If you’re like me, every waking second is planning for the summer drinking culture. My drinks certainly take on a different dimension in the summer and for good reason. There is a certain seasonality in the flavors. If you are using bottled juices and powdered sour mixes, you’ll be remiss if you don’t use this list to at least try to ‘Raise the Bar’ with regard to my easy to love, easy to do techniques. And isn’t it about time that you actually started to make money instead of always writing checks to the disposal company?
What I’m discussing, I learned early on in my career. I was up in Portland, Maine. Working in a small restaurant named Alberta’s in the area known as the Old Port. The year was around 1986 and food still hadn’t taken place in Maine, save for some old style French places that were seasonal, way Down East, there wasn’t much going on culinary wise. Thus, keeping the guest happy was more than just making another crab cake or baked stuffed lobster. You have to use as much of what comes in the door as possible. It’s just that easy. Here are 5 summer cocktail trends I’m seeing:
Ok, here’s the drill. Fruit is going to rot in the summer, walk in or not. There is nothing you are going to do about that. Unless you use up that entire case of oranges in a couple days, there’s bound to be one at the bottom (of course) that destroys the whole crate. So I recommend removing each orange- or citrus fruit. Try not to handle the fragile fruit too much- or it will bruise. If you find something that doesn’t look right, a soft spot, green dots that brush off easily, or out and out rot- throw it out immediately. And get some white vinegar in a walk in safe container. Fruit flies are the bane of your restaurant. It sickens me to see them swarming around the bar. I don’t even want to tell you why they are there. If they are, you’re not clean enough. Tough love costs you your guests. Don’t mess up here… Too many things can go wrong! If you’re not slicing your fruit just before the shift starts, remember- a dried out garnish is going to keep me away. Permanently. Your fruit is going bad early? Roast it. Add some basic whiskey or gin to it. Muddle it. Make Punch. The list goes on and on.
2. Ice Machine
ARE you cleaning your ice machine? Even once per week? Or once per month or once per decade? If you want to get someone really unhappy, show them the inside of your ice machine. Let them run their eyes over the lines that feed your bottom line. No, don’t do that. Break it down. Disinfect the parts. Throw out all that old ice. If you are not doing this weekly, there is a problem. Hey, I started in this business as a pot-scrubber/dish washer. This was one of my jobs back in the 1980’s…
3. Large Ice
Freezer space is at a premium in a restaurant. We all know that. But remember when you had a day off last? And you went to your favorite bar? You know, the one that cuts their own ice for their cocktails? No one is saying you should tie up valuable freezer space, or subject your bar staff to sharp instruments and hack saws. But if you are like me, you’re always looking for an advantage over your competition. There are these little plastic ice cube trays. They don’t go in the dishwasher so don’t put them in there- hand wash them. You can buy them in a multitude of shapes and sizes. Remember how cared for you felt when your expensive whiskey came in a heavy rocks glass with a large chunk of ice? That it was something special instead of just another quarter cube ice piece diluting your drink? It’s cheap. Looks cheap. Talks cheap. I care. And get your bartenders to put a glass of water down in front of their guest when they sit down. It acts to slow things down a bit. And when it’s really busy, that couple minutes makes all the difference from a drink to a hand-crafted cocktail. Worthy certainly of the 18 dollars you’re charging for the honor.
4. Summer means seasonality
Go to the local farmers’ market. Develop a relationship with someone who is not overly manipulating the soil. If you can, bring your core staff out to the farm to show them who is growing their produce that they use behind the stick. Isn’t it nice to say- the bourbon may be from Kentucky, but the peaches that we roasted for your bramble were grown just over the ridge from here. Want to try one? Ka-ching goes your register. Ingredients are everything. And if you are able to break down the silos from front to the back of the house and get everything into synergy together and start actually doing something for the betterment of your restaurant. Oh, a man can dream of course! A good start is with fresh flavors. Take a month off from using bottled juices- maybe introduce a specialty cocktail that uses a local fruit, freshly juiced? I’m always hoping that happens. It does catch my attention and I’ll sing your praises.
I touched on punch before and I’ll do it again. If your bar is not doing a punch of the week you are throwing money away. There are so many ways to do well in the bar biz and so many ways to fail. You wouldn’t be reading these words if you didn’t know or knew someone who has failed. I’ve failed. More than once. It sucks to close the doors- so rather than dwell on what we can’t fix, let’s for a moment try to put ambition as our driver and make something that is memorable and bold. Try getting a book on Punch. I have quite a few in my books. One book in particular is named Bitters and Shrub Syrup Cocktails. Punch needs to be on your bar- enticing your guests. Ringing up sales and using all that liquor that was going, quite literally- down the drain.
Vietnamese Style: Lemonadesque Mint Julep
- 2 oz. Barrell Straight Bourbon Whiskey: Batch #011
- 1 oz. Vietnamese Lemonade Shrub
- Crushed ice
- Fresh Spearmint
- ½ oz. Demerara Sugar
- Muddle your fresh spearmint very lightly with your Demerara sugar until the oils come out.
- Use a wooden spoon because if you use metal in a silver cup all bad things will happen. You are using a sterling silver/copper core cup, right? If not, all is not lost. Use a thick-sided glass that will frost up nicely…
- (Save your nickels and buy a Julep cup … it’s worth it.)
- Add some ice, add some Bourbon
- Add some Shrub and so on. Alternating until your glass is full of your drink
- Make a cone like a volcano shape on top of the drink with ice and drizzle some of the Vietnamese Lemonade shrub over the top
- Serve one to your friend before drinking your own
- You can garnish with fresh mint and lemon zest. That is nice.
- Smile while you prepare it. The drink knows.