Monthly Archives: August 2012

The Cocktail Bar of Tomorrow

Evidently, one of the hot topics at Tales of the Cocktail 2012 was cocktails on tap.

This is exactly what it sounds like — pre-batched cocktails pulled from a tap, a la beer (or in some cases these days, wine). And sure, there’s a bit of novelty here for cocktail geeks, but the real reasons for the discussion is that this serving method has a few business advantages:

  1. Service times are reduced to the time it takes to pull a beer (let’s say 1min)
  2. Bartenders don’t need to be as skilled or knowledgeable, thus reducing labor costs
  3. Mistakes are reduced, increasing drink consistency
  4. Prices are (likely) reduced to reflect all of the above

For the customer, this means less of a wait for a cheaper, more consistent product served by a staff member who is no longer spending their time making drinks and can instead focus on things like customer service.

Great, right? So why does it feel so wrong?

Craft cocktail drinkers seem to love the ritual of it all: the careful building of ingredients, the stirring or shaking, the garnishing. Part of what you pay for is the show, the experience. And considering the power of the “X Factor” — the emotional and mental perception of taste — there’s some validity to the claim that this ritual enhances the taste.

There also may be a fear that this will alter the atmosphere and the clientele of one’s favorite bar. For better or worse, prices act as a gating factor, whether the payment is in dollars or just in time spent waiting. If a bar suddenly lowers both cost and wait times, an influx of new customers will follow.

But that’s the point. Bars are a business like any other, and it’s no surprise that many have their eyes set on higher revenues. And there are only so many ways you can make more money:

  1. More volume
  2. Lower costs
  3. Higher prices

We already discussed how cocktails on tap will achieve #2. And by courting new customers, #1 will follow as well. So what about #3?

Well, in NYC, $15 is now pretty standard for a craft cocktail at a top notch place, and Grub Street thinks $20 is not that far off. Cocktails on tap will create another tier for cocktail bars, much the way Champagne Cocktails are priced at a premium at places like Pegu Club.

Towards this goal of tiering and increased revenues, I also think we’ll see more flights and half-sized cocktails. Flights allow for presentation and pairing to up the price, whereas half-sized cocktails allow customers to try cocktails without committing to an entire $15 (or $20, when the time comes) purchase.

Besides tiering within a bar, I think we’ll see even more bar stratification, allowing venues with only “to order” service to raise prices. And there will be even greater pressure on bars to differentiate themselves from their neighbors: custom ice, homemade ingredients, unique glassware and much much more.

As is always the case with disruption, there will be a lot of businesses that won’t be able to move fast enough to keep up and a lot of opportunity for those willing to embrace innovation.

Cocktail of the Week #7: The Fatigue Cocktail

And now for something a little different.

I recently picked up a lovely little recipe collection called beta cocktails, produced by the bartender duo of Maks & Kirk who run the website of the same name. The cocktails they feature are known for a more bitters heavy approach — sometimes this means generous use of what we normally think of as bitters (i.e. non-potable bitters like Angostura) and in other cases it refers to the category of spirits known as bitters, such as Campari, Fernet Branca and so on.

Suffice to say, these drinks will probably come across as pretty damn strange unless you’ve already been warped by a cornucopia of classics, remixed classics and “common moderns”.

But whether you find them strange or succulent, they’re worth a go and today I’ve got a prime example: The Fatigue Cocktail.

The recipe:

  • 1oz Jack Daniels
  • 1oz Maraschino Liqueur (like Luxardo)
  • 1oz Angostura Bitters
  • 1 Grapefruit Twist
  • Shake with ice and strain into a coupe. Garnish with the grapefruit twist.

Right away, you might notice two increda-fucking-bly odd things about this drink:

  1. The use of more than a few dashes of bitters
  2. The shaking of a seemingly all-spirits cocktail

Okay, maybe that last one isn’t too weird (after all, The Stinger as enjoyed by Peggy Olsen on Mad Men is shaken), but the use of non-potable bitters in such large quantities should wig you out a little bit.

In the case of the Angostura, it transmits a very strong allspice note to the blended whiskey and maraschino combination, helping to balance out the pungency of the sour cherry. And to be honest, upon having this all I could think was: “Holy moly, I’ve never had anything else like it.”

Strong like a stirred cocktail, but all kinds of funky spice and sour notes that are tempered by the grapefruit twist. And the use of Jack Daniels — shunned by most in the craft cocktail circuit — is especially fascinating.

And that’s maybe what I like most about this one, that it uses such common ingredients but produces such an odd flavor. Most home bar afficionados could probably make this one tonight with no extra investment. In my book, that’s enough to catapult this one into the Cocktail of the Week.

Enjoy our Cocktail of the Week posts? Check out the archives!