COCKTAIL CULTURE HERE TO STAY
COCKTAILS are fashion or at the very least a fashion accessory. To be seen with a COCKTAIL is an expression of style and like music, art, architecture, theatre and design, in many ways they reflect the attitude of the public.
Right now in Ireland, the COCKTAIL culture is soaring. No matter where you look – in magazines, newspapers, television – you see people drinking COCKTAILS. The pressure is on all bar managers to meet this growing demand and satisfy our customers’ expectations.
The very word “COCKTAIL” will conjure up a feeling of excitement and partying. There are numerous stories as to how the name “COCKTAIL” came about, but even the Oxford Dictionary concedes that its origin is unclear. “COCKTAIL” is the accepted term for all mixed drinks, alcoholic or otherwise. One early written reference to the term "COCKTAIL" can be found in an American magazine, ‘The Balance’, published in May 1806. It stated that – ‘a COCKTAIL is a stimulating drink, composed of spirits of any kind, sugar, water, and bitters’. The first “mixologist”, the modern and fashionable term for a COCKTAIL bartender, was a bartender called ‘Professor’ Jerry Thomas born in Connecticut in 1830. ‘Professor’ Thomas earned his title by publishing the first bartenders guide in 1862.
On January 16, 1920, the National Prohibition Act became the 18th Amendment to the United States Constitution. This meant it was illegal to manufacture, sell, transport, import, or export any "intoxicating liquors." Despite this, much of the general public still had ways to gain access to the illegal substance, often through speakeasies and private parties. Gangsters, such as Al Capone, focused on bootlegging and moonshine, making Chicago a centre of booze and gambling. The popularity of COCKTAILS at that time was at least partly due to the need to cover up the bad taste of some of the crudely produced hooch smuggled by the bootleggers. Even though many well known classic COCKTAIL recipes of today originate from the 1920’s, the modern Irish COCKTAIL drinker of today, with their experienced palettes and discerning tastes, wouldn’t accept the inferior products used in COCKTAILS from the bygone era.
Nowadays COCKTAILS can be made with premium spirits, liqueurs and an abundance of fresh fruits available from our suppliers. With the constant creation of new drinks and their imaginative and sometimes risqué names, COCKTAILS have become the must have item on any bar menu.
Making a COCKTAIL has just four main requirements. The first three are easy: You need ingredients – the spirits, liqueurs, juices and carbonated waters (called ‘stretchers’), ice and fruit for garnish. You need equipment – a shaker, blender, muddler, strainer, bar spoon, etc. And you need glassware – martini, hurricane, slim jim, collins, old fashioned – you decide which are appropriate. The fourth requirement, however, is the tough one. You need to understand how to use these three elements to produce a professionally made COCKTAIL.
To setup a COCKTAIL service in your bar will require planning and preparation. Naturally, it will require some investment in purchasing equipment and glassware but this is only to be expected. Many managers and bartenders that are new to COCKTAILS feel they have to learn hundreds of recipes. This is not true. A bartender only has to know how to prepare the COCKTAILS that are available from your bars COCKTAIL menu.
Therefore, it is essential that your bartenders receive training on how to correctly use the equipment and fully understand how to prepare COCKTAILS from your COCKTAIL menu. In the early stages it may be a good idea to have a quick reference guide behind the bar to assist new or inexperienced bartenders prepare and serve COCKTAILS according to your house COCKTAIL list. This is sometimes called a ‘cheat sheet’.
FAIL TO PREPARE- PREPARE TO FAIL
I cannot emphasis enough how important preparation and consistency is in COCKTAILS. All garnishes such as lemon, lime, orange slices/wedges, mint leaf, cherries should all be prepared in advance. If you’re using gomme syrup (sugar syrup), fresh lime or lemon juice – these should also be prepared before opening or during quiet periods. Every COCKTAIL should be consistent in taste and appearance; this is where many COCKTAIL bars begin to fall. I have, on occasion, ordered the same COCKTAIL in the same bar three times during an evening and received three very different drinks. This will definitely discourage repeat business. Be consistent by using the specified glass, make the COCKTAIL exactly to recipe and always use the appropriate garnish (if any). Another aid to consistency is to ‘premix’ some high demand COCKTAILS. Take for example a ‘Long Island Ice Tea’ which has five alcoholic ingredients – instead of reaching for five different bottles in a busy bar, it makes more sense to prepare a bottle of the ingredients exactly pre-measured and mixed together ready for pouring into the shaker with the lemon juice and gomme syrup. The fresh lemon juice and sugar syrup may also be premixed in advance – this mixture is called ‘Sweet & Sour mix’.
Please note: It is important not to add the sweet & sour mix to the COCKTAIL premix until the drink is being made in the shaker. These prepared premixes should be clearly labelled and should not be confused with commercially available COCKTAIL premixes.
Most commercial COCKTAIL premix does not contain alcohol. The ones that do in my opinion are a sad excuse for a COCKTAIL. Premixes come in several flavours including strawberry, raspberry and mango. They can be liquid, powder or puree. Fruit purees are sometimes used as a substitute for fresh fruit in the preparation of COCKTAILS such as a ‘Frozen Strawberry Daiquiri, etc. Commercial premixes are a good effort but not as good as the real thing, the same way that a microwave dinner is not as good as a freshly cooked dinner but still acceptable. Commercial premixes may suit certain nightclubs and busy bars where time is more important than quality but will not suit high-end hotels and restaurants where reputation and quality is paramount.
One thing is certain the Irish COCKTAIL market is growing like a Celtic tiger, and the bars that get in on the act early, by providing a complete range of drinks that include beer, wine and cocktails will reap the financial reward.
A customer shouldn’t have to go to a top class hotel or restaurant to enjoy a quality COCKTAIL. They should be able to enjoy a COCKTAIL in their local pub. COCKTAILS are here to stay! And remember Who Dares - Wins!