Frequently changing cocktail menus have put many bars on an endless creative merry-go-round. One month after the next demands new ideas, fresh drinks and constant creativity. One Eared Stag in Atlanta takes that challenge seriously with Mikey Kilbourne at the helm. Not only does One Eared Stag rely on seasonal produce and genres, the Atlanta restaurant and bar also leverages specific themes to craft a short list of drinks that changes monthly.
Beverage director Kilbourne’s spring cocktail menu, for example, was launched the month of March with ingredients that featured fresh garden flavors. (This is despite the fact that some of the seasonal ingredients like carrots and cucumbers weren't available from local producers yet). The idea, says Kilbourne, is to “try to do a unique menu every month to introduce guests to new flavors and new ideas. I don’t want to be doing the same thing over and over again, and i think guests often feel that way too. Our clientele expects the menu to change all the time. It wasn’t like that when I started but now it’s part of what we do.”
With themes like Japan this May, and a Southern month in his plans coming up, Kilbourne has to be juggling ideas constantly. This approach to building the menu is one way to make sure a bar is up to speed on contemporary trends. The March menu included the Queen Bee (bourbon, amontillado sherry, homemade thyme and honey syrup, and bitters, served shaken with a thyme sprig); the Taproot Creamsicle (vodka, carrot juice, lemon, orange bitters and egg white), which also includes a housemade concoction Kilbourne calls orange and vanilla drinking vinegar (orange juice, Champagne vinegar and vanilla extract). For the Fresca de Muerte, he made a grapefruit cordial and a cucumber vermouth. While some housemade ingredients can be labor intensive, these are relatively simple to make and are easy to keep fresh.
April brought the Japanese theme: Ooh Mommy (sochu, Cynar, the sour Japanese citrus sudachi, orange, and a tincture made with a chile-based spice mix called togarashi); Zen Combat (unfiltered sake, french vermouth, lime, grenadine, maraschino, bitters); and Satori Flex (Japanese whisky, sherry, plum vinegar, mint, ginger beer).
“With our Japanese cocktails, I was looking to make some drinks that were light and sprightly, using expected ingredients like unfiltered sake and Japanese whiskey, along with the sorts of fruits and other ingredients common to Japanese cooking,” he says.
Changing not only drinks but themes and drink styles, and crafting a host of ingredients, makes not only sourcing and developing recipes a constant process, it also makes staff education and salesmanship key. But especially in the restaurant bar environment, that is an important component of attracting and keeping guests interested today.