Keeping Drinks New & Impactful

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More Champagne, Peas from Castle Hill Inn in Newport, RI

How do you make your cocktail program stand out in the crowd today?

It’s a question many bars and restaurants struggle with given the intense interest and competitive nature of the world of mixology.

At the iconic Newport, Rhode Island destination, Castle Hill Inn overlooking Narragansett Bay, making sure a New England summer getaway keeps up to date without offering time-consuming cocktails means infusions and syrups make sense. Take the More Champagne, Peas - it’s simple enough, except for the crafty inclusion of a savory vodka infusion, made with peas and mint.

The infusion combines vodka, dry vermouth, mint, lemon zest, peas and simple syrup, a sort of sweet garden Martini batch that is ultimately topped with sparkling wine and garnished with a pea tendril or flower. Simple, elegant, innovative and quick to serve: a perfect sort of summer drink.   

Beverage Director Anthony Boi also took a fresh look at a Bloody Mary reboot, the Bloody Shrimp Cocktail. For it he used a tomato-flavored vodka, added Clamato juice and his house-made sambar-cilantro purée. Sambal oelek is a spicy Southeast Asian chile sauce made from red chiles, salt and sometimes vinegar, with onions, lemon or lime juice, shrimp paste, fish sauce, garlic, or sugar also making an appearance depending on the recipe. Boo adds dashes of lime and lemon juices, some cilantro and simple syrup to his mixture that is then pureed, and the drink is topped off with a poached shrimp and a lemon wheel.   Two simple and impactful drinks, made easy by kitchen prep that also allows them to be served quickly.

In Washington, DC, Ivan Iricanin, the owner of Ambar restaurant, recently named Rico Wisner as the brand mixologist of the area’s first Balkan restaurant. In his new role, Rico will spearhead Ambar’s beverage program, which boasts over 40 different varieties of Rakia, a spirit produced by the distillation of fermented fruit popular throughout the Balkans.

Rakia is one of the still-undiscovered spirits in terms of international mixology, but Wisner is already at work changing that, starting with the G&T (grappa Rakia with herbs, handmade tonic and lime) and the Grappa Smash (grappa Rakia, lemon and mint).  Wisner just returned from Belgrade where he developed the cocktail list for the new Ambar location in Serbia, which will open later this summer.  

It wouldn’t take much for seekers of new tastes to be attracted to either of these places, yet neither really compete in the intensely competitive world of craft cocktail bars, where the new quickly crowd out the old. But they have a hook, essential when trying to build a regular guest following, because they need not go very far to find someplace else introducing the new for them.  

Get more beverage tips and tricks at the 2016 Nightclub & Bar Show in Las Vegas on March 7 – 9.