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ISO: Advice on how to introduce classic mixology


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Hello to all.

This is my first post on the EG forum. I found this place doing a random search for cocktails one day on google a month ago and have been devouring the pages.

I am a the barmanager of a very small restaurant in north eastern Massachusetts.

I have, over the last year, discovered the amazing world of vintage cocktails and a world of new tasty ingredients I never knew existed. My eyes have been opened to the joys of marie brizzard, marachino liquor, orange bitters, and my personal favorite, the corpse reviver #2.

I have picked up copies of The Gentleman's Companion, The Craft of the Cocktail, The Joy of Mixology, et. al. I can't get enough. The topics and discussions here are a blessing, as I seem to be the only person outside of Boston, that I've met, who has heard of these things. Guess we're a little bit behind. Damn puritains.. :raz:

This brings me to my problem. I am dying to do something interesting with my cocktail menu. It is expected to have a "martini" list in this area (Beverly, Essex County) but almost all of the lists within 20 miles focus on, in my opinion, excessively sweet, fruity, juicy drinks. I getting a little tired of the 150 versions of the cosmo I can get within a 10 minute drive.

I just want to do something different, maybe bring back a few classics like The Aviation, French 75, etc.. My difficulty lies in the ingredients. As soon as a cocktail includes gin, whiskey, or vermouth people shut down. I've had some success with The Algonquin, but it has taken me 6 months and I basically have to hide from people about what is in it until they try it.

So I guess my question is how to approach a fairly virgin audience without scaring people? How do you all approach it? I've noticed that many of you are from New York, Philly, and other cosmopolitain (there's that word again... :wink: ), where, I assume, the crowd knows a little more. Even when I worked in Boston, people didn't seem to be put off by these, but out here in the burbs, well, it's slow going.

I've basically talked up the Algonquin, and now I have poeple who come in for it. Have I bitten off more than I can chew, or is it just a slow, painful process?

Any suggestions for, shall we say, "training wheel" drinks?

Anyway, thanks in advance for your help. I love the articles here. I have much to learn.

Sean

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I too, sometimes come across difficulties in selling things like gin, vermouth etc. I find that selling gin as citrus and juniper infused vodka works, as well as explaining that vermouth is just fortified wine, and as people don't like all wines they won't like all vermouths, but there are good vermouths out there (Vya, Cinzanno Rosso, Noilly Pratt...) and they may like those.

Push on, let people be aware that cocktails don't have to be layers of sweetness, merely substitutes for dessert, but a beverage that can stimulate the mind and palate.

Edited by Jamie B (log)
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One must understand the learning curve and the indoctrination of reviving classic cocktails. The people that live in the North Shore of Massachusetts (might as well include the rest of New England as well) surely will think that they are "cosmopolitan" or hip, but the fact of the matter is there is a uniformity of simple tastes and trends. Overly sweet vodka-based "martinis" (which one can include the aforementioned Cosmo) have been all the rage for the last decade and still growing as small town America and suburbia (read: Beverly with Monserrat Art School and upper middle class commuters to Boston) warms up to what they have heard is the popular thing to do.

I disagree with the concept of trying to disguise gin as juniper-infused vodka, although something similar worked for Heublein to initially introduce Smirnoff Vodka to the American audience as "white whisky". Give credit to consumers, although surely some do not deserve it, make it a focus for you and your staff to talk with the patrons and introduce them to classic cocktails. Instead of the perfunctory walk-over and bar-nap slide, greet them with a warm welcome. Ask them if you would be able to mix them one of your signature cocktails as a taster. These classic cocktails (Aviations, Corpse Reviver No. 2, Between the Sheets) all are incredible if made correctly and with quality ingredients. You just have to get a customer to take a sip, even if it is complimentary 1 ounce portions for two new customers. Take baby steps and realize that just writing your new-fangled favorite out of the Stork Club Cocktail book on a drink list, will not make it any more likely to sell to an uninitiated twenty-something weened on Flirtinis and Chocolate Martinis, or whatever they are calling them this week.

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First, welcome to the gang. You'll find them helpful, if ornery - a veritable font of knowledge on food & drink (present company excepted :wink: )

I have a friend who was tasked to do what you're doing, i.e. reintroduce some classic cocktails to a contemporary crowd. Here is a drink menu that he came up with for the purpose. I think the brief explanation or anecdote adds a certain something and might inspire someone to try something if they were sitting on the fence between that and the same old, same old.

Good luck!

Judy Jones aka "moosnsqrl"

Sharing food with another human being is an intimate act that should not be indulged in lightly.

M.F.K. Fisher

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classic cocktails (Aviations, Corpse Reviver No. 2, Between the Sheets) all are incredible if made correctly and with quality ingredients.

I completely agree with this statement, and if I can make someone interested in ordering an Aviation by putting "citrus and juniper infused vodka" instead of "gin" on my cocktail menu, then everyone wins. I win by turning people on to well crafted cocktails regardless of their spirit base, and the guest wins by expanding their horizons.

I do find, however, that one can not use a overly junipered gin whilst doing this, or the experiment fails. A good beginners gin like South or Van Gogh, which are both heavy on the citrus component work well. The cocktail in question should be considered as well. I find a gin mint daisy is a good cocktail to use to convert the uninitiated.

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Your mention of the French 75 makes me think... champagne and gin. It is not hard to get people to drink champagne cocktails and there are quite a number of good, fairly traditional ones made with gin.

(This may duplicate suggestion in the menu linked above-- that's a pdf file and those crash my computer.)

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I mentioned the Algonquin as a success. I'm not doing it the excact way in "vintage cocktails." I haven't yet found 100% rye, so I use seagrams 7, and Vya dry vermouth instead of french vermouth. I find the Vya gives it a little more complexity and eliminates some of medicinal taste you can get from regular vermouth. I also did a different version before I bought the book. I read a few recipies in my friends book and tried to remember them, so naturally I messed them up.. :rolleyes:

My first "try" with the Algonquin was makers mark, sweet vermouth, and pineapple. actually came out quite lovely. much fuller and rounder, although I do like the actually version better.

Thanks for all the suggestions. I think the french 75 will indeed make an appreance, but I have to find the right gin/lemon balance.

great forum. This is going to be fun.

Sean

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What I would do if I had a bar that was profitable, etc. and I wanted to create a "legitimate" atmosphere like you seem to be is to have a "tragically hip" to "stately and traditional" drink spectrum that you can post in the bar. When someone orders a drink that appears on the "tragically hip" list, hand them a card good for an amount off of its cousin in the "stately and traditional" list containing a tasting profile of it, and a list of 3 historical facts about the drink.

You could easily start this with a list of 4 drinks on each and expand periodically. Even the expansion you could promote like some brewpubs promote their cask-conditioned beer nights.

I always attempt to have the ratio of my intelligence to weight ratio be greater than one. But, I am from the midwest. I am sure you can now understand my life's conundrum.

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A couple of simple cocktails, but classical, are the gin gimlet (very pretty up), the stinger on the rocks, and even the dirty martini. The gimlet is really a form of the martini in my opinion.

Cooking is chemistry, baking is alchemy.

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Hello to all.

This is my first post on the EG forum.  I found this place doing a random search for cocktails one day on google a month ago and have been devouring the pages. 

I am a the barmanager of a very small restaurant in north eastern Massachusetts. 

I have, over the last year, discovered the amazing world of vintage cocktails and a world of new tasty ingredients I never knew existed.  My eyes have been opened to the joys of marie brizzard, marachino liquor, orange bitters, and my personal favorite, the corpse reviver #2. 

I have picked up copies of The Gentleman's Companion, The Craft of the Cocktail, The Joy of Mixology, et. al.  I can't get enough.  The topics and discussions here are a blessing, as I seem to be the only person outside of Boston, that I've met, who has heard of these things.  Guess we're a little bit behind.  Damn puritains.. :raz:

This brings me to my problem.  I am dying to do something interesting with my cocktail menu.  It is expected to have a "martini" list in this area (Beverly, Essex County) but almost all of the lists within 20 miles focus on, in my opinion, excessively sweet, fruity, juicy drinks.  I getting a little tired of the 150 versions of the cosmo I can get within a 10 minute drive. 

I just want to do something different, maybe bring back a few classics like The Aviation, French 75, etc..  My difficulty lies in the ingredients.  As soon as a cocktail includes gin, whiskey, or vermouth people shut down.  I've had some success with The Algonquin, but it has taken me 6 months and I basically have to hide from people about what is in it until they try it.

So I guess my question is how to approach a fairly virgin audience without scaring people?  How do you all approach it?  I've noticed that many of you are from New York, Philly, and other cosmopolitain (there's that word again... :wink: ), where, I assume, the crowd knows a little more.  Even when I worked in Boston, people didn't seem to be put off by these, but out  here in the burbs, well, it's slow going.

I've basically talked up the Algonquin, and now I have poeple who come in for it.  Have I bitten off more than I can chew, or is it just a slow, painful process?

Any suggestions for, shall we say, "training wheel" drinks?

Anyway, thanks in advance for your help.  I love the articles here.  I have much to learn.

Sean

May I suggest a visit to the website: idrink.com (check out the caipirinia (traditional)...enjoy

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Well, again, welcome! It's a great place, to be sure...

A few random thoughts:

1) Begin, middle, and end with your staff. Get them enthused with tastings. They are your ambassadors.

2) Consider a cocktail party, of sorts. For instance, pick a decade and feature cocktails from that decade.

3) Showcase your ingredients, starting with a premium rail. Make people understand that they're getting something different.

4) More "traditional" drinks, made as classic cocktails are great intros. For instance, a scratch-made Margarita, a Daiquiri (and don't forget to throw in an Hemingway Daiquiri), and a Mojito are great drinks to illustrate the "cocktail" difference.

5) and a point already made, don't neglect the stories behind the drinks.

Good luck!

Marty McCabe

Boston, MA

Acme Cocktail Company

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How about featuring one of the classics as the evening's special drink? Possibly at a discount? That might encourage some folks to give it a try. I also like the idea of half size drinks to give someone an opportunity to try something new without committing to the price or size of a regular drink. When trying new drink recipes at home, we sometimes make one and split it just to see if we really like it or not. If it's good, we move on to another round. If it wasn't a success, which happens, we haven't wasted too much liquor on the experiment.

What we have found when making drinks for friends is they do not like to taste any liquor. :shock: They are used to drinking vodka. We made Bourbon Crustas for some friends who recoiled because they could actually taste the bourbon. But we also have friends who said they didn't like bourbon who now request a Bourbon Crusta when they come over.

A good drink menu which you can back up with well made drinks will be a great start. We've encountered wonderful drink menus only to be rewarded with overpriced and oversweetened drinks. Just because they can put it on a menu doesn't mean the bartended knows how to make it. Chat up your customers and serve them wonderful drinks. Good luck!

KathyM

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A couple of simple cocktails, but classical, are the gin gimlet (very pretty up)

I do have to say, even before I knew that a gimlet was a "classical" cocktail, I was drinking them left and right. They are excellent drinks, and well-known to a good portion of the current college crowd.

I always attempt to have the ratio of my intelligence to weight ratio be greater than one. But, I am from the midwest. I am sure you can now understand my life's conundrum.

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How about:

1) A side-by-side cocktail list, with all the cosmo-clones on one side, and a list of alternatives on the other? (This is a riff on jsolomon's 'tragically hip' idea). Sort of like this:

alternativedrinks1oh.jpg

2) You could offer a money-back guarantee if people don't like what you've suggested. You'd probably would do this anyway, but put it right on the cocktail menu...

Break out of your rut, risk-free.

Order one of our signature cocktails, and if you don't like it, we'll replace it with your 'usual'.

3) Discount the 'new' drinks, just enough to make people think twice.

4) Contact your local newspaper food editor or lifestyle reporter. Talk to them about how you're trying to bring the cocktailian revolution -- you know, the trend that's taking big-city folks by storm -- to your part of the world. Even if you just get a little press, you'll start to get people coming to you. There have to be people in your area who have given up on finding a decent cocktail, just like you have. :biggrin:

Anita Crotty travel writer & mexican-food addictwww.marriedwithdinner.com

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thank you for changing the name of the thread, much more to the point.

Thank you everyone for your suggestions. I can tell from the advice given that I am not the only person to have this difficulty, as some of the remedies are very well thought out. I'm going to give it a whirl.

Some of the cocktails I'm going to try...

Algonquin

Corpse reviver #2

Hemingway Daiquiri

French 75

Aviation

East India cocktail (millenium)

Thanks again to all who replied. The expertise and knowledge on this website is truly humbling.

Sean

Edited by Snowy is dead (log)
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  • 7 months later...

of all the drinks I've tried, the French 75 fared the best . quite popular. The algonquin (old overholt rye) and daquiri have their "core" following, selling enough to keep me happy. The aviation fell flat on its face, probably because I suck at making them. The corpse reviver #2 has done better than I thought it would. I mainly put it on because I like it so much, but the more adventurous customers are usually game, taken by the name. Keep in mind this is for a restaurant with 20 floor seats and 11 bar seats. On a good week I use 4 grey goose bottles. So selling 12 or 15 of anything in a week is outstanding. I put a swizzle on (mt gay, lime, oj, pineapple, falernum, and I tried those stirrings blood orange bitters for fun, but won't do that again), which does very well. The east india did fairly well, but I took it off for the summer and replaced it with the daquiri. That will go back on in a couple of weeks, along with maybe satan's whiskers, which I quite like. Tried the barracuda, which failed miserably. I put the singapore sling (recipe from drinkboy's site, I think) which did surprisingly well. There must be a lot of children running around conceived after a good night of "slinging" judging by the reactions I get from women who used to drink them in the 70's. Nostalgia alone sells that one.

There are lots of things I'd like to try, but I exclude those that have real egg whites, as that scares the hell out of people up here. That eliminates most of the sours I would like to try and a few others too. I am also hampered by my inability to get everything I would like, like rhum agricole. Mr. Hamilton had a Ti punch made for me at Flatiron, and I think that would sell quite well here, as caipirihnas (excuse spelling) are very popular now. Just listed the old cuban on saturday, Sept 2, so will see how that will go.

Overall the reception has been quite positive. It was very slow going at first, but it has picked up quite a bit. Our little restaurant has a lot of regulars, and we are on a first name basis with half of the people in there on any given night, so the customers have a good amount of trust in us, so I think that might have contributed to the success. I also think that the fact that we have a funky (for the area) wine list, all but one of our beers is an import, and have different cocktails makes it easier for people to ask questions about all the strange bottles on the back bar and ask for recommendations. That and I've certainly made a more than a few freebies for the more skittish clientele, which has paid off.

The information on this website is limitless and priceless. Thanks again for all the help.

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I forgot to mention that I opted for the frech 75 with brandy instead of gin. Personal preference there.

The algonquin I now use old overholt, vya dry, and pineapple

The white rum in the daquiri is cruzan silver

the gin for the corpse, et. al. is plymouth

falernum is fee bros, although I did bring back a bottle of velvet falernum from NY, but I cannot get it here, so I'm keeping it. :raz:

I was toying also with the Jack Rose, but I cannot get it right. I have the regular Lairds and fee's american beauty grenadine. I find it too harsh and sour for my liking. I did have one at my friends bar in Cambridge, Green St., that was calvados (le compte), lemon, lime, and fee jr. which I found better than any I have butchered so far.

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I have the regular Lairds and fee's american beauty grenadine.  I find it too harsh and sour for my liking. 

Have you thought about making your own grenadine? There are various recipes somewhere on this board, and if you do a Google search. The one I used was to take 16 oz of pomegranate juice (POM works fine), slowly reduce by half, add one cup sugar, stir until the sugar dissolves, cool, and add about a tablespoon of vodka as a preservative. It might be a nice sales point that you're using homemade ingredients in some of your drinks.

Edited by jmfangio (log)

"Martinis should always be stirred, not shaken, so that the molecules lie sensuously one on top of the other." - W. Somerset Maugham

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[...]

here is the little bar, a row of banquets about 6 feet away, and that's it.

Sean,

Nice little bar!

You're in Salem? My wife and I were wandering around Salem earlier this year and definitely could have used a cocktail. All we found were tourist places. Ended up having mediocre pre-dinner cocktails at a bar in Gloucester. Very tasty lobster pie and oyster fry at the Causeway, though...

---

Erik Ellestad

If the ocean was whiskey and I was a duck...

Bernal Heights, SF, CA

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The great thing about a DRINK LIST or MARTINI MENU is that you get to be in your customer's face about it. And all it costs is menu ink.

I mean, if you were passionate about foie gras or pork belly or marrow or veal cheeks or what not, you'd have to list them on the menu in such a way so that they would sell. You'd need to train your squeamish staff how to push it, sell it, and present it.

Not so with drinks. The ingredients won't go bad, you've likely got them anyway and if you keep putting the idea of cool tipples in peoples faces, they're likely to enjoy them and ask for more. I frankly don't care if no one orders a Vieux Carre. The ingredients exist in my inventory anyway. When someone DOES order one, I make a point of going out to meet them.

B-Side Lounge in Cambridge does this to their clientele of collegians, and makes no apologies nor explanations. Budweiser exists on the same list as the LAST WORD and there's no differentiation between the two, they're simply 2 ways to have a drink. A generation later, their former customers are wondering why they can't have a Sazerac every place they go.

And they've got a point.

myers

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I tried my own grenadine twice, with horribly funny results. I'll give it another go, but I don't use enough either, so it would be a novelty. We don't get many kids, so no shirly temples or anything like that. I opened my current bottle of fee's in June, and I still have half of it...

I had excellent grenadine at the Eastern Standard in Kenmore square. They use orange flower water. Could've drunk that straight.

The bar is in Beverly, I live in Salem. Yeah, it is tough to get a good drink, especially in touristy Salem. I have hope, however. There are a couple of good restaurants, but most is tourist crap. Marblehead has the same problem, from what I understand. Everyone goes for the tourist fish n chip burger crowd, and the locals drive to Boston. Beverly is on its way, and there is some stuff popping up in Gloucester also.

Edit to add that I do enjoy the B-side, although I'm usually there too late to properly enjoy the list. I shall have to remedy that. I dispense with the Bud altogether. :raz:

Sean

Edited by Snowy is dead (log)
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...The aviation fell flat on its face, probably because I suck at making them....

I assume you've seen this thread but if not be sure to check it out. I'm sure one of these versions of the most excellent Aviation will work for you. The Aviation is too good a cocktail to give up on. Once you find a balance that works for you I'm sure you'll have another decent seller on your hands.

I'm partial to Dave Wondrich's version at the Esquire Drinks Database (which he revised slightly after Esquire Drinks was published). I'm also partial to Broker's Gin for the Aviation but I think any good gin will do.

Kurt

“I like to keep a bottle of stimulant handy in case I see a snake--which I also keep handy.” ~W.C. Fields

The Handy Snake

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