What do you do when a full liquor license isn’t available?
It’s long been an issue in many states, although there are twists in California law that allow operators quite a bit of leeway, in that beers and wines as well as fortified wines and low alcohol spirits are less rigidly controlled. Sojus/shochus, for example, are not unfamiliar in California restaurants, due in large part to a large Korean American population, and Korean restaurants and bars.
Operations with second tier licenses can easily incorporate soju/shochu, the Korean and Japanese spirit made from rice, wheat, barley or sweet potatoes available at 24% alcohol by volume, the legal limit for those licensees.
The light and easy spirit ranges from fairly neutral and industrially produced to high quality, subtle and expensive. In terms of cocktails, it can serve wherever vodka does, leaving operators with plenty of lower alcohol options. Some bars focus on vermouth, port and low-alcohol amaros. Others take the sochu route not only as a vodka substitute, but also as a replacement for other white spirits. The spirit performs well in tropical juice-based drinks, and some bars offer sochu Mojitos.
There are other low ABV options as well. At Demitasse Roastery & Kitchen in Hollywood, in addition to a full range of espresso and tea beverages (which include a house-made chai, Kyoto-style cold brew, and Lavender Liquid Hot Chocolate with a torched jumbo marshmallow), Demitasse employs wine, sake, vermouth ,and coffee to create a multiplicity of beverages. There’s the Iggy, an Italian greyhound with Antica vermouth and grapefruit juice poured over ice in a salted glass; the Green Arrow, made with Dolin blanc vermouth, muddled mint, Kyoto cold brew coffee topped with honey cream; and the Adult Spice Latte with Cardamaro and cinnamon syrup. Herbal notes are showcased in the Blood Orange Sake Swizzle with sake, lime, and a rosemary and black pepper garnish, along with the Soju Julep built in a julep cup with a powdered sugar garnish.
This time of year, additions that lengthen a glass of beer without adding too much more alcohol are very popular, but there’s no reason that concept can’t be extended all year long. The key benefit to the consumer of offering lower alcohol drinks – a lower likelihood of being over-served – also benefits the operation, as one strong and stirred Manhattan variant may have two to three times the kick of a Bamboo (sherry, vermouth and two kinds of bitters). But two Bamboos are likely to ring in a higher profit margin and still leave the customer open for perhaps one more drink.