Lately I have had a burning question on my mind. Maybe you have had the same question, which is, why do so many cocktails still suck?
For some time I wondered if many bars and restaurants were simply unaware of the incredible cocktail renaissance that has taken place for the past decade plus. But this is clearly not the case as many places serving cocktails made from the worst spirits and mass-produced modifiers and juices from plastic jugs. The only trend they have embraced is the higher average price tag.
Clinging to Bad Cocktail Practices
The bars that serve you premixed cocktails with low-market spirits have convinced themselves of many lies.
The first lie is that they think that you don’t know any better. This misconception continues because most of us are too polite to tell them that their cocktails suck. (This is a rule that I don’t always obey.) Sure, we often do subtly tell them by not ordering another but critical clues of customer behavior are often lost on the type of doltish management that believes that you don’t know any better.
The second lie is that it requires too much work to juice fresh fruit. I hear that often at the beginning stages of my bar consult days until today and it still stops me in my tracks every time. After staring blankly at the client for an uncomfortable span of time they usually chime in with, “maybe we do have time.”
The third lie is that using quality spirits in a cocktail is just a waste, as the spirit inevitably gets lost in the mix. This is of course wrong but understandable as this was the conventional wisdom for a very long time. Can you imagine a pizza maker telling you that he uses cheap cheese because once you add the tomato sauce and the pepperoni no one can really taste the cheese? I will grant you that if you are making a bloody mary with Uncle Lucifer’s 4X Bum Burner that your choice of Vodka is probably trivial.
Another unsuspecting roadblock to filling the world with fresh cocktails is the too fancy by half specialty cocktail bars. The ultra precious cocktailing establishment is doing for cocktails what snotty sommeliers had done (and still do) to wine appreciation. If the customer is required to have some sort of magic decoder ring to understand the list of ingredients listed on the cocktails menu and then has the pleasure of waiting 20 minutes for said cocktail… Give them a break ladies and gents. Your customers and potential customers have just learned how to order at Starbucks without getting the stink eye.
The Welcoming Cocktail Middle-Ground
If you are one of those unlucky patrons still shell-shocked by overly complicated cocktails or nasty factory-made drinks I can provide a few soothing words. Cocktails need not be complicated and they certainly need not be retched. There is a sensible and obtainable middle-ground.
Understandably many owner/operators are frustrated as they frequently know little about the all-important spirits categories and brands and little about bartending. They often rely on a bartender who has learned all there is to know about bartending in the past year (every ounce of sarcasm intended) who now insist upon being called a mixologist. When a bar owner watches customer satisfaction and sales drop through the floor as their staff is enthralled with their art and have little to no understanding that they are employed in the hospitality business a swift reaction or overreaction is inevitable.
Don’t fret – as I’ve said there is a sensible middle-ground where fresh ingredients meet quality spirits in cocktails that take no more than 60 seconds to construct. When quality products meet engaging and efficient service good things happen. This is what it has always been and always will be about.