Perspective: Is Modern Mixology Worth the Hype?

Is Modern Mixology Worth the Hype? This was the question posed by Forbes.com’s blog contributor Jerry Prendergast last Saturday. It got me thinking. Really hard. Then I reached for the calculator.

Guess what. I got scary numbers too. I took Mr. Prendergast’s suppositions and determined the profit per serving. I costed all goods at my market cost, determined the cost of 1 hour labor at $8.00, and figured cost of labor in creating ingredients creating a prime cost for each beverage. Here’s the break down :

Glass of Chardonnay ($8.00 wholesale bottle), 6 oz pour, return per serving $5.94, return per hour $356.40

Guinness Draught, 16 oz pour, return per serving $4.67, return per hour $186.80

Grey Goose Martini, 3 oz recipe, return per serving $5.42, return per hour $162.60

Midnight Mary #3, per recipe, return per serving $8.00, return per hour $80.00

Now, before we continue I wanted to speak to the Midnight Mary #3. This isn’t your average signature drink. This isn’t your average bartender. This isn’t your average bar. This drink is from Charles Joly of Aviary. Yeah, that place. The place where cocktail dreams do come true. Where amazing drinks cost mostly between $14 and $19. I’m pretty sure Grant Achatz and Nick Kokonas have profitability figured out at Aviary.

I see Mr. Prendergast’s point in drinks per hour, however the supposition lives in a vacuum when we look at profitability through the lens of one bartender’s efficiency in one category of drink. The reality is that a bartender is going to produce a broad range of  beverages; bottled & draught beer (low dollar return, high volume) and highballs (high dollar return, high volume) accounting for most sales. Which begs the question, are we looking at the numbers we should be looking at? Let’s change perspective. Which of the above items would you rather sell? Don’t start sweating percentages, cost percentages be damned, your bank accepts dollars not percentages. Even my 7-year-old knows which drink makes more money.

So is it worth the hype? It depends on your bar. Can you sell a twelve dollar drink? Is the average guest’s expectation of how much time it takes to make a drink align with how quick the bartender can make a drink? Are you stupid enough to load your entire cocktail list with drinks that take four minutes to make? This is what it boils down to: luxury/craft cocktails can have higher than normal costs associated with prime cost but always command higher prices and in return produce higher profits per serving. If my guests are only going to have two or three drinks during a visit I want them drinking cocktails. Ensuring these drinks can be produced at a reasonable pace is a matter of steps of service, mise en place, and the hospitality skills of your staff.

If you did not take the time to read the comments on Mr. Prendergast’s article, you should. He answers all criticisms with grace and diplomacy.  Most comments were made by guests who understand the time it take to create a proper cocktail. Mr. Prendergast understands this also. Think about McDonald’s vs. Morton’s when it comes to protein. The difference in serving time might be nearly thirty minutes. You have to have the patience to wait an extra two to three minutes for an often unique drink experience or at least a properly made cocktail. If you don’t, there’s a nightclub right down the street that would be happy to serve you a Marshmallow vodka and soda with a Jager Bomb side in sixty seconds flat, as long as it’s not five deep at the bar…

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Our Bartender is Better than Your Bartender

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We are a fellowship of bartenders who are passionate about and dedicated to the history, craft, and enjoyment of spirits, wine, and beer. As a professional organization, we are committed to the development of our members through education. We provide members with career development through accreditation programs and networking. Our members are given the opportunity to showcase their skills and creativity through local, national, and international cocktail competitions.

Yesterday I accused your local bartender of having the same skill set as my seven-year old child; that was mean. True, but mean. What I don’t know about your local drink slinger, and which is truly the most important thing, is do they love to serve? Do they embrace hospitality? Do they have a strong work ethic? This is the hallmark of a professional. The minutiae of gin production, the historical relevance of the julep strainer, or the perceived difference in acidity in fresh pressed lime juice vs. four-hour old lime juice can be taught; teaching hospitality and work ethic is a bit tougher.

Bartender, mule, mixologist, bar wench, son of a bitch. I’ve been called all of them. I personally prefer ‘barkeep’ as I am a career path bartender who, besides mixing drinks and pouring beers, am also responsible for cleaning, profitability, and product. I ‘keep’ the bar. In that last 200 years we have seen our profession move from a valid, respected career to a transient position for college students. However, the pendulum is swinging. The explosion of American interest in food is fueling a revolution in beverages. And those of us who feed our families by serving libations are grateful that our dedication, passion, and respect is being recognized as relevant. Did you know that the esteemed James Beard Foundation recognizes beverage professionals as well as chefs?

Like any profession, we can be pretty ‘catty’. Mixologists look down on flair bartenders as ‘jugglers’. Mules think mixologists are too full of themselves and are slow behind the bar. All male bartenders dislike bar wenches because we don’t have certain physical attributes that earn them more tips. The mixologists concentrate on spirits, history, and esoteric ingredients while white table-cloth bartenders are aghast when colleagues don’t know the difference between Chat. d’Yquem and Domaine de la Romanee-Conti. And don’t get me started on the beer geeks and their insane ramblings on yeast strain and West Coast hops. As a co-founder and current Vice President of the Cleveland Chapter of the United States Bartenders’ Guild my goal is to bring all of these bartenders together for the betterment of our guests and our profession.

We in Cleveland are considered a medium size market and because of that, we are often passed over by large spirit, wine, and beer companies when marketing dollars are to be spent. Really Pernod-Ricard? Is spending $100,000 in NYC really going to move the needle on Absolut sales? Try spending $10,000 here educating bartenders and the public and see your sales move appreciably. Don’t think our bartenders can hang with San Fran, Chicago, and Miami? This is what we’ve accomplished recently here in Cleveland, let alone Cinci & C-bus :

Eric Ho, Melt – National winner of Tanqueray’s Gin & Tonic Contest

Rob Turek, Barley House – Numerous national flair titles, National finalist Woodford Reserve Manhattan Contest, Third place in the world TGI Fridays Cocktail Contest.

Joseph DeLuca – two time National finalist for Nightclub and Bar Magazine ‘Shake it Up’, National finalist for USBG/Bacardi National Cocktail Championship.

Nathan Burdette, Crop – National finalist Diageo World Cup

Matt Stipe, Market Garden – National finalist Don Q Rum Contest

Lynn Vozar – Ohio Tequila Festival Margarita Winner

Halle Bruno, Rosewood Cafe – Top five National finish in Domaine d Canton Cocktail Contest

Darko Marankovic, Rosewood Cafe – National finalist for GQ Most Inspired Bartender Contest

And this is the short list. Yeah, we can hold our own with major markets.

If you are a supplier or broker reading this, show us some love. If you are a bartender who wants to excel at your craft, join us. If you are a enthusiast and guest in our restaurants, come see us. We’re great at what we do and will treat you to a great hospitality experience. I’m sorry if I offended you or your local bartender by suggesting that their skills needed work; I want all bartenders to be better than Max, my seven year old.

Well that’s enough ranting for today. Hey Max, stir me up a Manhattan and don’t be shy with the vermouth…

Sin & Gin

 

I have a friend and colleague in Austin who has a few ‘truths’ he lives by when drinking.

1. You can drink them cute, but you will never drink them skinny. (For the sake of my wife’s liver, I need to get back in the gym.)

2. Never attend events with open bars. Always pay for drinks. It’s much safer. (I understand this, you understand this. Remember your cousin’s wedding reception last fall? No? Point made.)

3. Gin, gin, it’ll make you sin. (I’m a sinner.)

We are awash with gin these days. Plymouth has returned, Genever is back behind the bar, and New Westerns keep introducing botanical potpourris. It’s goddamn Sodom & Gomorrah behind the stick.

You think you hate gin. Your wrong. What you really hate is the college memory of mixing cheap gin (that was barely better than the bathtub variety of Prohibition past) with purple KoolAid and the deserved reaction of your body expelling it. You hate it because, besides the KoolAid incident, the only time you’ve had gin is in a Gin & Tonic and it was made with cheap gin and artificial tonic water out of the bar gun. And you think you hate gin because your local bartender’s only skill set is opening bottles of beer (my seven year old can do this, he’s not a ‘bartender’) and has no idea on how to mix a proper cocktail. Find a real bartender.

Ok, a quick primer and history of gin.

1. It’s flavored predominantly with juniper berries (you knew that) usually harvested in Tuscany where Italian monks first began infusing spirits with it to combat the Black Plague during the Middle Ages. Didn’t work, but patients probably were less concerned about their erupting boils and bleeding orifices if they drank enough.

2. The Dutch rule the seas and spice trade in the middle of the last millennium. They have lots of spice in storage. Plant based items go bad if in storage too long. If you store such items in high proof spirits, they don’t go bad. If you store juniper, cassia, cardamon, and citrus fruit peel in spirits you’ve made gin.

3. The English hate the French. They start taxing imported spirits (Cognac) heavily. They allow any citizen to distill their own booze. Juniper covers up bad kitchen distillates, so does turpentine and it kinda tastes like juniper. Everybody does it. Everybody is drunk and poisoned. England rethinks its position on unlicensed distilling.

4. Guy in Scotland invents column still that produces very clean spirits. Guy in Ireland patents it. Guy in England starts using column still and distilling traditional gin botanicals in the third pass through the still. He invents London Dry gin.

5. The cocktail is invented in the US. Bartenders use malty Dutch gin and sweetened Old Tom in recipes. England doesn’t understand cocktails, or ice in drinks. But, they have a lot of people ‘civilizing’ India. It’s hot in the jungle, they keep getting malaria, and their teeth fall out from scurvy. Copious amounts of gin lets them forget about hot jungle filled with tigers, tonic water contains quinine which helps with the malaria, lime contains vitamin C which keeps their teeth in their head. The Gin & Tonic is born.

6. Prohibition declared. Poor distillates abound on the Black Market. Sears & Roebuck sells juniper oil in their catalog. Juniper covers up bad taste of poor spirits. The bathtub has a new use.

7. Three Martini lunches. Everybody is very sophisticated.

8. The rise of Vodka nearly kills gin and whiskey in the US. Vodka begins to infuse flavors. Unfortunately its with Bubble Gum and Whipped Cream artificial flavors.

9. Bartenders around the world start teaching people to drink better. Gin is saved.

10. Dave Rigo & Greg Lehman release their bourbon barrel aged gin from Watershed Distillery.

Ok, so maybe that last one won’t go down in all of the history books. But it’s great gin. Myself and a few bartenders on the North Coast got a sneak peak of it before its release into the wild next month. The Cliff Notes on it is that they are aging their signature Four Peel gin for one year in used Wild Turkey barrels. They will be using their own bourbon barrels once… Oops, thats still a secret. Anyways, I was truly impressed their aged gin. The botanical’s edges round out and the florals on the nose are accentuated. We mixed some up as a variation on the Martinez and it showed wonderfully. I’ve always liked using their gin in the Rosewood Snapper and look forward to trying it with the aged version. Now, fair warning, only two cases a month are coming to Cleveland for a while and it may be hard to find. You might want to book a tour of Dave and Greg’s distillery in Columbus and try to talk them into selling you a bottle.

Now go sin.

 

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