In the Spirit
How to be fast and flavorful
By Tony Cross
Now that our state’s restrictions are easing up and spring is in full effect, more and more folks are venturing back out to their favorite restaurants and watering holes. It’s nice to have a form of normalcy back, isn’t it? I know the word “normalcy” has been thrown around a lot lately, but if you’re a foodie (and drinkie) like I am, you appreciate what it means.
Despite the dumpster fire that last year left us, it is interesting to see how different businesses got out of their comfort zone and adapted to the chaos that quickly became everyday life. My business has been rooted in our slogan “flavors to go,” and we definitely had our run this time last year — we delivered over a thousand growlers of our carbonated cocktails to help medicate cabin fever sufferers. Batching is what we do. Now that we’re almost back at full capacity in bars and restaurants, I’d like to offer a few ways where you can get those drinks out fast while being able to connect with your guests for a longer period of time.
I still don’t get why more places don’t have punch on their menu. Once you have a great recipe in place and get it balanced, you should be able to make other concoctions around your base recipe. There are myriad examples in cocktail books and even more on websites that will give you the specs you need. It’s up to you to understand why these ratios work and go from there.
I read online a few weeks ago that a good rule of thumb for punch goes like this: 8 parts spirit; 5 parts water; 3 parts sour (citrus); 2 parts sweet (sugar cane, demerara, gomme syrup, agave, etc.); 1 part bitters or bitter liqueur; 1 part salt. For your sweet and sour, it always pays to start with oleo-saccharum. A trick I learned from bartender Jeffrey Morganthaler is to vacuum seal your oleo-saccharum syrups ahead of time and place them in the freezer. This way you can just pull out whichever one you need for the punch of the day. Let it thaw and build your punch.
Not only is a good punch delicious, it allows speed of service. Getting out cups of punch during a busy shift is effortless and allows you or your bartender to interact with your guests without running behind the bar like a crazy person.
My business, Reverie Cocktails, started offering bottled cocktails to go last year for a few reasons. First, we know our flagship carbonated cocktails are not for everyone, and we wanted to attack sales from a different angle. Second, I know firsthand how delicious stirred cocktails are when they’ve had time to marinate. So, we started by delivering bottled old fashioneds and Sazeracs, and then graduated to martinis.
Yes. Martinis. I amaze myself how dumb I can be. How in the hell did I not offer these years back when I tended bar? One of the issues with a martini is you want it to be very cold when it arrives in front of your guest. Problem is, on a busy night it might take a server longer than usual to get that cold martini out. And even if it’s cold when it arrives, your guest’s second half won’t be as cold as the first. That is, unless they throw them back like I do daiquiris.
Enter prebatching. Being able to pull a bottle of martinis out of a freezer, and just pour into a chilled glass (be it a coupe or traditional martini glass), is a little bit of heaven. Your cocktail is now piercingly cold. Not only is it frigid, but now it will stay cold in that glass way longer than making it from scratch. I’m pretty confident in saying that it’ll be a long time before I make one at a time at my place from here on out. It’s too easy and yummy to just pour from the bottle. It’s one of life’s simple luxuries.
Don’t forget to dilute your stirred cocktails with good drinking water, and in the case of martinis, you’ll need to scale back on the H2O, or your bottled cocktail will freeze.
This is not a shocker. It’s my business’s expertise. To be honest, cocktails on tap can be easy, yet painful at times. If you’re starting out for the first time, start simple. Just because you have a great cocktail on the menu doesn’t mean it’s going to go well on draught. One does not simply take the ingredients and multiply by 50 and then fill up a keg and go to town.
Our customers often ask, “Can you do this drink? It’s killing our bartenders on the weekends.” Sometimes we can, sometimes we can’t. Try a modified highball cocktail (vodka plus soda) on draught. Add some of your favorite bitters and/or a liqueur to match. You will soon see what flavors amplify, and how you’ll need to balance it out.
A quick rule of thumb: Do not serve anyone a 2-ounce-at-a-time pour of carbonated spirit or they will light up like a Christmas tree. And make sure the water you’re using is delicious. It makes all the difference.
I have other suggestions, too, and if you’re interested in starting your own draught cocktail program — or just have questions — feel free to contact me via the email address below. PS
Tony Cross is a bartender (well, ex-bartender) who runs cocktail catering company Reverie Cocktails in Southern Pines.