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phlip

Spirits, Selection, and Standards

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Moderator's note: I've split this interesting discussion off from the Last Word topic. -- CA

The thing about not carrying an overpriced, overrated, overordered bit of swill such as Grey Goose is peoples own good. Unfortunately we are creatures of habit and too lazy to cozy up to the confines of the great unknown too often. If one doesn't carry garbage one can't order garbage. I want to stress again what I said about it being the bartenders job to open peoples eyes to things be it spirits, cocktails, or lore. Remember we are not just creatures of habits we are constently under seige by millions of dollars of marketing. And marketing as far as the drinking industry go advertise crap and different kinds of crap. We must emancipate these poor souls from the grips of Miller Lite and Grey Goose. When people come in my bar and ask for a Grey Goose Red Bull(more filth) and I tell them I don't have either, and the proceed to ask for two other things I don't carry they realize something strange is going on and are curious to explore the cocktail list. Remember people don't need good or great cocktails to drink, people would drink anyway. But people need good or great cocktails to drink better. Its a bartenders job to get people to drink better.


Edited by chrisamirault (log)

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i agree. and in my experiences common drinkers are less shocked than you think that you don't have their brand... i work in a place that gets the most incredibly polarized tastes. by economic necessity and a dose of absentmindedness we stopped carrying stoli and their flavored products and absolute... and even with all the weddings i do no one really cares... and i don't have pinot grigio and everyone wants to write down what this albarino stuff is... restaurant people on the supply side are so conservative. probably more so than their guests...

dare to specialize and please show off your passions. its far easier than you think...

keep up the good work down in NYC.

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As much as I wish it were true, it doesn't work everywhere; we literally almost had a riot break out in the restaraunt one night during a two-week experiment in not carrying Crown Royal. That was nearly a year and a half ago and some of those people still haven't been back. :(

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We have such a nice Bourbon and Rye selection (especially for it's size) to say nothing of the scotches, we were trying to get away from blended whiskey entirely (aside from Scotches). Hard to convince people in Texas that Crown Royal is not the ne plus ultra of whiskey.

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It's interesting. My wife works in the music field, so we are used to dealing with the ridiculous amounts of money that huge multinational corporations choose to throw at "filth", to use Phlip's word.

I see so many parallels between the way the marketing of music and spirits work, that it is a bit eerie. Except for the fact that payola is (supposedly) illegal in the music industry and it doesn't seem to be quite so policed in the spirits industry.

A while ago a company contacted me and said, "Hey, what you're doing with the Savoy Cocktail Book is cool. But I'm frustrated that I don't see any of my products listed in the recipes. If I sent you some, would you use them?"

Being an honest Midwestern type, I was honest with them. I told them if they sent products, I would try them. If I liked them, I might talk about them. If the product was appropriate for a Savoy recipe, I would use it. If not, not.

Of course, they did not send the sample.

As a spirits enthusiast, I get frustrated when I get an offer for some free spirits sample and then see 6 glowing reviews of the same product on different blogs the same week. Or I get some marketing promotion and then see one of my colleagues posting the press release more or less verbatim the same week as if they were their words and opinion.

There is a huge amount of interest in spirits and cocktails out in the public right now. A lot of people are open and interested in trying new and different cocktails.

I do think that both bar professionals, writers, and cocktail enthusiasts have a tremendous opportunity right now to influence the way people drink. But along with that opportunity is a responsibility.

I was at an event this week and we were serving a drink with sweet vermouth. A customer said, "Oh sweet vermouth, I've read about that recently. Could I try some?"

At that point, the bar professional has an opportunity to influence one person's taste. If the bartender says, "Oh, no, vermouth is awful, you don't want to try that straight," the opportunity is blown. If they tell a bit about vermouth's history and composition. Present it on the rocks with a smile. There's one more person who might try a Martinez or be willing to expand their cocktail horizons. And maybe they'll tell their friends, or serve it at a party in their home.


Edited by eje (log)

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It's interesting.  My wife works in the music field, so we are used to dealing with the ridiculous amounts of money that huge multinational corporations choose to throw at "filth", to use Phlip's word.

And I work in the film industry. Oy, what do you think drove me to drink in the first place?

Seriously, though, kudos for sticking to your standards.

And to address the last part of your post, I love nothing more than turning around a friend who says, "Oh, I hate Gin/Vermouth/etc..." And every time I can turn someone who used to drink nothing other than Grey Goose martinis into a full fledged cocktail geek who scans the bottles the moment they walk into a bar, and then gives the bartender the recipe for a Last Word or Corpse Reviver #2, I feel like I'm doing a very good deed, indeed.

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As a spirits enthusiast, I get frustrated when I get an offer for some free spirits sample and then see 6 glowing reviews of the same product on different blogs the same week.  Or I get some marketing promotion and then see one of my colleagues posting the press release more or less verbatim the same week as if they were their words and opinion.

I used to see PR junk replicated as articles in the supposedly legit press all the time when I reviewed films for a while in the 1980s. No internet back then, so I just wrote letters to the Boston Globe. Didn't get printed.

Makes me curious to know which samples and blogs you're talking about there, Erik....

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As much as I wish it were true, it doesn't work everywhere; we literally almost had a riot break out in the restaraunt one night during a two-week experiment in not carrying Crown Royal. That was nearly a year and a half ago and some of those people still haven't been back. :(

to some degree you can't blame people for liking what they like. i too wish that everyone were as open-minded as many on eg when it comes to cocktails and experimentation. i also understand that it would be nice to introduce people to what you deem as "better". but let's face it, most of the people most of the time go with what they know and like and, quite frankly, don't want to think about it too much.

i see nothing wrong with either side of the spectrum. i love to introduce people to finely crafted cocktails made of high quality spirits with rich histories. but i don't begrudge them if they want a bud light. it's just a drink after all...

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As a spirits enthusiast, I get frustrated when I get an offer for some free spirits sample and then see 6 glowing reviews of the same product on different blogs the same week.  Or I get some marketing promotion and then see one of my colleagues posting the press release more or less verbatim the same week as if they were their words and opinion.

There is a huge amount of interest in spirits and cocktails out in the public right now.  A lot of people are open and interested in trying new and different cocktails.

I do think that both bar professionals, writers, and cocktail enthusiasts have a tremendous opportunity right now to influence the way people drink.  But along with that opportunity is a responsibility.

okay, i am sure i am now labeling myself as a heretic here, but c'mon. do really have a "responsibility" to make sure people learn to enjoy vermouth? if anything, the only responsibility you have is to make your customer doesn't get overserved and harm himself or others. i think you may be taking this a little too seriously.

as for your frustrations cited above, i do think there is a distinction between information outlets that are simply there to inform (in which case there is nothing wrong with posting a press release) and those that choose to write opinion. it is possible that those that write opinion actually do like the product...it is also possible that they are not thinking. For instance, I have not seen one negative comment on any blog/site/etc for St Germain. coincidence or irresponsibility?

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do really have a "responsibility" to make sure people learn to enjoy vermouth?

The more glasses of chilled vodka (I'm sorry, "martinis") you serve every day, the stronger the urge gets to fight vinophobia. Is it a civic duty? No. But it does help you keep a positive attitude.

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For instance, I have not seen one negative comment on any blog/site/etc for St Germain.  coincidence or irresponsibility?

Its a good product but it's definitely being overused. I think it's partially that it's very neophyte friendly.

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For instance, I have not seen one negative comment on any blog/site/etc for St Germain.  coincidence or irresponsibility?

Its a good product but it's definitely being overused. I think it's partially that it's very neophyte friendly.

i don't like saint germian. it tastes like concord grape liqueur... and for $35... thanks for killing my liqueur costs with your populist demands, raising the price of drinks all over the city because people want all this dollar an ounce junk... then young poor people loose all their (our because i'm with them) meeting houses and a social outlets... all because people feel they can only like grey goose, saint germain, and hendricks... and they can't afford it so they just don't go out... now i live in city where near every restaurant is only half busy and never full...

sounds kind of a fanatical but i think its what some people are trying to get at...


Edited by bostonapothecary (log)

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I like it a lot and think it's a good product. But I have noticed it being "splashed" into just about everything -- and I'm not talking about scotch-based drinks, either; adding a shot of St. Germain to your Cosmo is very trendy in some places here. It's a good example, I think, of a fine product that has been used to not very noble ends.

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to some degree you can't blame people for liking what they like. i too wish that everyone were as open-minded as many on eg when it comes to cocktails and experimentation. i also understand that it would be nice to introduce people to what you deem as "better". but let's face it, most of the people most of the time go with what they know and like and, quite frankly, don't want to think about it too much.

Freshherbs you know what this quote makes me think of? My least favorite subject in the world and I shouldn't mention it but it does: Politics."What people know and like and quite frankly don't want to think about it too much". IE making decisions with one's eyes closed. This is very high on list of evils in the world. I realize this is a cocktail blog but I see lots of analogy between peoples actions in bars relative to actions outside bar. Look at the people in suits impersonating human beings we have been watching for as long as I can remember. People's politicians are even worse then there drinking habits. Anyways sorry to open this can of worms but to accepts habits as ones rule of thumb depresses me to the point of tears.

On a better note the popularity of St Germain I believe is due to the fact that it is a new quality liquior in a market desperate for new modifyers. Plenty of great base spirits what we need is more good modifyers. Eric Seeds are also good examples.

And sorry for meddling in nonsense, just felt it was a point I wanted to make.

Pick your drink carefully!!!!

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okay, i am sure i am now labeling myself as a heretic here, but c'mon.  do really have a "responsibility" to make sure people learn to enjoy vermouth?  if anything, the only responsibility you have is to make your customer doesn't get overserved and harm himself or others.  i think you may be taking this a little too seriously.

I think it depends on your perspective. As a cocktailian bartender interested in spreading the gospel and growing the craft I think there is some "responsibility" to make an attempt to influence customers towards in the right direction. I can't count the number of times I've seen Toby Maloney offer "citrus and juniper flavored vodka" (aka Plymouth gin) to customers who asked if there were any flavored vodkas in the house -- always to good effect.

Otherwise, you know... just open a shot and beer place, staff it with surgically enhanced twentysomethings in halter tops and watch the money roll in. Just make sure no one gets overserved.

On a better note the popularity of St Germain I believe is due to the fact that it is a new quality liquior in a market desperate for new modifyers.

I think there are a number of things going on here. First, St. Germain is a quality spirit. Second, as Phil points out, there just aren't that many high quality modifiers around, and bartenders are enthusiastic about something new. Third, St. Germain isn't nearly as emphatic as many of the common high quality herbal modifiers such as Chartreuse, Drambuie, Benedictine, etc. (which are used a quite a lot as well!), making it an easier mixer for bartenders and an easier taster for drinkers. Fourth, we can't ignore the fact that St. Germain has done a significant promotional campaign since its introduction into the United States, with noted cocktailian bartenders signed up and lots of liquor store displays, etc.

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i should point out that i do like saint germain. i've had a huge amount of fun with it. i just don't like the price. i like hendricks and think its a georgeous product. i just don't like the price...

I realize this is a cocktail blog but I see lots of analogy between peoples actions in bars relative to actions outside bar. Look at the people in suits impersonating human beings we have been watching for as long as I can remember. People's politicians are even worse then there drinking habits. Anyways sorry to open this can of worms but to accepts habits as ones rule of thumb depresses me to the point of tears.

anyhow. i think there is a strong corellation between people's actions outside of what they drink and what they drink... cultural and generational analysts like robert bly of the mythopoetic men's movement faim claim that american men have lost all their intensity. i always thought it was a big part of being american. intensity and a certain love of individualism and self reliance... well at the same pace of all this cultural change is movement towards a blandness of drink... light beer and vodka... a paranoia of hangovers... must have skyy so i don't get a hang over...

on other hand my uncle is one of those people (and i still come across others like him) who would ask for a collins with the "roughest" gin you got... i wish i came across more of those types of people... a simple drink, no brands, intense, affordable, and you see them every day after work for one or two...

i should note that lots of women have gained lots of intensity at all levels, especially drink and its awsome...

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Freshherbs you know what this quote makes me think of? My least favorite subject in the world and I shouldn't mention it but it does: Politics."What people know and like and quite frankly don't want to think about it too much". IE making decisions with one's eyes closed. This is very high on list of evils in the world. I realize this is a cocktail blog but I see lots of analogy between peoples actions in bars relative to actions outside bar. Look at the people in suits impersonating human beings we have been watching for as long as I can remember. People's politicians are even worse then there drinking habits. Anyways sorry to open this can of worms but to accepts habits as ones rule of thumb depresses me to the point of tears.

On a better note the popularity of St Germain I believe is due to the fact that it is a new quality liquior in a market desperate for new modifyers. Plenty of great base spirits what we need is more good modifyers. Eric Seeds are also good examples.

And sorry for meddling in nonsense, just felt it was a point I wanted to make.

Pick your drink carefully!!!!

phlip, i agree lets avoid politics here...the two-party system is a whole nother can of worms.

to some degree though, all humans "accept habit as rule of thumb". that is why we live in a society, not anarchy.

i think it is great to turn people on to new thoughts, things, experiences, drinks. i am just not sure everyone wants this and i am not sure there is anything wrong with that.

i will add one other thought and then i'll stop. a few months back there was a lot of discussion here about the cocktail column Mark Bittman wrote in the Times in which he butchered so many classic cocktail recipes. He was pretty widely panned on this site for doing things differently and arguably "wrong". What are your thoughts on this, within the context of this conversation? Should we be applauding him for doing things differently? Or should we be criticizing for not doing it right? In the end, who is to say what is right?

I hope you all take this in the spirit with which i intended...these are questions that i am struggling with. i am not saying either side is right or wrong...

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to some degree you can't blame people for liking what they like.  i too wish that everyone were as open-minded as many on eg when it comes to cocktails and experimentation.  i also understand that it would be nice to introduce people to what you deem as "better".  but let's face it, most of the people most of the time go with what they know and like and, quite frankly, don't want to think about it too much. 

I'm not in the business, but have learned an enormous amount about cocktails in the past 3 years from my bartenders. I agree that sometimes people are just not open-minded. But in many cases I think that people just don't know what the possibilities are. I think back to my first visit to Pegu - you know, the one at which I declared unequivocally that I didn't like gin, and couldn't imagine who in their right mind would drink rye (I left that night a changed woman) - and I simply had no idea what could be done with cocktails. I think this is true for my friends too - one cocktail at D&Co or PDT and their eyes have been opened to the possibilities. One of the things I admire most about cocktailian bartenders like Phil is the passion they have for their craft, and their desire to pass it on. I learn something every time I'm at his bar, whether he intends it that way or not, and I'm drinking better because of it.

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I agree and I have learned a vast amount sitting across from the likes of Phil, Alex, Brian, and Joaquin. Much of this topic is contextual. If someone makes their way to D&C or PDT, the role of the bartender is not to slam out Bacardi & Cokes and Stoli Sodas. I've sat at both of those bars wherein a customer won't even glance at the menu and then orders a vodka tonic. It's bewildering as to why such a person would make a point to know about such a place (as it's very unlikely they simply walked by). Would someone sit at Momofuku and shove aside the menu and ask for a chicken sandwich instead? To their credit, the bartenders always engage the person and explain what they do and would be happy to make a drink to their tastes.

In other environments, a good bartender is still obligated to read people well. If someone is at the bar to meet with friends and the beverage menu is not what made them come to the establishment and they confidently order a Ketel One martini - extra dirty, or a lite beer then that's what they want and that's what they should get if that's what the house sells. They didn't come in to participate in a cocktailian dialogue or to expand their imbibing horizons. However, a good bartender (who cares about his/her craft), even in a "regular bar" situation should engage those who are undecided or are looking for something to suit their particular mood. This is the type who scan the beer and wine list, dismiss it and then their eyes start looking at the bottles on the back bar. This is when one would inject a "what are you in the mood for"? They are looking for guidance and this is where product knowledge and a strong mental cocktail database can direct someone away from the mediocre.

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both PDT and D&C attract people for non-cocktail related reasons.

a LOT of people have heard about PDT not as a serious cocktail bar but rather for the phone booth entrance.

both PDT and D&C also attract lots of dates because they both have relatively seduction-conducive atmospheres.

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I don't think anyone disagrees that the bartender should ultimately give the customer what he asks for, if that's what they're selling.

But I don't think it's incumbent upon the bar, if it aspires to be a cocktailian bar, to stock 23 different kinds of "superpremium" and flavored vodkas, for example. In these instances, I think it's perfectly fine to say: "We don't have Gray Goose. We have Smirnoff and Ketel One, if that would be okay. Or perhaps you would like something from our menu." Similarly, they don't have to stock Crown Royal if they think it's a crap spirit. So long as they're offering it for a similar price point, they can offer Forty Creek or Alberta Premium to people who want Crown Royal.

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Part of my worries with the current cocktail scene, when I start to see "premium" ingredients seep down to average cocktail programs, is that it seems like the wrong lesson is being learned.

What bars and restaurants seem to be starting to think, simply, is if they use premium spirits to make their cocktails, that's all they have to do. They are running a cocktailian bar.

Jigger pouring, well trained knowledgeable staff, portion control, costing the drinks, a creative well thought out menu, fresh juices, fresh herbs, house made ingredients, serious ice, etc. This is the stuff I'd like to see seep down from places like Death & Co, PDT, the Pegu Club, and their West Coast equivalents. And I like to think that you could run a successful drink program with these elements and leave out the super premium spirits.

Anyway, yes, maybe I do take this all a bit too seriously. It's a bit of a problem I have with my enthusiasms. A character flaw, if you will.

Now pass me that Cherry Bomb, will you, I'm getting a little dry down here...


Edited by eje (log)

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To keep liquor cost down, (and the price of the cocktail to the consumer below 20 bucks a pop) one cannot use "over marketed" booze. It is a lucky that many really good rums, ryes and gins are sold for reasonable prices. For with all the other expensive components (fresh juice, produce ect.) a "cocktailian" bar couldn't survive with out these products.

Toby

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I see what you're saying, Erik. It's always a bit disheartening to see a bar menu where all the cocktails feature the most expensive products available, and yet they are all clearly unsophisticated, poor quality sugar bombs. There's nothing quite like seeing an ingredient listing that calls for both Hendrick's gin and Sprite.

The irony is that the best cocktail bars do not use the highest-priced spirits in their cocktails as a matter of course. You will never see a top cocktail bar menu that features Hendrick's in every gin drink. They're not using the lowest-priced ones either, of course. You'll see almost all of the drinks being made with Tanqueray and Plymouth rather than Old Raj or Gilbey's; Herradura Silver rather than Patron Platinum or Cuervo Silver; Rittenhouse BIB and Old Overholt rather than Michter's 10 year or Jim Beam. And in the case where a cocktail is made with Old Raj or Michter's 10 or George T. Stagg, there's a damn good reason why they're using the more expensive spirit: because it provides something that can't be had any other way in that particular drink. And there are some drinks that really demand a certain spirit or certain quality of spirit. PDT's Staggerac is an obvious example, but even something not so spirit-centric can sometimes need a more expensive spirit. A good example of that is the Juniperotivo, which really just isn't quite right without Junipero gin.


Edited by slkinsey (log)

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