussion included Mocktails and their importance on bar menus. Mocktails are non-alcoholic adult versions of cocktails. Mocktails should be equally as creative as cocktails and just as delicious. Consumers love choice. Consumers who choose to be designated drivers, party goers who do not consume liquor, pregnant women and those who on occasion prefer a diversion from the usual alcoholic beverage like a change of pace from water or sodas when out with friends at the bar. Having a terrific selection of Mocktails on the menu gives consumers more choices without diminishing revenue for the bar. Since creative Mocktails take just as much time to create with regard to recipe and energy it makes perfect sense for bars to place these types of drinks on the menu. It is the responsible thing to do after all.
Simon touched on a few more topics for these bartenders vying for the coveted 42Below CWC 2010 trophy. Hopefully his tips and suggestions for building a better bar will resonate with them now and into the future for more great bars and great cocktails to come.
Cheri Loughlin is a leading cocktail and photography resource for beverage companies, event planners, businesses and individuals. High resolution cocktail and beverage stock photography images are available in downloadable digital format in the newly redesigned Stock Photography Gallery at www.cheriloughlin.com.
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