The Beverage Program
Posted 15 January 2003 - 07:00 PM
As a native of North Carolina, I must know whether or not you serve sweet tea. If you do, do you add anything to it (fruit-infused syrups)? What other nonalcoholic beverages do you feature? Lemonade? Special sodas (root beers perhaps)?
How do you encourage pairing of your beverage and food selections? What sorts of combinations work well, to your mind?
What sells well from a beverage standpoint?
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Posted 16 January 2003 - 01:05 PM
There's nothing quite like smelling sweet smoke wafting down the backroads a mile before you reach a barbecue destination in the south. We can't do that, and in fact we'd be closed down by NY neighbors if our smoke ever got loose from our 15-story smokestack. But that's no reason we should have to do business with Fedex everytime we want good barbecue.
So we looked for things we could do at Blue Smoke to add to the dialogue on barbecue that would make our New York locale become a virtue rather than a hindrance. And beverage selection won out. There are beverage products we have access to in New York that you just can't get in more rural parts.
Barbecue cries to be quenched with good drink, and for years, the classic barbecue beverages have been: Coca-Cola, Ice Tea (more or less sweet depending on where you're from), Lemonade, Beer, and Bourbon. (That's not all people drink with barbecue, but those are the most popular.) So, we set out to do the best job we could sourcing or making the best we could in each of those categories.
We serve 30 beers by the bottle, which are stored under ice in huge metal tubs. We serve our beers in frosted mugs. As far as I'm concerned, about the only value we can add to beer is to get it colder. We also serve 8 beers on tap. Our most popular draught beer is Blue Smoke Original Ale, which we comissioned Brooklyn Brewery to create based on the flavor profile of our rib recipe. It's also great on its own.
We serve 32 different bourbons, 18 tequilas and 18 rums. Cocktails sell well at Blue Smoke and the list consists primarily of American classics. People love the Sazerac, Lynchburg Lemonade, Gin Buck, Mint Julep and Rusty Nail.
We make our Iced Tea freshly three times a day, and automatically serve a small pitcher of simple syrup on the side. In a melting pot town like New York, it's impossible to guess precisely how sweet someone's going to want their iced tea, so we make it easy to do it your own way. We serve a lot of our homemade Lemonade as well. It's pretty tart.
We also serve thick shakes, malts and floats -- all made with homemade ice cream. We proudly serve Fitz' Root Beer -- a micro-brew root beer I grew up enjoying in St. Louis. Fitz' special ships exclusively to Blue Smoke and Jazz Standard.
Now to wine: Even though it was difficult to imagine folks wanting wine with barbecue, I couldn't imagine opening a restaurant where wine didn't play a prominent role. And who ever wrote the rule that wine couldn't be amazing with barbecue? We pick our wines the same way we select table condiments for our food. Barbecue Sauce with Alcohol, if you will. And we've used what we already know about traditional barbecue beverages as our guide. For example, if iced tea works with barbecue, then so would wines with tannin. (Tea leaves have gobs of tannins!). And if people like lemonade, then white wines with sweet-tart acid would do the trick (rieslings and sauvignon blancs are great) . Champagne is great with barbecue. And it's no surprise. Beer and Coca-Cola are great conveyors of bubbles. Our top-selling wine is an Australian Shiraz called Marquis Philips. Its ripe fruit and tannin serves the same purpose as Root Beer. Interestingly, it's imported by Dan Philips' Grateful Palate. Which is no surprise since Grateful Palate specializes in Shiraz and Bacon!
Finally, the best way to promote beverage and food matches is to educate our staff and get them enthusiastic about how well things go together. Our manager, Stephanie Duncan does a great job of that. But it's a big new subject for a lot of people, and Stephanie would probably be the first to admit that we've only begun to scratch our potential.
Thanks for the great question.