Spring sometimes means drinks with silly umbrellas. Ben Canaider looks at ways to transform cocktails into customer-capturing profit centres.
Cocktails have had more renaissances over the past decade than baristas have had shaving mistakes. Even the people who so dedicatedly make cocktails have morphed—we’ve seen flair-tenders shaking their Sazeracs, mixologists owning the vibe and, of late, a more calm but nevertheless very professional and serious re-evolution of the bartender.
Cocktails over this time have also developed a more robust and defined presence in bars and in restaurants, and this is linked to the more general stratification of the on-premise beverage landscape. Symptomatic of this trend is that customers now expect (read: demand) the wine list to be international and alternative, and they expect the beer list to be, well, an actual beer list that’s as clever as the wine list is. In which case the key to turning your cocktails into a more powerful part of your venue’s revenue stream is to start presenting them in an organised way.
In this manner, your customers will feel more confident about ordering cocktails; they’ll also feel like they have a kind of roadmap to understanding these drinks and be doing what the über-très-posh crowd are supposed to be doing.
Start by sorting out your cocktail menu or list along style lines, thus bringing some understanding and organisation to the ordering process. Use your cocktail list as an educational tool, empowering your customers with easily acquired cocktail information so they become instant experts. As the Culinary Institute of America has recently pointed out, customers who think they are experts (aka informed) use their credit cards twice as much as customers who are timid (aka made to feel excluded).
Below is a selection that can works as a cocktail style guide. And don’t be afraid to keep it simple. Cocktails evolve very willingly, so start with the basics.
Old or classic
First appearing in 19th-century America, these are like the Adam and Eves to most of the cocktails we drink today. The basic recipe is a spirit base to which a sugar syrup is added. Curacao, maraschino and absinthe are other popular additives. And they’re invariably served over ice. That ice was available for such mixed drinks as long as 200 years ago is all down to the endeavour of an American in New England called Henry Tudor, who harvested chunks of ice from ponds and rivers and distributed it to saloons. Nothing was ever the same again. The ‘old fashioned’ is the starting point, or default cocktail. In an old-fashion or tumbler glass, muddle two dashes of Angostura bitters with one sugar cube and a dash of iced water. Add two ice cubes and pour over
a shot of rye whiskey or bourbon.
Citrus is the main vector in these cocktails, and as such bring with them an implied lightness, refreshment and health-giving aura. Lime, lemon, grapefruit or orange—any of these freshly squeezed juices turn what is essentially an old-fashioned or classic cocktail into something a little more complex. They are shaken, not stirred or mixed, and include the whiskey sour, daiquiri, sidecar and margarita.
These are everyone’s friend as they are drinks that fake volume, thanks to the proportion of fizzy water in the drink: soda, tonic, cola, lemonade, ginger ale, even mineral water. Try the classic Tom Collins: gin, lemon, sugar syrup, ice, soda, all in a highball glass. Or an Americano: Campari, vermouth, ice, soda and a slice of orange for the garnish or, better still, a wedge of blood orange in the drink. A good proportion guide when it comes to highballs is around one-part alcohol and two-and-a-half parts mixer.
Hot or cold, strong or virtually non-alcoholic, punches have a proud tradition that’s enjoying a return, thanks to the more communal and shared-plate mentality now infecting so many cafes and bars. Like a jug of beer, a big bowl of punch puts the customer in control —as if they were entertaining in their own home/apartment/granny flat. Bars that offer punches on certain days or at certain times find success—when the punch becomes the rallying call.
White spirits, tequila and white rum suit this drink; lots of fruit is ideal, and the use of trendy wines, such as moscato, or the use of cider, will flag to your customers that the punch contains things they like drinking. The only serious advice here concerns alcohol by volume [ABV]: do the total alcohol by volume maths, so you can inform your customer how many standards drinks are in each cup, or serve.
Juleps and the springtime are like Wimbledon and Pimm’s. They go together without any question. Pure immutability. What makes juleps work is fresh mint. Muddled, crushed or smashed. The mint julep is sugar syrup poured into a tall glass to which a few leaves of mint are added and bruised. Now put in crushed ice and stir until the glass frosts on the outside. Add bourbon and mix again, before adorning with a fresh sprig of mint and a straw. Silver julep cups are the way to really serve these drinks but, gosh, they get ‘souvenired’ all too easily. And overlooking the bourbon element, a mojito is a julep with a thick accent.
Having set out your basic cocktail principals, it is now important to add a bit of the weird and the wonderful. Go for super foods, exotica, ‘house-made’ infusions, and anything organic or biodynamic. This last notion works for juice bars and supermarkets, so why can’t it work for you? With cocktails, pomegranate continues to be big; tamarind, chocolate and coffee essences or infusions are continuing to flavour more or less everything. Tea infusions added to simple cocktails help to suggest the health and wellbeing psychology of so many latter-day customers; and as much as I like to say it’s true, I’ve not seen quinoa in any cocktails. Yet.
When it comes to cocktails, it pays to be seen to be a little cutting edge, no matter how ridiculous some of your cocktails might seem. Remember, somewhere at some time, a grown-up man first wore acid-wash stretch-denim jeans. Today’s ridiculousness can be tomorrow’s profitable success. It’s also wise to remember that cocktail consumption, according to Roy Morgan research, goes up 200 per cent over the summer months. Be prepared.