Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Respecting The Integrity Of The Base Spirit, Just Say No To Sour Mix, and Staff Training

So as you might have guessed from the title, this is my "rambling" post. I have a lot on my mind an it's been a crazy few weeks, so please bear with me!

I enjoy spirits by themselves--neat or over a couple of ice cubes--but I love cocktails too. Something amazing happens when a few ingredients come together in perfect harmony to create something that is much more than the sum of their ingredients. They are expressions of individual tastes, cultures, and traditions. The art of Mixology is a true craft, one that is far more complex then throwing a bunch of juices into a glass with the latest "hip" vodka to hit the market. When properly prepared, a cocktail presents itself as a subtle blend of flavors with each of them balancing carefully off the other. When I'm creating new drinks, I really try to respect the integrity of the base spirit. (Gary Regan taught me that...thanks Gary!)

I was recently inundated with a barrage of what some in the industry have dubbed "juicy juice" cocktails: drinks with a minimal amount of alcohol (3/4 to an ounce of the base spirit...usually the latest and greatest vodka), maybe .5 oz. of a modifier like Triple Sec or Cointreau if you're lucky, a syrup or two, and lots and lots of fruit juice. Yes, it was a big chain restaurant where this happened, but I've seen this at some so-called "cocktail bars" in the past as well. And a lot of these drinks were created so you CAN'T taste the base spirit. I have actually heard: "you HAVE to try this. It has tequila, but you can't even taste it." Or "it has gin, but only an ounce mixed with fruit juice and sugar and stuff...you wouldn't even know gin is in there." Really? Then why use Gin? Is it really contributing to the final flavor profile of the completed cocktail? Or is the amazing nuances and subtle flavors of that particular gin drowned out by syrups and juices. Hey, you can muddle fresh Fraser River raspberries with sugar and mint and add in an ounce of an amazing 100% Blue Agave Tequila, even give it a catchy name. But if you then drown it in cranberry juice and pineapple juice and sour mix, what's the point????

Another pet peeve of mine is commerical sweet and sour mix. Why? If you are using fresh lemon, lime and OJ in your cocktails already, and you have sugar on hand...well, buying and using a commcerical sour mix defeats the purpose of your fresh fruit bev program. If you REALLY want to use a pre-made sour mix, make it yourself: 2 parts filtered lemon juice to 1 part sugar syrup, or even 1 part lemon, 1 part lime, 1 part sugar syrup. Make it in the AM, store it in frig, and there you go. Far better than ANY commercial mix on the market, and you're keeping with that wonderful fresh fruit juice philosophy. Everybody wins!

But I digress. Back to base spirits in cocktails. I don't want the base spirit to overpower and take control of the drink, but I want to know it's there. I want it to lend something special to the final product, to work WITH the other ingredients to create something more than just Gin or Tequila in a glass, or something more than the flavor of a fruit punch.

Another thing I have noticed lately: staff training. Not a whole lot of it goes on in bars and restaurants when it comes to beverages (or POS Systems, or serving ettiquette, or flow between the bar and the restaurant, or....).
What little training DOES take place revolves around aesthetics and image and not with things that really make a difference and contribute to a quality product and a great experience (for both the guest and the employee). Style versus substance.

Does this make me do my job better and contribute to a better guest experience, or does this simply "look cool" and fit in with how you've always done things? You want your employees to be comfortable, confident, and well-versed in your wine, beer, an liquor inventory. You want them to have easy access to tools and supplies. Give them some training and give them a hand when needed. Is it a fight and a struggle and a mad rush for your bartenders to get set-up and ready for opening? "Where's the sugar, where's the jiggers, where's the spill mats, who knows today's specials??" Does it take 2 hours to close-up shop, take-down, clean and put things away? Putting some policies and procedures in place and putting together a plan to speed-up and streamline their job will make your employees happier, which in turn will make your guests much, MUCH happier.

I have a deep respect for those who think outside of the box and put quality first. And that's it for now folks!

And oh...death to Red Bull! :-D

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