While this drink might not be light on the calories, it is definitely loaded with flavor. With this booze-fueled milkshake we learn an important mathematical formula: Oreos + Irish Whiskey = Heaven. After all, why eat your dessert when you could drink it instead.
Often times, I have many of my regulars at the bar ask me what sort of tools they should purchase for making home cocktails. I know that, because, there are so many kits and bartending sets out there that it can be confusing for first-timers looking to get started.
That being said, here is a list of the most basic and essential tools that I think would be beneficial to anyone climbing deeper into the world of home cocktails:
MIXING GLASS: Any basic pint glass should be fine for use in stirring cocktails such as the Manhattan and the martini. Also, you will find that the mixing glass fits perfectly into the metal part of the cocktail shaker, which makes it a versatile tool for shaking drinks.
TIP: Be careful to make sure that the glass has been heat-tempered for safety and to avoid any breakage.
COCKTAIL SHAKER: Although, you will can find plenty of cocktail shakers on the market ranging from six dollars to well over a hundred. For casual home use, you should be fine with any quality shaker set; however, if you find yourself shaking drinks more than once a week, you might want to look into picking up a nicer shaker designed for more frequent use.
TIP: Koriko Weighted Tins are extremely high-quality and ring in at around $15 for a set.
BARSPOON: A good barspoon is not only essential for properly stirring cocktails such as the Negroni or the Martinez, but it can also be used for other tasks, such as smashing sugar cubes and to swizzling drinks served on crushed ice.
TIP: A good barspoon can be surprisingly difficult to find, but BarProducts.com and CocktailKingdom.com both have great spoons at affordable prices.
HAWTHORNE STRAINER: A good Hawthorne strainer is exactly what you need to pour out of the cocktail shaker when you are done shaking, plus it helps to keep from making a mess when you are pouring out the finished drink.
TIP: Stay away from many of the high-priced Hawthorne strainers on the market. The low-priced ones available at under five-dollars work just as well for home use, at just a fraction of the price.
JULEP STRAINER: Even though, you could probably get by fine with just a Hawthorne strainer, it is good to get into the habit of using the right tools for the right job. Besides, a decent julep strainer is very inexpensive, so it is a good idea to pick one up to use whenever straining stirred drinks from a mixing glass.
TIP: If given the option of picking up a larger or smaller julep strainer, I recommend picking up the smaller one, because I find that since smaller ones slide deeper into the glass, they make it a little bit easier to pour with.
JIGGER: The key to quality and consistency in all drinks is to make sure that they are measured properly. More often than not, the difference between an average drink and a phenomenal drink is just making sure that all of the ingredients have been measured.
TIP: Oxo makes a great 2oz measuring cup that is very easy to use and can save you from having to buy several different jiggers. You can find them at most housewares and cooking supply stores.
HAND-JUICER: The key to vibrancy in any citrus-based cocktail is most reliant on fresh juice, and the best way to ensure the freshest juice delivered in the most convenient manner is in the form of a good hand-press. They are easy to use, easy to clean and can also be used for making various kitchen dishes, and thus, not just for cocktails.
TIP: Do not feel pressured to purchase various sized juicers at first. Feel confident in picking up just a lemon squeezer to start, as it works well for lemons, limes and even the average-sized orange.
PEELER: Nothing beats a freshly cut lemon twist on top of a martini or a well-shaken cocktail, and the best way to achieve the desire effect is from using a basic vegetable peeler that you can pick up from your local grocery store.
TIP: Remember that you typically only want the essential oils and zest to provide flavor to the twist, so try to avoid pith by not peeling the twist too deep into the fruit.
MUDDLER: The muddler is a great tool to use for extracting flavors out of everything from mint and basil to heartier fruits such as melon and cucumber. Luckily for us, with the popularity of the Mojito, you can pick up a pretty decent muddler at just about any spirits store or produce market.
TIP: For muddling fruit such as strawberries, I recommend cutting them into little chunks in advance to help make it both easier and cleaner for home muddling.
FINE-STRAINER: While not necessarily as essential as the other tools, given that a fine-strainer is so inexpensive and easy to purchase, I heartily recommend them to all folks who want to go that extra-step when straining shaken drinks at home.
TIP: This tool is practically indispensable when making any drinks shaken with herbs, such as mint or basil.
That should be enough to keep most of you folks going for a while in terms of tools, but if you still wish to delve deeper and seek out more information and recipes, I recommend picking up Art of the Cocktail by Dale DeGroff or Home-Bar Basics by Dave Stolte.
If you would like to see any cocktail tutorials on the web, please check out Follow The Liter, a cocktail series of which I co-host at KindaFunny.com
It makes me very proud to see one of my cocktails featured in a magazine that I have so much respect for. It is only made cooler by the fact that there is a ton of prosciutto on the same page.
Here is the first episode of Follow The Liter, a series that I am working on with the guys from Kinda Funny. I hope that you enjoy it and have as much fun watching it as we did making it.
I have a new cocktail exercise for you guys to work on. Whereas the last drill was about creativity, this one is about economy and about better understanding each and every ingredient.
Miles Davis is widely considered one of the greatest musical minds of the 20th century. Although he was a virtuoso trumpet player who could belt out anything he wanted, he is admired and known for playing very deliberately without any unnecessary notes
He was only able to do this, because he so well understood every single note that it allowed him to express himself purely and with clear intention. This is how we should aspire to be with cocktail ingredients.
Each component of the drink should be well-thought out and exist with purpose. This exercise should be helpful in getting us to understand this in action. With that said, here are the exercises in economy for you to complete:
2 ounces of a Single Spirit
3/4 ounces of Lemon or Lime
1/2 ounce of a Single Liqueu
r 1/2 ounce of Syrup
4 Ingredients Total
TWO HALF HALF
2 ounces of a Single Spirit
1/2 Fortified Wine
1/2 ounce of a Single Liqueur
Optional: Two Dashes of one type of Bitters
4 Ingredients Tops
2 ounces of a Single Spirit
3/4 ounces of Lemon or Lime
Top with Club Soda
1 modifier in the form of: 2 Dashes Bitters or Muddled Produce
5 Ingredients Total
These drills are not here to stump you, so do not feel that you must create the next modern classic. Instead they are here to stimulate you and force you to think about economy. You have until June 30th to come up with the three drinks, which gives you six weeks. Do not hesitate to reach out to me if you need any advice or guidance. Best of luck, and I can't wait to try your drinks.
"Telling yourself 'Oh, you have all the time in the world, you have all the money in the world, you have all the colors in the palette you want, anything you want,' I mean, that just kills creativity." - Jack White
Photo Credit: Gabe Fonseca 2013
This is a great article by Frank Bruni that I am quoted in. Its all about how our palates mature and develop as we age. However, you may be shocked to find that my relationship with Negronis was not love at first sight.
It seems that one of the top questions I get asked from bar managers and bar owners around the country is: how do you find great staff? Hiring people is just one of those things that too many of us routinely seem to do without really thinking about it too hard. I can say this, because this was a mistake I myself have made too often in the past.
On the surface the process seemed to be pretty simple: I would look for someone that had the skill set I was seeking and if they had the availability I needed, and hopefully, a good attitude, then they were hired.
I only interviewed the absolute minimum of applicants that I thought necessary. I also didn’t concern myself with whether or not they had the right traits for the bar, or more importantly, if I was bringing them into a position where they could thrive.
In essence, I was guilty of treating each position as though it were one size fits all, and in the end I believe that I kept many staff members from reaching their true potential. Although, I cannot say that I have discovered the keys to hiring the correct applicant every single time, I can say that my success rate has significantly improved over the years.
The most important thing that I did to improve my accuracy with new hires, was to narrow down exactly what I was looking for in my employees. To expand on that that more precisely, I mean what were the qualities and attributes that I was looking for at the bar? And what experience was I trying to deliver to my clientele?
A good way to help push this process along is to imagine in your mind the ideal bartender for your bar. Imagine that they are working their way through the course of a shift, ringing in and making drinks.
Now while that thought is still fresh in your mind, quickly write down five qualities that this ideal bartender embodied. Was it warmth? Humor? Speed? Or perhaps possibly, none of these.
Not all of these qualities are essential for every venue, so remember to keep in mind that it is all relative to what your bar is trying to deliver to its guests.
For instance speed is a must for any prospective hire in a high-volume nightclub, but not as strong a factor in a fine-dining restaurant. While attention to detail is paramount in a craft cocktail lounge, it can be an afterthought in a local college bar.
When you better frame it from that perspective, you will find that it is much easier to truly pinpoint who the ideal candidate for your bar is.
For instance at Polite Provisions, we base our staff hiring criteria on the following:
Work Ethic: Does this applicant like to work? Do they take pride in their craft? Are they the type of person that is self-motivated and enjoys performing a job well?
Awareness: Do they seem alert and engaged in conversation? Do they chime in appropriately when chatting and seem to have a solid understanding of their surroundings?
Hospitality: Does the potential hire convey warmth when speaking? Do they seem to radiate a genuine sense of concern or compassion for those around them?
Attention to Detail: Did they show up on time for the interview? Did they come prepared with a resume and pen? Did they interact with a level of certitude that left you confident in their abilities?
Curiosity: Do they seem eager to learn new things? Do they seem excited at the prospect of learning new drinks and techniques behind the bar? Does the thought of an immersive culture excite and engage them?
Even though, this may seem like a very particular trait set for one person to possess, these characteristics are the bare minimum that an individual would have to possess in order to excel at the bar. Without these traits we would be putting them in the position to fail.
Keep in mind that although these traits are the right ones for us, these are by no means universal. You have to find the right attributes for your bar, and once you do, you have to stick to them.
Your ideal traits will provide the foundation and heart of what your bar becomes, so the sooner that you recognize them and track them down, the sooner your staff and your bar will achieve their true potential.
A few months ago, while traveling, I finally had the chance to check out a new restaurant that I had heard and read so much about. The place had been announced to much fanfare, as the chef at the restaurant was well-known for his rustic take on Italian cuisine*.
Because of this approach, everything from the décor to the wine list reflected this vision. Even the beer list and soda pop was made up of interesting and esoteric selections directly from Italy. When I had heard that an up-and coming star bartender had signed onto the project, I was eager to see what the bar program would hold in store.
Naturally, I was excited to see what interesting Italian digestif and liqueurs would be available and in what combinations. Perhaps, some new takes on stirred aperitivo or amaro highballs. Maybe even some interesting dessert wine or Grappa that are not often seen outside of Italy.
Sadly, I was disappointed on all fronts. There was nothing there that in anyway reflected the personality or character of the venue whatsoever. It was the epitome of the dreaded cookie-cutter cocktail bar.
The entire bar program from the spirits selection to the drinks menu could have just as easily been picked up and dropped into any other faceless craft cocktail bar in the country. This was because there was absolutely no sense of cohesiveness in place to tie the bar to the restaurant.
It was almost as if the bar manager just looked through the latest cocktail book, picked out ten drinks at complete random and chose to put those on the list. There was nothing that said rustic Italian, and Aperol was the most obscure Italian product on the entire back bar, which for some reason was primarily American Whiskey and gin
This is a symptom of what I think is happening for too often in the bar industry right now. Young bartenders who are not ready to undertake the whole scope of building a bar program are being handed the keys to the kingdom without proper vetting, and the result is a proliferation of programs painfully out of sync with the rest of the house.
At best, this one-size-fits-all approach illustrates a disturbing lack of forethought and awareness in the culture. At worst, it gives the cocktail movement a bad name, by portraying the cocktail as clichéd and out of sync, and thusly unworthy of taking its place next to its proud peers, beer and wine.
No one is proposing that a proper bar should not have the ingredients to make the classics; that would be going a bit far. But they should always and at all times retain an identity that reflects the heart and soul of the venue itself.
*The identity of the venue has been altered to protect the guilty.
This is an excerpt of an interview that I did with Imbibe Magazine on winning Cocktail Bar of the Year with Polite Provisions. Since the interview was for industry folk instead of just home consumers, we were able to get deeper into the workings of running a great bar.
I hope you find something in there that helps you with your own bar.
"One of the most important aspects of launching a good bar is creating a family of employees where everyone is on the same page. Because of that, I put a significant amount of attention on the hiring, recruitment and retaining process. I wanted to make sure that everyone behind our bar subscribed to a common cocktail philosophy. I was less focused on pulling big-name “bar stars” and more interested in getting people who were passionate about hospitality." - Erick Castro
Why Bartender’s Weekend? First let me start out by saying what Bartender’s Weekend is exactly. Bartender’s Weekend is an excuse for amazing people in the bartender community to get together and bond without the pitfalls of non-stop networking and relentless obligations. It is a few days set aside where we can enjoy the sunshine, talk shop & eat some incredible fish tacos.
Because of this philosophy, there are no seminars, no educational tastings and also no sponsorship fees. Bartender’s Weekend is strictly egalitarian and exists only for the people’s enjoyment.
In fact, we don’t even really have anyone in charge, as there is no hierarchy or anyone with official or unofficial titles.
It is just a bunch of bartenders having fun and asking you to do the same.
So, if you want to organize your own event or party then please go ahead and do so, because we strongly encourage it. Naturally, we ask that you check the calendar first, but this is only because it is the cool thing to do, not because anyone will say no.
We want everyone in the community to be able to come out and enjoy themselves regardless of what brand or bar they work (or don’t) for.
With all that said, we hope that you will join us this March 2nd – 4th here for the Second Annual Bartender’s Weekend here in beautiful San Diego. Much love & respect.
No more time for excuses, bartenders. We got a New Year in front of us and it’s time to do something with it.
Is this the year that you finally open up your own bar? Or maybe it’s the year that you snag a position as a brand ambassador. Or maybe it’s the year where you take action on that idea you had for a party at Tales.
Whatever it is that you want to do, it is finally the time to close out the tab on all those excuses and make something happen.
I won’t lie. It will probably be a lot of work, but it will not seem like work, because you will be doing something that you believe in.
There will be naysayers who don’t think you will be able to pull it off. Prove them wrong.
There will be supporters who know you are capable. Make them proud.
But don’t do it for them. Do it for yourself. Do it for the community. Do it because it has to be done. Do because if you don’t, no one else will.
Given the amount of respect that I have for Imbibe Magazine this award truly does mean a lot to me. This honor would not have been possible without our incredible staff. Their hard work and efforts are what make the place what it is, and I cannot thank them enough.
Here is a video we did describing the philosophy that we have regarding our cocktails on draft system at Polite Provisions. Hope you enjoy it.
Would you dial up a plumber to come out to your house and clear your drains for free? How about if you told him, if he did it on the house it would look great on his resume and would be good for networking?
Do you think your dentist would feel guilty for declining to come out and clean your circle of friends’ teeth free of charge for three hours on her day off? Of course not, that is her line of work and it is how she provides for herself and her family.
Why then, are craft bartenders continually asked to offer their professional services and years of experience for no compensation? Is it that we are not valued by the very industry that we help fuel? Or is it because we do not yet truly value ourselves? I hate to admit it, but I think it is the latter, every bit as much as the former.
Think about the last big liquor event you went to: think about the delicious food, the gorgeous decorations and the beautiful venue. Now while, the staff taking out the food got paid for their work and everyone from the cleaning crew to the audio/video team got paid for their work. There is a really good chance that the “mixologists” got paid zero dollars for theirs.
This is in addition to the fact that the bartender, their likeness and their recipes were most likely co-opted by the marketing behind the event. Explained in the most basic of terms, this seems completely foolish.
In many ways, the craft cocktail world is still like the Wild West. Given that the cocktail resurgence is still relatively new in many parts of the country, this makes complete sense.
There is not a lot of precedence for much of the growth that has occurred over these last few years, so naturally a standardized and fair pay rate has not yet evolved. This is a shame, because it is long overdue.
This is in no way a tirade against the brands who throw these events, because they are simply paying us what we think we are worth. Let me repeat that, they are simply paying us what we think we are worth.
Did you ever notice that one bartender will get paid for $1,000 for working a two-hour party, while another bartender works a six-hour party and gets paid nothing. Yet both bartenders will be similarly accomplished with nearly identical resumes.
Granted at times, these events are for charity or non-profit, in which our time is donated in lieu of cash, these events are both welcome and beneficial to the community. However, this is not alwyas the case.
What I am suggesting is that craft bartenders, as a trade come together and hold ourselves to something more resembling an equitable pay rate.
This should not be controversial, because there is nothing controversial about fair pay for honest work.
All I am suggesting is that if an event organizer can come up with $8,000 to rent a venue and supply attendees with cocktails & food, that same organizer can come up with a few hundred dollars to pay the bartenders providing the drinks.
Here is a recent video that I shot for a great cocktail magazine that comes out of Europe, Bohemian Bar Magazine. I have nothing but love and admiration for my bartender brethren overseas, so I was honored to be featured along with some of my cocktails.
I recently got an email from a bar owner who had fallen in love with craft cocktails as of late, and was wondering how his bar could take a small step into improving the quality of the drinks they serve.
While many bartenders get questions of this nature all the time, what made this email so refreshing was that the writer of this email had no misconceptions of what he wanted.
He understood that craft cocktail bars are extremely difficult to manage and run, and is not even considering going that route. He isn't looking for a fancy $15,000 ice machine or self-satisfied bartenders with adorable little vests and suspenders, all he wants is something simple that he can do to improve the guest experience.
In the distant past, I would have told him he was being unreasonable and that you can't take away just one component from the whole and still expect an improvement, but these days I have grown far more pragmatic on making small gains whenever possible.
With that said, to the bar owner or any other aspiring bar manager out there that is looking to make better drinks, I am not offering you any new advice.
I am not going to advocate some exotic cocktail shake from Japan or advise you to only stir drinks on crystal clear diamond-cut ice cubes. Nope, my suggestion is much simpler and accessible than that. If you want to improve the flavor of your most commonly sold drinks from front to back, the bare minimum you need to be taken seriously is fresh juice.
Now, before anyone takes issue with this, I do not mean that your bar needs to be hand-squeezing a la minute like many of the country's best bars, all that would be required is homemade sour mix. The pre-made bottled stuff is most often a disgusting mixture of high-fructose corn syrup and yellow #5, which makes it over-priced regardless of what you paid for it.
Homemade sour mix on the other hand is extremely easy to make, will make your drinks taste delicious, and discounting labor, is very inexpensive throughout the year. With that in mind go ahead and scrap the shelf-stable bottled stuff for good and your bar will be better off because of it.
Regardless or whether or not, you are just making Margaritas and Kamikazes, homemade sour mix will make your drinks taste infinitely better and do so without much of a commitment and at only a minimal cost.
Homemade Sour Mix 1 part Water 1 part Sugar 1 part Lemon Juice 1 part Lime Juice
1. Juice and strain the lemons and limes.
2. Stir in water and sugar until all the sugar is dissolved.
3. Store in the fridge in tightly sealed container. Lasts up to a week, but for best results try and use it within 3 days.
As much as I would like to one day be able to walk into any bar on the street and order a decent rye whiskey or craft beer, I won’t hold it against a bar if they lack the expertise or ingredients to make a Sazerac or Ramos Fizz. Most bars do not have those sort of dynamics built into their pricing or infrastructure, so it would be unreasonable to expect it.
I think one of the biggest misconceptions people tend to have about cocktail advocates, is that we drink only at venues which spotlight high-end cocktails and fancy ice cubes. This could not be further from the truth, because despite how much I love a great drink, the last thing I would want is for every bar to provide me with the same experience.
All of us, whether we realize it or not, go to plenty of different bars for plenty of different reasons. Sometimes we go to celebrate with friends, and sometimes, we go to meditate alone. Frequently, we wish to engage the bartender with what we are about to have, but just as often we simply want a cold beer and a little peace and quiet.
I know that many of my friends in the community will vehemently disagree with me, but I don’t think every venue has to offer fresh juice and proper technique to be considered a good bar. Mind you, I do know of a couple of proper dives that will stir your Manhattan and maybe even squeeze fresh lime into your Margarita, and I celebrate them for that, but I would not begrudge them if they didn’t.
I do not go to my favorite burger joint because they are well-versed in French kitchen techniques. I go there because they have quick, tasty burgers for a good deal. I would never expect them to offer anything more extravagant, and more importantly, I wouldn’t want them to.
Several years back, when I was still at Bourbon & Branch, I had a bar owner, who had recently discovered classic cocktails, approach me about revamping his venue and turning it into a craft cocktail bar. He was going to pay me a decent sum and the gig would have taken me six weeks.
It seemed like a good ideal initially, but once I got more information from him, I not only told him no, but I talked him out of the revamp all together.
Here is the deal, the bar that I was meant to retool, had been in his possession for eight years, and had a great local following. It was near a college campus and was busy with students nearly everyday, and even more so on weekends.
They did not make any fancy drinks at all, as their clientele came strictly for draft beer, shots and the occasional Long Island Iced Tea. The location’s pour cost and labor were both very low, and he did not need to spend much on maintenance or advertising.
Without mincing any words, I told him that I would love to work with him on another project down the road, but that he would have to be out of his mind to change anything at his present bar. It had a loyal clientele, very low overhead and more importantly, it was extremely profitable.
This bar was exactly what the community wanted, fast cheap drinks for a stressed out and financially-strapped demographic. Unfortunately, most college students have not quite hit their earning potential, so between work, finals and homework this is exactly what they are looking for, which brings me right back to where I started.
The thing that every successful bar realizes from the start, is that before they serve a single drink, they must first serve the community and that comes by fulfilling a role for the neighborhood around it.
The bar cannot run independently of the neighborhood, as any good bar is a part of the neighborhood, and will reflect that in how and what it serves. Not every bar needs to stock an extensive Italian wine list, just as not every bar needs to stock marshmallow vodka.
Regardless of whether we are drinking a can of domestic beer or a properly made cocktail, all of us go to different bars for different experiences, and it is grossly unfair to say one bar is better than the other. A more prudent way to think of it, would be to better understand which bar is better for the occasion.
There are few decisions that will affect the quality of cocktails in your bar more than what brands you choose as your well alcohol, or the term I prefer, house liquor – mostly because it sounds snazzier. When choosing your house liquor, it is very important that you take many factors into consideration.
Clearly the factor most bar managers take into mind, as least initially, is cost. However, this does not mean you should stock up on the cheapest stuff you can find. Although, this is often the case in many dives and nightclubs, as the dim lighting prevents you from seeing the labels, and presumably the company you are keeping.
Of course, this does not mean that you have to pawn off grandma’s pearls to suit your needs either. As much as we would all like to have Pappy 12 sitting in our well, the fact is, it is difficult to obtain and quite costly when you find it. Though, I have to admit that would be pretty impressive, if you could pull it off.
If, you are like most cocktail bars, you have already realized that the ideal bottle should be one that is of high quality, yet economical to work with. Unfortunately, the quest for quality can make it difficult to get a bottle for cheap, but remember, the key is not to aim for cheap, but rather economical -- cause a classy bar like yours doesn’t carry cheap stuff, right?
One nice thing you will notice straight away, is that a few categories offer some incredible values for a low price point, most notably rum -- 3rd world struggling economies -- and bourbon -- got to love government subsidized corn -- being two that stick out.
On the flip side, scotch and mezcal are going to be a couple that sit at the opposite end of the spectrum, with gin, tequila and most of the rest sitting in the middle. So, it does not hurt to keep those costs in mind while whipping up a “bartender’s choice” for a guest at the bar.
When it comes to looking for high-quality and value, you will have the best luck with the classic brands that have been around for generations. This is not only because many of them, not all, have a style tailor-made for classic cocktails, but also because all of their initial operating and opening costs were covered decades ago, thus they can now sell premium booze for a great deal.
This is why a distillery like Heaven Hill can make an economical house bourbon, yet a new boutique distillery that just started bottling 6 months ago, might not. That is not at all to imply that micro-batch spirits should be shunned for cocktails and menu placement.
On the contrary I believe many of them have been formulated specifically with great cocktails in mind. But unless you have the ability to sell $18 cocktails, most bars do not, be mindful of the liter cost.
If you are lucky enough to manage a bar where you are allowed a dual well, meaning you have one gin for shaken and another for stirred, than you are very fortunate and most bar managers envy your situation.
This is ideal, because it allows you the ability to pick a more aggressive and structured spirit to provide the backbone in a citrus-guided cocktail, such a Whiskey Sour or Daiquiri, and a more subtle and nuanced spirit for drinks, such as Old-Fashioneds and Martinis.
The upside of a dual well is that the liquor choice for your cocktails will most likely be that much more tailored, as to precisely the end result you have in mind. The downside being that two bottles of everything in your rail will, obviously, take up that much more room.
Also, it is much easier to negotiate weekly price breaks, on twelve bottles of Brand A whiskey, than it is on six bottles of Brand A and six bottles of Brand B. Not all states have those types of cost cutters built into the system, but for those of you that have access to them, you understand that these savings quickly add up, and can be used towards other things -- such as produce and repairing your Kold Draft machine...again.
Now that we have covered the basics, let’s move on to the next issue at hand: versatility. So, you picked out a rye for your well; it is coming in at an incredible bottle cost and it makes a decent Whiskey Sour, only problem is it makes a murky Old-Fashioned, but it gets worse: the Old-Fashioned is your number five top-selling cocktail. See where the problem is?
In your efforts to get a good deal, make sure you are not overlooking the most essential question, and that is how does it work in your cocktails. Does your house gin make an out of balance Negroni? Does your house bourbon make an abrasive Manhattan?
These may seem like obvious questions, but you would be surprised at how many otherwise incredible cocktail bars slip up on this very issue. When you find yourself faced with two options and you are on the fence as which way you should go between choices, try not to focus on the marketing trivia and brand talking points.
The first thing most bar managers do is try them neat and take notes on the subtleties in the spirits between them. This is a great first step, since this will give you a great foundation on which to make your decision.
But when it comes down to making the final call, I am a big believer that the best way to decide, is to do a blind tasting using your top-selling drinks with said spirit, and see which makes better cocktails.
You will be surprised sometimes, to find that the spirit you prefer neat is often your second choice when mixed in a cocktail. Too often the small differences we enjoy when sipped, are washed away when shaken up with lime juice and muddled mint. This goes for many of your mixers and sodas as well. Just because you prefer Brand A Ginger Beer over Brand B to drink as a soft drink, does not mean it makes a better cocktail. The sharp burn of Brand B, which makes it too strong to drink on its own, might be the needed kick you are looking for in your Moscow Mule -- do people still drink those?
On that same note, I have seen a number of bars snatch a seemingly great deal, only to find out later it was not what they bargained for. Imagine a local bar that moves a ton of Cachaca in their seasonal Caipirinhas. They are moving about 18 liters a week, which is nothing to scoff at.
Because of the volume they do with this one drink, it gives them the buying power to score some really great deals, and not neglecting this, the bar manager ends up locking down a wonderful aged sipping Cachaca as their house Cachaca.
Unfortunately, the bar was so happy to hook up a good deal that they neglected to see if the spirit even made a decent Caipirinha, or more importantly, a better Caipirinha than a less expensive one -- possibly even one made by the same distiller.
Bottom line, the goal is to find the proper balance between cost and the integrity of the cocktails that you sell. Do not be fooled by brand tactics and marketing minutiae from sales reps, instead choose a well that work best for the drinks YOU make and the flavor profiles you work with.
Learn not to be bothered by pseudo-connoisseurs, who sneer because you do not have a $70 Cognac as your house brandy, but also know when to make your case against cost-conscience owners, who want to put Gilby’s or Barton’s on your cocktail list.
At the end of the day, it is all about what makes delicious cocktails at a reasonable cost, cause that is what your guests are walking in the door for and those are the folks we should aim to keep happy.