In preparation for the upcoming Manhattan Cocktail Classic in New York, we had a chance to interview Chad Solomon and Christy Pope with Cuffs and Buttons about cocktail trends, what products they think bars and restaurants should take a second look at, and a sneak peek at the Eastern inspired menu they’ll be creating for the Classic.
CL: Talk to us about cocktail menus, and cocktail development. What’s the benefit of getting a great cocktail menu set up for a local restaurant or bar?
C&B: In this day and age, cocktail menus have become a ubiquitous presence at virtually every bar that serves mixed drinks. Cocktail menus speak to the style and creativity of the bar, and let’s face it, are a vital sales tool. However, a well written cocktail menu is only as strong as the execution of the actual cocktails by a well trained staff, and the systems in place to support the menu and overall cocktail program. The immediate benefit of a great cocktail program is increased cocktail & spirits sales, but where this is really beneficial, is in building a reputation & credibility that will keep patrons coming back, and luring new guests in to check out your establishment.
CL: How do you think a venue could go about choosing the ‘right’ cocktails, based on their customer audience?
C&B: Bars, by their very nature are set up to give patrons lots of options, that being said, it is imperative to create an overall beverage program that fits within the concept. The “right” cocktails should also fit the overall concept of the establishment, and be complimentary to the establishment’s cuisine. Our company Cuffs & Buttons™ recently consulted on a new regional Mexican cuisine restaurant in Dallas, named Alma. For this we chose to create a tightly focused, seasonal fresh cocktail program based solely on Latin spirits– mescal, pisco, cacháca, and Latin rums, with the focus on tequila, and featuring authentic Latin flavors and ingredients. The beers are all from Mexico and the wines are all of Latin origin. The back bar also has a minimal selection of traditional spirits- vodka, gin, whisky etc.
CL: Can you share what hiring a cocktail professional (vs. the DIY route) brings to the table for, say, a new restaurant that’s just getting started?
C&B: The craft cocktail revival/explosion is relatively new in comparison with other facets of the hospitality business, which means there are still relatively few people/places doing it well and profitably. Hiring a professional with pedigree and proven experience can be invaluable in getting your new restaurant’s beverage program started right.
1.) Expert knowledge- generally the first reason is the expert knowledge that a professional has in their field and their ability to achieve results in a shorter period of time. A consultant is able to perform training duties for a staff, teaching an understanding of spirits, history, techniques, tools of the trade, inspire passion & craftsmanship, and building unity within a staff.
2.) Create a standard- Hiring a professional is a signal to the staff that the management is serious about the standards and performance of the beverage program. In turn, a great consultant, through his or her training, will build a culture of excellence as it relates execution and service. Also, this empowers and encourages the staff to take pride and ownership of the program.
3.) A strong beverage program can be a huge shot in the arm for a new restaurant. We’ve seen cases where great start ups got an immediate boost due to the strength of the bar, and slower start ups be saved by a strong bar, giving the business time to find it’s legs.
CL: What do you feel the top 3 cocktail trends are for 2011?
C&B: Modern Techniques & Technology, Soda Fountain revival, and we’d love to see more fun & irreverence !
CL: Well, we know we’ll see some of that at the Classic! So, on the ‘fading trends’ side: What cocktail (or shot) needs to be dead and buried, in your opinion?
C&B: Flavored Whiskeys & Flavored Tequilas
CL: Cocktails are like fashion-things go in and out of style, but others remain a classic. Who or what, would you say is going to be the top influence (from pop culture or otherwise) in cocktail trends for 2011?
C&B: Sensory Analysis, Science & Technology
What are some fresh, new brands or products that you feel bars should take a closer look at? (can also be old/overlooked-your choice)
Christy: New – Merlet Liqueurs- there are some really phenomenal artisanal French liqueurs from Merlet & Fils.
Chad: New – Acid Phosphate & Lactart: both of which have been revived from extinction by Darcy O’Niel.
Christy: Old – Suze is finally coming back to America!
Chad: Old – Clinebell Ice Machines
CL: Any advice for bartenders or budding mixologists?
C&B: Ask questions, especially how and why. Curiosity can’t be stressed enough. Master the basic fundamentals and techniques, and learn the classic cocktails before going off half-cocked trying to create new cocktails.
CL: In preparation for Manhattan Cocktail Classic, we understand you’ve got some great cocktail recipes coming up. Care to share any with our audience?
One of the events we’re excited to be participating in this year is Campari’s Spirited Fete for the Senses Inspired by Padma Lakshmi. After learning of Padma’s involvement in the event, we were inspired to marry the flavors of the east-coriander, cardamom, mace, pippali long pepper, and curry leaf, with the incredibly versatile classic Negroni cocktail, resulting in the Marco Polo Negroni. This cocktail stays true to the equal parts of the classic negroni, whlle incorporating tinctures of the additional botanicals, and is garnished with an aromatic essence that includes curry leaf, black pepper, bitter orange, cardamom.
Marco Polo Negroni (created by Chad Solomon & Christy Pope of Cuffs & Buttons)
1 oz London Dry Gin
1 oz Campari
1 oz Italian Sweet Vermouth
1/8th tsp Green Cardamom *Tincture
1/2 tsp Pippali Long Pepper Tincture
1/2 tsp Mace Tincture
1/2 tsp Coriander Tincture
Measure all ingredients into a frozen mixing glass, then add ice. Stir until properly chilled and diluted. Strain over fresh ice into a double old fashioned glass. We garnish this cocktail with a proprietary essence comprised of essential oils of curry leaf, black pepper, bitter orange, and cardamom. You can substitute orange peel and zest here.
*Tinctures: Each tincture should be made separately in its own glass jar with lid, mason jars work great for this. For each tincture, measure 30g of dried botanical and 500ml of vodka into a glass jar, then seal. Shake vigorously, then let infuse for two weeks, shaking once daily. Fine strain into a clean bottle, then label and refrigerate. Botanicals can all be sourced from www.kalustyans.com.