While the local small batch liquors and mixed drinks with interesting ingredients are just starting to gain steam here in Georgia, the state already has a robust craft beer and wine scene.
Diane Riffel, co-owner of Octane Coffee, a boutique coffee shop with three locations in Atlanta, says she does a brisk business in beers from Georgia breweries like Terrapin, SweetWater, Jailhouse, Monday Night and Red Brick.
“We almost always have a local beer on tap at one of our stores,” Riffel says. “A lot of it is being able to support our local breweries. We’ve got great beers in our region, and we’re really proud of that.”
Octane has even collaborated with some of these local brewers to create coffee-inspired beers.
Athens-based Terrapin Beer Co. created a chocolate stout using Octane’s coffee beans, and 5 Seasons Brewing worked with Octane to create an espresso stout to serve in their Atlanta restaurants.
“It’s been a lot of fun to work with some of the local breweries,” she says.
In addition to serving Georgia beers, Octane uses a variety of local ingredients in its other foods and beverages. All of the milk for Octane’s espresso-based drinks comes from a dairy called Sparkman’s Cream Valley in Moultrie, Ga.
“A big part of it was finding a great milk that worked with our drinks. It was just perfect htat there was one right here in Georgia,” she says. “Whenever we have questions about it or there’s different nuances about the milk that change from season to season, we can just call up our rep and talk to someone directly on the farm.”
She says the milk is an important part of their recipes, so they don’t like to use just any milk you could pick up at a supermarket.
“For us, because of the way we prepare our drinks and steam our milk, fat content is very important,” says Riffel, who adds that another reason she supports small, local companies is philosophical. “We’re a small business, too. It’s important to give as much support as we can to local producers around us. We like to tout that there’s a lot of great stuff going on in our city and our region.”
Octane has stores in Atlanta’s hip Grant Park and Westside neighborhoods, as well as a “pocketbar” in the Bank of America Plaza downtown. In February, its first store in Birmingham, Ala. opened. Octane chose the city for its newest location because of its relationship with coffee roasting company Primavera Coffee, which currently roasts all of Octane’s coffee beans. Over the summer, Octane merged with Primavera Coffee.
The new partnership means big things for Octane, including the new Birmingham location and plans for a roasting operation at the Grant Park store.
Riffel said she is looking forward to being able to roast coffee inside Octane’s stores. She says it will be a great opportunity to educate people on how their coffee goes from “bean to cup.”
Just as with their food, people are interested in where their coffee comes from.
“It will give them a little more insight into what’s involved,” Riffel says, “to be able to make that connection with the customer is an important part of the experience.”
If you go to Arianne Fielder’s bar and order a sour apple martini, she’ll probably try to change your mind. Instead of a Day-Glo green concoction, she might suggest a cocktail made with a natural apple-infused craft spirit instead.
Fielder, “head mixtress” and beverage manager at Seven Lamps in Atlanta, is the kind of culinary bartender who believes that beverages, as much as food, should be wholesome, well-crafted and, of course, tasty.
Gone are the days of pre-made sour mix, artificial flavors and mass-produced liquors. Just as chefs have embraced the farm-to-table dogma that prizes carefully produced local foods, bartenders, brewers and baristas are getting in on the trend.
“That’s the direction this bar program is in and I think most bar programs are turning in,” Fielder says. “People don’t know the difference it makes to use fresh juice, fresh ingredients and fresh distillates.”
Fielder says she uses as many local ingredients as possible and makes the juices and syrups for her cocktails in-house.
“It’s refreshing that, as much as people have started to care about where what they’re eating [comes] from, they are starting to have that crossover to care about what they drink,” she says.
Seven Lamps opened Dec. 20 in a cozy nook near Atlanta’s Lenox Square. Fielder and chef Drew Van Leuvan, both well known in Atlanta’s restaurant scene, have found a market for their craft food and drinks in Buckhead.
“If they’re coming in, they’re not walk-ins. They’re coming in for my drinks and Drew’s food. We’re both very fortunate,” says Fielder, who’s helped open three other craft bars in Atlanta. “This is the first bar program I’ve had where the majority of the drinks I sell are off the cocktail menu. Here, we don’t get many call drinks at all. People are excited about the techniques we use and the ingredients we use.”
Fielder says she’s happy to see the enthusiasm around craft cocktails — something that wasn’t as common just a few years ago.
Virginia Miller, a spokeswoman for The American Distilling Institute, says there has been exponential growth in the number of craft distilleries opening each year, not just in Georgia, but across the United States.
“Over the last decade or so, it has really taken off all over the country,” Miller says.
When the organization was founded in 2003, there were only 69 licensed craft distilleries. The Institute projects there will be between 400 to 450 licensed distilleries by the end of 2015.
Here in Georgia, there weren’t any legal distilleries even five years ago. Now, three distilleries are producing small batch spirits using local ingredients, and more are on the horizon. As customers clamor for produce and protein – and drinks – from local sources, chefs are searching for more local options.
Miller says it’s typically artisan bars that want to focus on local or unusual beverages that will be drawn to craft spirits.
“The more savvy and more creative they want to be, the more they’re going to want to use small-batch spirits,” she says.
The Evolution of Bartending
This new energy around craft cocktails has its roots in the early 20th century, notes Fielder, before Prohibition made the sale of alcohol illegal in the U.S. The craft of bartending faded as bartenders moved abroad or changed professions, and the quality of spirits decreased as people made them illegally, using additives and sugar to make them palatable. But even after Prohibition was lifted, the quality of American spirits stayed low. Still, Miller says, after Prohibition, some of the first craft distilleries opened up in California in the 1970s and 1980s, fueled in part by the “cocktail renaissance” that was starting to take shape in New York in the ’80s.
“We are 92 years since prohibition went into effect,” Fielder says. “It’s incredible that American distilling, American bartending, is just getting back on track with the rest of the world.”
Fielder says she likes to use craft spirits from across the country, including whiskey from Thirteenth Colony Distilleries in Americus, Ga. She loves that they use ingredients grown in Georgia. But what’s important to her is that the products come from “small batch, passionate distillers.”
She adds that the best bourbon is made in the South, where the climate allows the barrels to properly expand. The best rum is made in Puerto Rico, where the climate is right for growing sugar cane.
“I think spirits need to be true to where they’re from,” she says.
Miller says one of the reasons people are drawn to small-batch distilleries is that they are easy to relate to. Often craft distilleries are small family businesses. Other times, they are owned by people with a passion for spirits who opened a distillery as a second career.
“People want to know where their food or drink is coming from, who made it,” Miller says. “Those stories are a lot more accessible than the big brands. They can get a personal story and know where it comes from.”
By Harry Haff, , CEC, CCA, WSET Advanced Certificate, Chef Instructor, Le Cordon Bleu, Atlanta
Is there any word bandied about more cavalierly in our industry than the word sommelier? There are not many. Sometimes I think that restaurant-goers and foodies have the idea that whoever read the back label of a wine bottle and has the ability to spell gewÃ¼rtztraminer is a sommelier.
While at a professional level we know this is not so, when someone of casual acquaintance announces that she or he is a sommelier, we are too polite or non-confrontational to ask what has made her or him a sommelier? Can they really spell gewÃ¼rtztraminer? How many years of service and study has it taken them to be able to have others call them a sommelier?
This word that is so easily decanted is so difficult to come by, but there are options for sommelier training, and they can be an extraordinary addition to any good restaurantâ€™s staffâ€”and the bottom line.
From Driving Animals to Driving Wine
In modern times, the sommelier title is for someone who specializes in the service, storing and purchasing of wine as well as being responsible for training others in the dining room on the service of wines. Often the same person will create the wine list.
One of the most important responsibilities is the ability based on knowledge and experience to recommend an appropriate wine to accompany an item the guest ordered.
The term, according to Merriam-Webster, dates back originally to Roman times and is based on the word sagma, meaning a packsaddle. From there it evolved into ProvenÃ§al as saumailer, or one who drives pack animals. Retaining this general job description, it entered into Middle French where the name was associated with someone who was responsible for supplies and transportation of supplies, like a quartermaster. Somewhere along the way, it became associated with a specialty in wine service, knowledge and supply.
What Makes a True Sommelier
Although anyone can call him or her self a sommelier, that does not make it so. The Court of Master Sommeliers was founded in 1977 under the direction of several professional beverage and hospitality organizations in Great Britain, including the Masters of Wine. For someone interested in actually being a sommelier, the program is in four levels:
1.Â Â Â Introductory Level, which introduces the student to a worldwide basic understanding of wine regions, style and taste. The students are expected to do much background reading on their own before sitting for the two-day intensive instruction, written test and tasting test.
2.Â Â Â Level II, the Certified Sommelier, which is composed of theory and tasting exams. Adding a service component, the candidate must perform decanting, sparkling wine service or standard wine service.
3.Â Â Â Level III is the Advanced Sommelier level. It is a three-day intensive course, followed by a two-day exam of restaurant service and sales, written theory and a six-wine blind tasting. As is stated on the website, the â€œAdvanced Examination is exponentially more challenging than the Certified Sommelier Exam.â€
4.Â Â Â The Master Sommelier Exam, Level IV, is an oral exam, a blind tasting and a practical service examination. All judges are Master Sommeliers, and the candidate has three years to pass all parts of the Level IV. The past rate for this level is about 10%.
The other main sommelier-training program is the International Sommelier Guild, based in Denver. It is recognized by the American Culinary Federation and also includes a three-tier approach as well as a wine educator component.
1.Â Â Â This level is an introductory one that also has a component on the early stages of learning to pair food and wine.
2.Â Â Â The Level II component is 48 hours of classroom instruction with emphases on blind tasting, sparkling wines, fortified wines, beers and ales, food and wine pairing techniques, dining room service as well as an essay on a given topic.
3.Â Â Â The third level is known as the Diploma Program. Over a six-month time span, the candidate attends one eight-hour session per week. Contents are on viticulture, viniculture, service refinement, cellaring, tasting techniques, menu design and an essay.
4.Â Â Â The ability to become a certified wine educator is in addition to the other three courses and is a unit unto itself.
As you can see, each of these programs is intensive, rigorous and not for the faint of heart or thin-skinned individuals. But what emerges is an industry professional trained to work in a rapidly expanding segment of the restaurant/hospitality industry.
The United States is now the largest wine market in the world in terms of volume and monetary volume. But our per capita consumption is still low when compared to other industrialized countries.
You may be surprised that the leading per capita wine-consuming country is the Vatican with 70.22 liters per person. According to the Wine Institute, Luxembourg is second with 54.29; France fourth at 42.49; Italy sixth at 38.14; Germany is 21st with 24.44; and the U.S. is 57th with 8.96. But while Germany, Italy and France all showed year-to-year declines in per capita consumption, the U.S. increased by 4.5%, with the Vatican increasing by 18.2%.
Now if this sounds unimpressive, consider that the Vatican has a population of 932, and the U.S. population is more than 307 million. And while Lewis Purdue, editor of Wine Industry Insight, forecasted on-premise sales in 2010 would decline, and they did. Year-to year due to the recession, off-premise increased by a dollar volume of more than 8%. This decline will reverse itself as the economy improves and as more Americans become familiar with wines in general.
How Sommeliers Help Restaurants
When one considers that wine sales across the board are increasing from almost all wine-producing countries â€” Australia being the striking exception â€”a knowledgeable person selling your wines and beverages and training your staff to sell as well becomes virtually a necessity in a good restaurant.
It is not enough for restaurant personnel to know the Napa Valley wines produced by a few big-name or trendy/cult producers when the single largest increase in wine sales by country in 2010 came from Argentina.
The wine news report notes that for the first quarter of 2011, imported wines outpaced domestic wines in dollar increase of sales in the $11-$14.99 ranges as well as the $15 to $19.99 range by 13% to 6% in the lower price segment, and by 27% (!) to 8% in the higher-priced segment. These are prime segments for many restaurants wanting a wine list with a sales sweet spot of $30-$60 per bottle. To be able to consistently sell a wide variety of wine, training is essential â€” sommelier training.
People who do not order wine for dinner in a restaurant are fearful of making mistakes and are looking for strong recommendations from a sommelier or a server. A highly trained sommelier that can also train the staff will remove this looming barrier to increased wine sales.
Remember that well-recommended wines will make your chefâ€™s food actually taste better; ditto for the wine. Poor match-ups will have exactly the opposite effect and are likely to leave your guests, if not downright unhappy, certainly not as pleased as they could and should be.
For those of you with active wine-by-the glass programs, confident servers will sell lots more if they do not have to worry about making a bad recommendation. People sell what they know, and a good sommelier will train the servers to a high level of confidence. When sales by the glass are well tracked, the sommelier will find how to select new additions to the wine list in much the same fashion as a chef tracks daily specials with a nod to some of them becoming new menu items.
There is no substitute for knowledge. We have a huge number of people in the U.S. becoming more interested in wines all the time, and we have a gigantic population base. People used to drinking wine at home will be more likely to order on-premise wines with dinner. But even knowledgeable guests want good recommendations from a trained person, just as they want a well-trained chef in the kitchen.
A good sommelier will cover their salary many times over in sales, provide a better-trained staff and help build a knowledgeable following for your restaurant. Go for it!
Harry Haff teaches Wines and Beverages, Cost Control and a variety of hot foods and baking and pastry classes at Le Cordon Bleu, Atlanta. A hospitality professional for more than 25 years, he has an intense interest in and knowledge of wines and beverages.
Whynatte Latte hosted the Inaugural Whynatte Mixology Competition on April 26th at Sutra Lounge. Eight Atlanta mixologists competed with their best Whynatte libation for a chance to win an iPad 2.
The mixologists competing for the prizer were: Adrian Colazo, W Atlanta Downtown; Evan Hawkins, Opera Nightclub; Ted Santiesteban, The Vortex Bar and Grill; Bache Holand, Here to Serve/Goldfish; Jorie Habian, ONE. midtown kitchen; Ben Earley, Sutra Lounge; Rob Petersen, Bella Restaurant & Lounge; and Mitchell McCormick, The Cheetah.
Adrian Collazo of W Atlanta Downtown was declared the winner with his â€œVelvet Crema-Latteâ€ Recipe
1 Â½ oz Kracken Rum
Â½ oz Velvet Falernum
Â½ oz Monin Almond Syrup
Â½ oz Kahlua
2 oz Whynatte Latte
1 Dash of Old Fashioned Bitters
1 Mint Leaf for garnish
Cocoa for Rim
Pinch of Nutmeg for
Rim coupe glass with cocoa.Â Put all liquid ingredients inside a shaker with the exception of Kahlua.Â Shake and pour into coupe glass.Â Slowly pour the Kahlua against the inside of the glass, so it sinks to the bottom.Â Garnish with mint sprig and sprinkle a pinch of nutmeg on top.
â€œI had a blast playing with Whynatte for this competition. The almond and mint really brought out the latte flavor of the Whynatte. I look forward to using it for more drinks in the future.â€ said Colazo.
Bavarian traditions have been warmly embraced by Americans looking for an excuse for a good food and drink festival, and with craft brewers and brewpubs looking to create their own updated individualized versions of a classic beer style, Oktoberfest holds a special place in the hearts and stomachs of American beer and food lovers.
The beer that we know as Oktoberfestbier changed along with the festival itself. In Bavaria, which has warm, humid summers, beer brewed in the summer would often sour. This was because wild yeasts were used for fermentation, and during fermentation there would often be unwelcome visitors in the form of bacteria and some not so friendly yeast strains. In an effort to control this situation, brewers would cease brewing around the end of March or April when the weather started to warm up. Massive amounts of beer would be brewed that could be stored in cellars that were insulated and packed with ice, or would be trucked up into the ice caves in the Bavarian Alps to be drawn down as needed.
So pronounced was this issue of beer spoilage that in the Reinheitsgebot, or beer purity law of 1516, beer could be brewed only between St. Michaelâ€™s Day, September 29, and St. Georgeâ€™s Day, April 23.
In an effort to protect the beer, brewers could make high-gravity beers, which produces a higher alcohol content than normal. This creates a more sterile environment that prevents the harmful bacteria from ruining the beer. (High-gravity beers are those that incorporate large amounts of malt and actually make the beer heavier than a regular beer. High-gravity beers can actually have alcohol contents higher than some traditional German wines.)
This traditional beer is known as MÃ¤rzen, i.e. brewed in the month of March. The traditional MÃ¤rzen was made with dark roasted malt and lots of it, which resulted in a full-bodied beer with an almost mahogany color. Because of the dark malting, it has a somewhat sweet taste profile without a heavy dose of hops. With notes of spice and caramel, with just a touch of bitterness perceived rather than tasted, this is a complex, rewarding beer, not to be swilled but to be enjoyed and savored by itself or with a wide variety of good food. Despite the dark malting and richness of the texture, the lingering effect of most MÃ¤rzen beers is one, after all is said and done, of dryness on the palette.
For most breweries what is now called MÃ¤rzen is more akin to a style of beer known as Vienna Lager, or Vienna Export. In most English speaking countries, Oktoberfest and MÃ¤rzen are synonymous.
Here are some reviews of readily available Oktoberfest-MÃ¤rzen beers:
Ayinger Oktoberfest-MÃ¤rzen: From one of the last remaining family breweries in Bavaria comes this authentic amber-colored brew. Pronounced flavors of grain, caramel, yeast, earth and a carbonation that is plentiful yet refined. Lots of subtle complexities here, from the almost beige-colored foam at the top to the lingering finish that may remind one of autumn leaves on the ground in its earthiness. Sweet, dry, earthy, a hint of fruit and a little pinch of hops. This beer is medium bodied; its spice and caramel notes makes it a great partner for fresh and smoked sausages, braised cabbage with apples and allspice and almost any type of braised, cool weather foods such as sauerbraten, Yankee Pot Roast, Texas BBQ Brisket and Osso Bucco.
Hacker-Pschorr Oktoberfest-MÃ¤rzen: From this brewery, one of the largest, comes a beer that is marked by an amber or burnt orange hue with a pale foam that goes the distance and does not disappear. The body leaves great-looking rings on the glass as the beer goes down with tastes of bread, malt, brown sugar and yeast. One of the lightest of the brews, itâ€™s a good choice for some grilled foods, such as tuna, swordfish and all kinds of poultry.
Paulaner Oktoberfest-MÃ¤rzen: A color of deep burnt copper with carbonation reminiscent of bubbles in fine champagne. The foam is light beige/cream color that lasts the length of the glass full. Caramel, grainy, malty, a touch of hoppiness leads to a smooth, well-balanced feel on the palate with a sweet yet dry finish. Easy and smooth drinking for afternoon sipping or with lighter charcuterie and smoked seafood or pan-seared trout with brown butter.
Spaten Oktoberfestbier-Ur MÃ¤rzen: The word Ur in German means original or primal. From the brewery that makes one of the most flavorful full-bodied Bavarian lagers come a Festbier that is easy to drink and not overly filling. Not as complex on the nose or palette as some others but a good example of a Vienna lager-style Oktoberfestbier.
Sam Adams Octoberfest: Striking amber color with a light-colored head that stays the course. The flavor is like ordering up a taste of fall with sweet spices, baked apples, caramel, autumn leaves, yeast and malted grain. Medium carbonation and well balanced with a dry finish in contrast to the sweet notes on the nose and palate. Tough finding food this good.
Brooklyn Oktoberfest Beer: One of the lager-style brews with a nice amber color and light to medium body. Subdued aromas of malt and grain with a palette of caramel and a touch of smokiness that comes and goes and makes you want another taste. Goes great with any grilled meats so long as there is not a heavy, sticky sauce.
This is the time of year for these vibrant autumn colors and flavor. Try a sampling to find your favorite. The beers above are readily available in bottles and some are available on draft.
Have fun and enjoy. Prossit! Cheers!
The History of Oktoberfest
Oktoberfest is not old in terms of European history. It is generally accepted that the first true Oktoberfest was held in 1810 to celebrate the wedding of Crown Prince Ludwig of Bavaria to Princess Therese of Saxe-Hildburghausen. For the wedding, which was celebrated Oct. 18, 1810, in Munich, the Prince pulled out all the stops. In a large meadow now called Theresienwiese (Thereseâ€™s meadow) in honor of the new bride, there was a festive horse race and a general celebration. The â€œtraditionâ€ only lasted one year, however, as it was inconveniently interrupted by the war Napoleon started.
The event resumed in 1816 as an arts fair where skilled craftsmen could show and sell their wares. But in 1819, the civic leaders of Munich decided to make it an annual event. In the course of doing this, the fest expanded to around eight days and the actual date for the Oktoberfest was moved to September, which is one of the warmest and sunniest months in Bavaria.
In 1835 as part of the fest, there was a parade to commemorate the Crown Princeâ€™s 1810 wedding. The parade, which today reportedly has an impressive 8,000 people dressed in traditional Bavarian clothing, became an integral part of the event and continues today.
Since 1835 the event has been held on a yearly basis with interruptions for the occasional epidemic, the Franco-Prussian War, the Austro-Prussian War, and World Wars I and II.
Since 1950, there has been a grand opening ceremony where a wooden keg is tapped and the festivities begin. By the 1960s, the fest had become an international event. As might be expected, with such a large event things can get a little rowdy. Some attendees who have a few too many and end up blindingly drunk are affectionately known as Bierleichen, which is translated as beer corpses.
For more moderation-minded people, the event is a treasured family gathering. The music during the day is more traditional oom-pah-pah, with the louder contemporary music beginning after dark. There is plenty of traditional food, amusement rides and lots of great beer.
At Muss & Turnerâ€™s, weâ€™ve created a beverage program that promotes the excitement of exploration and delight of discovery. After all, if we can keep it interesting for ourselves, our guests will never be bored with it. Although we do not have a full bar, our focus on beer and wine has proven an extremely valuable portion of our business, and can be for your restaurant, too.
The successful management of our beer and wine lists and service boils down to one word: TRUST. If your guests trust your intentions then you can meet them where they are and bring them where you want them to go. That is the essence of sales at its very core.
Your beverage program has the potential to become a deeper component than just tertiary profits around food and be a primary reason why people talk about you or continue to come back. Here are some key points on what, how and why you should develop a strong, successful beverage program.
This statement is on the top of our wine list: Our Take on Wine â€“ We love wine, but hate the pretense that often surrounds it! Really … it’s fermented grape juice that is intended to make you feel warm and fuzzy. What really matters most to us is matching the style of wine you’re looking for and whether or not you like it. We put ratings, tradition and brand recognition aside. We trust our own palate and select wines based on merit. Our selection process is simple. 1. Is it delicious? 2. Is it unique? 3. Is it a good value? The list is categorized in style and it changes often.
Selection. My hope is that 95% of our guests do not recognize any wine on our list. The more esoteric, the better. On any given day, we have about 25 to 30 wines by the glass to choose from categorized by style vs. varietal. I am a big proponent of helping people understand the style of wine they enjoy or not, and we intend to have something for everyone. Make your customers feel comfortable that wine is not always about points and pretense. Delicious matters. Recognition does not. Remember that reference to discovery.
Distributors. There are a lot of wine distributors these days, which can be a challenge in managing the sales calls. At any given time, there are more than 15,000 skus of wine in inventory in Metro Atlanta. We look at distributors as partners who are bird-dogging for us and sifting through to get to the gems. I ask them to bring me what they like and feel is a good value. What is the bottle of wine they are hoping they have some left to bring home after riding around town all day? That is the bottle I want. We don’t seek deals and demand tons of free samples. I tell people jokingly all the time, if we ever go out of business, I’ll be damned if I am going to have an inventory full of wine I don’t like.
Inventory & Menu. One of our biggest advantages is also our greatest challenge day to day. We change and print a new menu everyday. We run a very lean inventory for a couple of reasons. 1) we have limited space to store wine, 2) to preserve cash. We don’t buy anything to store and age. We buy it to sell. We buy based on a budget that is based on the sales of the previous week. We order what we think we need to get through the week and will move wines around all the time and if we run out. This dictates having someone to maintain the list and inventory very carefully every day. Our menu will also have descriptions that will hopefully help our guests make a decision (or at the very least make them chuckle). These descriptions also help our servers in guiding guests through their experience with us. So when we have five new wines come in, it is quite the endeavor to manage writing a description, updating POS system and educating staff. I am crystal clear on why many operations buy wide, go deep and do not change the list often. The path we’ve chosen can be a royal pain, but if you believe your efforts are a major part of who you are, it pays huge dividends long term.
Price & Value. Does it taste better than what you perceive it costs? That is value, and that is what matters to us. When we try wine, we never look at the price first. Does it taste good on merit alone? If so, then give me the cost and story of the winery. I would rather sell two glasses of wine for $7 that will rock your world than a one-time hit of $12.
One of the biggest complaints about the restaurant industry is the mark up in wine. Our guests understand that it takes serious expense to procure, prep and produce the food, but they have trouble with the fermented grape juice. I am very aggressive with educating them about this. We explain that when a bottle of wine is opened, it becomes perishable. If we don’t sell three more glasses after the first, we risk losing money or just breaking even. So itâ€™s important that we recoup as much of the bottle cost as possible in the first glass. Most folks understand and respect this. Where they still have a disconnect is we can’t make the same argument when selling an unopened bottle, but they do understand that we can’t sell it as cheaply as a retailer because of higher overhead costs and labor our gross profits needs to absorb.
If you are not aware of how popular craft beer has become in Atlanta, consider this your wake-up call. Many of the cerebral components that make wine so alluring are found in beer as well. I can sell a 750ml bottle of what many consider to be one of the best beers in the world for $24 and it might give more real satisfaction than the most expensive bottle of wine on our list.
Sophisticated consumption has nothing to do with a guest’s wallet size, but more to do with the appreciation of what variables are involved with making great wine or beer. The varietal of hops and where they came from is now being listed on some beers.
If you want to provide your guests with delicious elixirs of uniqueness and authenticity, then beer can be a very powerful component of your business. I love to see the proverbial light bulb go off over the head of a fellow wine geek when they try a tripel or intensely hopped beer.
There are far fewer distributors who are really embracing the beer phenomenon, but it is happening and we are now seeing the wine vendors bringing on beers into their portfolio. They don’t do that unless they think there is money to be made, and the momentum is self-evident.
We make it a point to not sell the standard selection of domestic or imported beers. The beer revolution in Atlanta blossomed in 2004 when the law changed to allow higher alcohol levels for beer. The tide is turning and the minds are opening, but people’s attachment to brand name beers is still a very personal thing. When we don’t have their brand, we need to be very careful that they don’t view it as judgment on them. We explain that we simply want to be a place of exploration with food, wine and beer. We don’t want to sell you something that you can get everywhere. We’d rather force you into trying something new and gamble on the enjoyment that could bring.
The path we have chosen with wine and beer is a more challenging one, but our guests seem to love it and come back often to experience it. It works for us, but may not for you. Start asking your guests what they are interested in. As long as they sense your intent is pure and not purely profits, they’ll give you all the answers you need to determine your own path. That’s what I do. Cheers!
Ryan Turner is the co-owner of Muss & Turner’s restaurant in Smyrna. Now into its 6th successful year of business, Muss & Turner’s is a casual neighborhood spot that has been characterized as “foie gras in your flip flops.” They specialize in a seasonal farm-to-fork menu alongside an ever-changing boutique wine and beer list. M&Ts is currently ranked No. 2 in Atlanta on the Open Table Diner’s Choice survey for Notable Wine List. Visit mussandturners.com for more information.
By Harry Haff, , CEC, CCA, WSET Advanced Certificate, Chef Instructor,
Le Cordon Bleu, Atlanta
A wine list can present many challenges for a restaurant owner or chef, but when the list is balanced and the wait staff knows the wines and can make knowledgeable recommendations to the guest, it can coax the best out of your menu. Yet many restaurants have wine lists that do not seem designed to compliment or augment the menu, and some servers do not know how to sell the wine.
When these situations occur, too often the result may be poorly selected bottles of wine that do not pair well with the foods ordered, or the guest may select a glass of a house wine that seems safe and the restaurateur loses a potential sale.
How can these situations be avoided and turned into opportunities for greater guest satisfaction and greater sales for the operator?
If your restaurant serves a highly seasoned cuisine, say food from southern Italy, your wine choices should be equally robust to stand up to the flavor and texture levels of the food. This does not mean the list is to have only wines from southern Italy, but the style represented by these Italian winesâ€”full flavor, almost overripe fruit, mouth filling, juicy, chewyâ€”should predominate on your list.
The wine list needs to be balanced by matching food and wine styles. Not everyone likes big wines, so make sure there are some more gentle reds available other than those listed above. After all, not every item on your menu is a blockbuster in the taste and texture department.
As part of a balanced list, make sure there are Old and New World wines fairly and proportionally represented. Remember, the goal is to sell wine to everyone who orders your food, and easily recognizable varietal labels and brand names as well as Old World regional labels can appeal to a broad spectrum of your guests, from the novice to the aficionado.
Knowledge is key to driving your wine sales. Consider the following information compiled by Russell Research in 2006:
â€¢Â Â Â 42% of people who describe themselves as wine drinkers are intimidated by restaurant wine lists
â€¢Â Â Â Of this knowledge group, 43% consider themselves novices
â€¢Â Â Â 63% of the self-named wine drinkers prefer a large selection even though many admit their knowledge level is not great
â€¢Â Â Â Guidance is overwhelmingly importantâ€”73% of wine drinkers want more guidance when ordering wine in a restaurant
â€¢Â Â Â And 52% go beyond guidance and want recommendations by the restaurant to assist in making their selections.
Just as there are descriptions of food items on the menu, descriptions on a wine list should provide some information about the taste profile for a wine. Guests and servers can make better wine choices to pair with their already selected food with well-written, short descriptions. This allows wine novices the ability to gain some confidence before ordering.
For the more experienced guest, no one knows all the wines that may be placed on a list. A guest may be tempted to try something a little unfamiliar if he or she has a good reference point for that wine, perhaps by having a short description comparing this wine to one that that may be more well known.
Just as guests look to menu descriptions to assist in making food-ordering choices, so too do guests look for guidance when it comes to knowing something about a wine to be ordered. No one wants to make a mistake when ordering a wine for the tableâ€”it makes them assume both a social and financial risk and can negatively affect the dining experience for the host as well as the guests.
Consider choice: When given multiple choices, customers generally up-sell themselves for their choice. But choice can be a double-edged sword: more than 25% of guests ordering wine in restaurants say they are confused and overwhelmed by the variety of choices present. So your list needs to be balanced regarding the number of choices.
If I change my menu, I should change at least some selections on my wine list to reflect and compliment changes in my menu. If the chef is crafting a summer menu of lighter salads as entrees, grilled poultry and seafood items with perhaps fruit relishes or salsas, the wine list in my establishment that served so well for hearty winter fare will not be compatible or in balance with my summer offerings.
And speaking of, in the Untied States there are more than 40 million people who like white Zinfandel. Think about it. Can the wine that gets no respect be integrated into a respectable wine list?Â To answer this, simply think about why the wine list is there!
Much of what will sell wine in your operation has to do with education and making your guests feel comfortable in the choice of wine they have made to accompany their food. This is where staff training comes in.
Most servers do not know a lot about wine. Just as your chef needs to explain the menu to have servers knowledgeable about the food, so too do they need to be familiar with, and knowledgeable about, the wines that will go with food. If wine follows food, then servers need to know and be comfortable about what it is they are supposed to sell.
If your servers â€œget itâ€ about how the wine list follows and compliments the menu, they will have the confidence to recommend good choices to your guests, just as they would food items. When that happens, your sales will increase and your customers will return because you are creating a perception of value and trust through your efforts.
Harry Haff teaches Wines and Beverages, Cost Control and a variety of hot foods and baking and pastry classes at Le Cordon Bleu, Atlanta. A hospitality professional for more than 25 years, he has an intense interest in and knowledge of wines and beverages.
Tipping the Glass – Georgia’s Restaurateurs on Trend with Wine and Beer
by Shannon Wilder
When it comes to beverage trends, the clear expectation is that flavor is going to carry the day. But what comes to the fore in this economic environment is that, across the board, savvy restaurateurs are focusing as much on the experience surrounding the drinker as whatâ€™s in the glass, whether itâ€™s wine, beer or non-alcoholic beverages.
According to data from the Beverage Information Group, people in the United States consumed nearly 3 gallons of wine per person in 2008. Many are the first round of Millennialsâ€”those born roughly between 1980 and 2000â€” who are now of legal drinking age and who are more savvy about wine at an earlier age than previous generations.
Many diners, including Millennials, will continue to be cost-conscious through 2010 as the economy slowly rebounds, and that means bottles of wine between $25 and $50 will continue to be frequent sellers.
Unique Experiences Reign
Diners have been cautious regarding who they spend their money with, and that wonâ€™t change in 2010. Restaurants who can provide these cost-conscious patrons a unique experience without them spending a bundle will be rewarded with repeat and loyal customers.
For JoÃ«l Brasserie in Atlanta, that unique experience translates to wine tastings and dinners, educational wine seminars, and its French-born sommelier, Perrine Prieur.
Prieur, who grew up on her familyâ€™s vineyard in Burgundy, has an extensive knowledge of wines from around the world. Diners often seek out JoÃ«lâ€”recognized in both 2007 and 2008 with Wine Spectatorâ€™s Award of Excellenceâ€”and Prieur because of her deep understanding of French wines.
Prieur helps educate diners and attract people to the restaurant with monthly wine seminars. The budget-friendly events are $35 for an hour and a half session, complete with hors dâ€™oeuvres, and focus on wines of a particular nation or region, such as France, Italy, Spain or South America.Â She also uses the seminars to focus on new and upcoming trends such as organic and biodynamic wines.
And while the more pricy wine dinners are nothing new, they still do attract diners looking for that unique experience and will continue to be popular in the coming year.
Prieur says she enjoys planning wine dinners for her restaurantâ€™s clientele. â€œEvery month, sometimes twice a month, I try to get winemakers here,â€ she says. â€œI try to do wine parings but itâ€™s boring to do always the same wines. Each dinner needs to try something different.â€ So far, sheâ€™s hosted vintners from Chile, Argentina, Napa Valley, Oregon, Bordeaux and Champagne. A recent wine dinner focused on a vineyard in Burgundy that uses organic practices.
As far as the wines themselves, more clear fruit flavors are starting to overtake the woodsy notes, and brighter flavors are gaining popularity.
Staying Green and Close to Home
Itâ€™s no surprise that the organic and local movement is starting to infiltrate the beverage world given its popularity in chefsâ€™ kitchens, and organic and local wines will continue to pick up steam in the coming year.
While there are several Georgia wineries gaining recognition, Prieur has noticed that itâ€™s been difficult to carry Georgia wines in the restaurant, but sees that changing in the coming years as the local movement continues to gather steam.
She currently offers an ice wine from Clayton-based Persimmion Creek, noting that it pairs well with dishes as diverse as foie gras and a Fuji baked apple with caramel sauce.
â€œIâ€™d like to pour some more and represent a little bit more,â€ she says of Georgia-based wineries, â€œbut itâ€™s not that big a demand yet.â€
Although interest in â€œgreenâ€ beverages is growing, restaurant diners may still be confused about some of the terminology. Part of the issue is that these sustainable labels donâ€™t always have teeth. While food and beverages can be certified organic, there is still some confusion regarding other green terms slapped onto labels. More regulations within the wine industry are on the horizon to help customers navigate these increasingly popular terms, and with it an increase in dinersâ€™ requests for these more earth-friendly options.
Tech-Savvy Equals Wine Savvy
The wine world has not been immune to the influence of the Internet, and Millennials are leading the charge.
From the social networking site Wine 2.0 to more than 700 wine blogs and iPhone apps, technology and the Millennials who use it will continue to influence how restaurant patrons learn about and purchase their wines while dining out. Itâ€™s a trend that shows no sign of stopping, and could influence how restaurants market their wine lists in the future.
Just as the local and organic movement is touching the wine world, so too are there an increasing number of organic and locally brewed beers being requested by diners.
According to the National Restaurant Association, the top trend for beer and wine is locally produced wine and beer, with organic wine and beer coming in fourth and craft beer ranked at No. 6.
A few decades ago, says Nick Kaye, managing editor of Atlanta-based Beer Connoisseur, a newly launched magazine that aims to be the brew crewâ€™s version of Food & Wine, there were just a handful of big breweries producing beer in America.
Now, however, the craft brew movement is in full force. Much like family-owned wineries, craft breweries â€“ defined by the Brewers Association, a trade group for craft brewers, as producing no more than 2 million barrels of beer a year â€“ are cropping up all over the country producing innovative reinterpretations of historic beer styles made from a mix of traditional and nontraditional ingredients.
Youâ€™d be hard pressed to find a drinking establishment in the state these days that doesnâ€™t have at least one local Georgia brewery represented in some form.
That wasnâ€™t always the case. Alan LeBlanc, co-owner of Atlantaâ€™s Max Lagerâ€™s, the stateâ€™s oldest independent brewery restaurant, encountered a sort of bias against craft beers and microbrews when he started up 12 years ago. â€œTheyâ€™d say, â€˜No, I donâ€™t like microbrewsâ€™ because they had one they didnâ€™t like. I think a few years back we reached the tipping point where people realized they might not like all the microbrewed beers, but that doesnâ€™t mean its bad beer. Itâ€™s no different than preferring Merlots over Cabernets.â€
The craft beer movement, Kaye says, â€œis a mission to spread the word of good beer and get it into more peopleâ€™s mouths and restaurants. Beer is being treated these days, and appreciated these days, the way wine always has. Itâ€™s a whole new level.â€
And like wine, several restaurants in Georgia are starting to offer beer-cheese pairings and beer dinners. In fact, Kaye says when it comes to one time-honored pairing â€“ wine and cheese â€“ beer may be ready to give the grapes a run for their money. â€œAt its base level, the effervescence of beer, the carbonation really cuts through some of your more heavy, fatty buttery cheeses like a goat cheese.â€
Many in the stateâ€™s rapidly expanding restaurant market rely heavily on well-prepared servers who function as de facto cicerones, the beer worldâ€™s version of the sommelier, to help educate diners on the increasing array of beer choices.
Kaye singles out Taco Macâ€™s extremely knowledgeable Beverage Director Fred Crudder, who has a sort of club room named after him at the Sandy Springs location. Itâ€™s open to members of Taco Macâ€™s Brewniversity, a combination beer education and customer rewards program that helps patrons navigate the chainâ€™s formidable beer offerings.
Based on Taco Macâ€™s former Passport Club program, the Brewniversity encourages patrons to try new beers. Diners get credit for each different brew they select, and an â€œID cardâ€ keeps track of progress. Those in the program start to receive rewards starting with the 13th unique beer consumed.
Down in Savannah, the Nichols brothers, John and Phillip, who recently reopened one of the cityâ€™s oldest dining establishments, the c. 1933 Crystal Beer Parlor, offer a page-plus menu advising the perfect beer to go with dishes such as chili cheese dogs, gumbo, steaks, shrimp, and even a Greek salad.
Crystal Beer Parlor has close to 100 beers in bottles and 15 on tap. The Nichols also keep a book out in which patrons are encouraged to make suggestions. Most of whatâ€™s currently in stock, Nichols says, is craft brews, including beer from Savannahâ€™s own Moon River Brewing Co.
Max Lagerâ€™s, which, like Moon River, is one of the nationâ€™s 990 brewpubs, now offers beer parings, beer dinners and beer flights with six glasses.
â€œItâ€™s very social,â€ says Alan of the beer flights. â€œItâ€™s very interactive, and youâ€™re developing a nice knowledge.â€
The restaurant has also launched an entirely new event, Beer Judging 101. LeBlanc says patrons are presented with an official beer-judging sheet and compare one of Max Lagerâ€™s house brewed beers with similar bottled varieties. The idea is to learn to assess the characteristics of each.
â€œWe conduct a beer judging seminar to teach people about the different varieties,â€ he says. â€œIâ€™ll bring our beer and several bottles of a similar style together and lay out the official beer judging guide sheets and have some appetizers beforehand. Then weâ€™ll come in and sit down and do a beer judging seminar so people can see varieties, â€¦ what the differences are in character. Thatâ€™s something I find to be a lot of fun.
â€œItâ€™s about different, unique flavors and experiences,â€ he adds. â€œNot seeking the same old same old but trying to discover something interesting, something that you like, something thatâ€™s different.â€
Unlike many of the stateâ€™s dining establishments with hundreds of beers available, Max Lagerâ€™s carefully culls its offering to some 30 bottled beers in addition to the handful of house brews. While some offeringsâ€”usually a dark lager, a pilsner and Vienna-style red beerâ€”stay on tap year-round, LeBlanc says brewer John Roberts reserves one or two of the restaurantâ€™s taps for a seasonal brew such as a barleywine beer that will be ready to pour this spring and an Imperial Oatmeal Stout, which is earmarked for St. Patrickâ€™s Day.
Before the new Crystal Beer Parlor owners relaunched the restaurant, they sat down with a local beer expert and planned out the offerings. Among them is a selection of retro beers called â€œBeers of Our Fathers,â€ which includes such familiar names as Pabst Blue Ribbon, Schlitz, Strohâ€™s, Dixie and Genesee Cream Ale.
Nichols also keeps an eye out for vintage beers â€“ he happened upon some vintage 2006 and 2007 Stone Double Bastard, a California ale. â€œI got the only two cases in Savannah and sold them in 24 hours,â€ Nichols says. The higher the alcohol content, the longer the beer keeps, he adds. But donâ€™t expect any 100-year-old vintages; beers last about five to six years.
He also plans to start carrying gluten-free beer in the near future. Heâ€™s had a few requests for this type of beer, which is made from sorghum, and also has a family member with celiac diseaseâ€”such people canâ€™t tolerate gluten, which normally comes from grain, especially wheat.
The industry is also seeing an upswing is canned beers, but not like the ones your father used to drink. Canned beers have had a bad rap for so long, but with new lining technology, more breweries are finding that the cans keep the beer fresh longer and give a truer taste with some types of beer. Daleâ€™s Pale Ale, a craft beer out of Lyons, Colo., is just one example of a high-end beer thatâ€™s sold in a can and has started to have a wider distribution in Georgia.
Itâ€™s this mix of quality and perceived value that will continue to drive the beverage industry into 2010.
â€œConspicuous consumption is not cool anymore,â€ LeBlanc says. â€œFor somebody like us whoâ€™s always offered a high-quality product, weâ€™re not the cheapest but weâ€™re not the most expensiveâ€”weâ€™re being successful in this environment.â€
Dairy farming has been a part of Georgia’s history since its very founding, literally. It was James Oglethorpe, the founder of the colony, who brought the first dairy cows with him when he arrived here in the early 1700s.
Technologies such as pipeline milking equipment, cooling and transportation improvements and hormones for milk cows have ensured a slow and steady rise in milk production, as well as the growth of the dairy industry as a whole.
In 2005, the dairy industry was valued at $258 million to the state of Georgia. When you take into account other dairy-related sales and industries, dairy has a total economic impact of more than $500 million.
A large part of the financial success of Georgia’s dairy industry has been its mindset of squeezing as many drops of milk as possible out of each milk cow.
For some in the restaurant industry, this means cheaper prices. But it’s also been frustrating for restaurant owners and chefs who are looking for a higher quality of milk.
Customer demand for local and/or organic food is at an all-time high. But regulatory and industry practices create substantial hurdles for local, small-scale milk producers, often to the detriment of local economies.
Dairyman Russell Johnston encountered this firsthand. In fact, he’s still dealing with it.
Russell’s father started milking cows for a living in 1956. The Johnston Dairy Farm, located in Newborn about 50 miles east of Atlanta, was passed down to Russell, under whom it survived but not necessarily thrived as a small operation that sold commodity milk to wholesalers.
There are about 100 cows roaming Johnston’s hilly green fields, which are splattered with wooded areas that serve as ideal shade cover for the cows on brutal summer days.
About five years ago, Johnston realized that his farm’s survival was at risk because of federal production controls that keep profit margins razor thin for any farmer selling any product on the commodity market.
“I started to look into bottling our milk and eliminating the processor, and trying to capture a little more of the retail sales here on the farm,” he says. “I’ve got two little boys, and if they choose to, I want to give them something they could make a living at instead of having to get big or get out.”
After three years of research and visiting other smaller farms, Russell broke ground on his own processing and bottling plant.
He began bottling his own milk in November 2008, and the bureaucratic obstacles that Johnston overcame – and still struggles with – demonstrate why buying local, fresh milk is a difficulty for most restaurateurs and consumers alike.
Johnston said some state regulators bentover backwards to help him, but of other, more higher-up officials, “I wouldn’t say they tried to stop me, but they were a little unwelcoming. On the county level, I had to fight tooth and nail.”
He says county officials first tried to tell him that his farm wasn’t zoned correctly for bottling. Then they told him that if the plant was built to a certain size, he would need to install a $25,000 fire suppression system – for a building made out of concrete, housing all stainless steel equipment.
Johnston sidestepped that issue by keeping his plant small. It wasn’t until he’d built his plant and was preparing to start bottling his own milk that he encountered the single greatest obstacle and threat.
The Federal Milk Market Administrator, a cooperative to which Johnston belongs, requires Johnston to sell his milk to the co-op, then buy it back before he can bottle it.
“Even though it never leaves the farm, it costs us about 30 cents a gallon to buy and then bottle our own milk,” says Johnston. “And that’s what’s keeping us from getting into the black financially.
“What needs to change is that there needs to be more support from local and state government. Other states have homestead farm liaisons who would have sent someone out to hold my hand through this process. That would not only have made it easier for me, but it also has a ripple effect that supports local economies,” Johnston says. “That’s why those other states do it. It’s basic economic development support, and there’s zero of that in the state of Georgia. Zero.”
On a recent summer morning, just an hour before temperatures led man and beast to seek shade, Gabriel and Julie Simpson bought several gallons of Johnston’s bottled buttermilk and whole milk to take to the chefs at their restaurant, The Glenwood, in the East Atlanta Village.
They’ve only recently discovered Johnston’s milk, and since they live in nearby Madison, it’s convenient to buy from Johnston a couple times a week.
Restaurants were some of the first customers who sought out Johnston Dairy milk. So did mom-and-pop grocery stores, and a passionate type of consumer that Johnson had never encountered before.
“We’ve got people that come get our milk because it’s local and our cows are grass-fed and pastured, and they want to support their local farmer. They care about where the product comes from, and the quality of the background of the product correlates to the end product,” Johnston says.
“The other kind of person that buys my milk – I’ll just say they are real enthusiastic about it – is the kind of person that absolutely buys it for taste only. They wouldn’t care where it came from. They say our 2% tastes like grocery store whole milk.”
Johnston’s milk does taste different, which is just one reason top restaurants seek out his product. The richer taste is due to the minimal amount of processing the milk goes through.
“The large plants, they heat it to 171Â° for 15 seconds, which destroys all the beneficial amino acids and enzymes that are in the milk,” he says. “All we do to our whole milk is low-temperature pasteurize and cool it off and put it in a bottle. It’s time consuming and inefficient, but the quality of the product – there’s no comparison.”
The alpha and omega of the dining experience, cocktails and desserts, seem to keep selling, even in lean times. For the customer,they represent the fun and decadent side of dining out, but for the restaurant owner, these two profit centers can be a lucrative path to securing both the bottom line and the goodwill of their customers.
Despite the recent squeeze that is being put on the restaurant industry, it seems that diners who are still patronizing restaurants are bent on having what Jonathan St. Hilaire, Head Pastry Chef for the Concentrics Restaurant Group, calls “the full experience,” and are figuring out ways to have their cake and eat it too, even on a smaller budget.
As such, Chef St. Hilaire is reporting fairly steady traffic in the dessert side of Concentrics’ operations even through the current economic pressures. “[Sales] change more from winter to people getting ready for swimsuit season.”
The costs to the kitchen of bringing a little sweetness to the lives of customers are relatively small when compared with the majority of the food budget.
“I don’t have much loss to take into consideration,” says Chef St. Hilaire. “You might burn something here and there, but at the end of the day we’re talking about pennies. A 50-pound bag of flour is maybe $15. An egg is three cents.” Not all the necessities are to be had for pennies, though, and Chef St. Hilaire reports wholesale chocolate costs that can range from $4 per pound to “$12 per pound for some of the best chocolate.”
Still, Chef St. Hilaire points out that the benefits of an attractive dessert menu cannot be understated. “If I have a plate cost of $1.25 and I am getting, maybe, $6 for a dessert, the rewards
are so much greater.”
Among the more popular dessert trends right now is the use of savory ingredients mixed in with sweet, like using goat cheese in cheesecake, or the popular tart frozen yogurts that have begun to dot the Georgia restaurant scene. A trend Chef St. Hilaire sees as very advantageous, however, is the offering of mini-dessert “tastings,” served in small portion vessels like shot glasses.
He is not alone. The National Restaurant Association’s chef survey “What’s Hot in 2009,” released last October, listed “bitesize/ mini desserts” as the second most popular food trend based on a nationwide poll of more than 1,600 chefs.
For Chef St. Hilaire, it makes sense from both a culinary and a customer service angle.
“People don’t eat the same way anymore. They don’t just expect one flavor note through a whole meal. Dessert tastings let them explore.”
The added incentive of smaller prices for the mini-desserts can also be a big draw for the diner.
“Even coming off a dollar, two dollars from the regular price is reasonable,” says Chef St. Hilaire. “If I was selling a 5-ounce tart, and now I am selling a 3-ounce tart, it’s my way of saying to the customer, â€˜I’m going to come up with a way I can keep selling more desserts, but at the same time I’m going to help you save some money and you still get to enjoy them.’”
The farm-to-table food trend, in which chefs strive to use as many local and/or organic ingredients as possible, gets limited play in the pastry kitchen, with Chef St. Hilaire only applying the concept where it will make the most difference in flavor or quality, rather than across the board.
“If I am creating a tart, my flour’s organic, but the butter, the sugar, probably not,” he says.
A score of excellent local fruit would be treated with minimal prep to highlight the quality the chef is paying for.
“I’m not going to stew them or put them in a cobbler with a whole bunch of other flavors. I’ll probably use them on top or macerate them, something that will bring out that flavor for the customer. You have to think about how you are using your ingredients.”
Mixologist Greg Best, a part-owner of Holeman and Finch Public House, also sees this “farm-to-glass” approach as a valuable trend in the restaurant bar trade. Best firmly believes in “using all fresh juices, dispensing with high fructose corn syrups and other chemicals, and making your own grenadine syrup or mint syrup for juleps.”
Though labor intensive, Best believes the jump in quality and flavor provided by fresh local and organic fruits and juices keeps his patrons coming back for more.
Says Best, “I think it has gone a great way to make cocktails visually appealing,” he says. “The customer getting to see those fresh juices squeezed right in front of them adds to the value of the drink they’re going to enjoy.”
Navarro Carr, head mixologist from Beleza Lounge, also sees this approach as a way of connecting to the customer.
“From a storytelling standpoint, knowing something about the types of ingredients you use and specifically where they are from is a win-win.”
Dovetailing with the rise of fresh ingredients as a focal point of the bar trade is a craze for classic cocktails. As the customer takes more of an interest in these drinks, a great mixologist has to make sure that they are a part of his or her repertoire.
“People are into it,” says Best. “They are educating themselves, so bartenders have no choice but to stay on top of that learning curve. You buy books and do a bit of research so that you know how to make, say, that Manhattan in the correct way, or that whiskey sour properly, with egg white.”
Carr says that with these recipes, some of which have been around since the 1800s, along with some creative twists on some traditional bar favorites and “something a little out of the box,” a good bartender will be able to create a bar menu with the broadest appeal to the customer base.
Both Chef St. Hilaire and Carr advise not to underestimate the value of hosting events to help drive traffic and create relationships between the bar or restaurant and its customer base. Chef St. Hilaire recommends courting locals
who are in the know with an invitation to a meet-and-greet for the venue.
At Beleza, Carr and his staff host monthly cocktail classes that have developed a very regular following.
“It’s one of our biggest successes,” says Carr. “On a slow night we can do this cocktail class and attract 25 to 30 people who have purchased the all-inclusive cocktail experience.”
In addition to the benefit of developing a loyal crowd of educated cocktail enthusiasts, the students often stay for additional mingling that develops into meals.
Carr is greatly in favor of hosting events as often as the bar calendar allows. “Things are lean right now,” he says, “and building relationships is crucial.”
With the nonprofit group or individual booker delivering both the audience and usually some sort of marketing for the event, Carr sees these as opportunities that should never be passed up.
“You’re missing out if you let even one of these events slip through your fingers. People get to experience your bar, see your menu, taste your food.” When a good time is had by all, the captive audience of the event night often turns into repeat business.
Best doesn’t necessarily agree. “It’s tricky. Events and sponsorships can be great, but it can hurt you in the long run if you get in the habit of relying on them. You’re not operating on a true scale. [At Holeman and Finch] we don’t book events during normal business hours. I think it may be more important for restaurants who are trying to establish themselves in an area where there is a high volume of restaurant traffic.”
Ultimately, while popularity is going to drive business in a bar or restaurant, both Best and Carr are wary of creating artificial buzz, which can backfire in the long run. “You can manufacture hipness. You pay attention to the current trends in music, on TV. You see what is drawing people to look and apply these trends to your place,” says Best. “But I think that kind of hip can go out of style just as fast as it comes in. A place that is doing something that feels real to the consumer has a way of becoming fashionable whether you intend it to or not.”
“When all the smoke is gone, true relationships, good service, creativity and connecting with the community – that’s the long-term hipness,” says Carr. “That’s the hipness that keeps you in business.”