Four Distinct Stand Out Cocktail Programs
What sort of menu suits best?
Bistro? Steakhouse? Fusion? Italian? Gastropub? Winebar? Perhaps the most significant impact of the cocktail renaissance can be seen outside the hardcore of drink geekery, as restaurants strive to make coherent their beverage and food program.
Here’s one example, via The Upholstery Shop, a NYC winebar owned by Chef Kurt Gutenbrunner of Wallse fame, who shortly will be offering his famous Glühwein and Austrian Christmas cookies. Overseen by wine and beverage director Leo Schneemann, the cocktail menu is built on the bar’s wine focus: there’s the Antique Fruit (fresh black berries cooked with cherry vinaigrette, mixed with red wine and soda water), the Polyester (a red wine sour with a dash of whisky bitters) and the Bamboo (sauvignon blanc, jasmine tea, fresh ginger).
There’s also a trio of Champagne cocktails – the Caprice (lavender and citrus), the Baroque (peaches and lemon thyme), and the Bombay Damask (strawberries and aloe). And one that offers promise for summer sipping by the pitcher – the Scarlet (shiso leaf muddled with cucumber, citrus and white wine.) All wine-based, all infused with the current craft cocktail sensibility.
In Philadelphia, Emmanuelle opened with a drink menu just as French. Local cocktail whiz Katie Loeb gathered numerous Gallic aperitifs, liqueurs, wines and spirits to craft the drinks, and the lengthy list works its way beginning with classic aperitifs (Kir, Kir Royale and Pompier) and moves to seven sparkling refreshers (including La Vie en Rose, made with Sobieski vodka, Marie Brizard Raspberry, lemon juice and Vacheron Brut). From there, the totally French ingredient list opens up some in the “Cocktails Chez Nous” section - Blarney Stone
Some restaurant concepts lend themselves more to fists full of whiskey and deep, dark Napa reds than cocktails, but in Chicago, Grass Fed's owner Scott Kay, which opened this past summer, is an American steakhouse in a farmhouse setting and with a different idea built on infusions.
Grass Fed house infuses chai and oranges into rye, pecans into rum, apples into vodka, jalapeños into tequila and, most interestingly, smoke into Buffalo Trace bourbon. The infusions are served straight or in cocktails, some of them premade and bottled - the Arnold Shankar is a blend of chai-infused bourbon, house-made lemonade and chili, while the Bucktown Mule is ginger beer, apple- infused vodka and lime). Oh, and that smoked bourbon? It turns up in the Smoked Black Manhattan with Averna Amaro and Angostura Bitters.
Of course, sometimes appealing to the customer's sense of style and knowledge will give off the notion that a beverage program is especially smart. In Atlanta, at Cook Hall in The W Buckhead, the food is robust - pork belly sliders with chili mayo, crispy duck tacos and the like. Cook Hall’s promo material states that “the drinks are as important as the food,” and they've brought in beverage director Belinda Chang, an alumna of New York’s Monkey Bar and The Modern and Charlie Trotter’s of Chicago, has created a tableside craft cocktail self-service idea, with the Cook Hall Cocktail Kit. Along with a guest's choice of spirit, the kit includes vials of syrup, sparkling mixers, bitters, herbs, barware and a recipe book. That's one crafty, Tom Saywerish way to stand out.
Pictures provided by Grass Fed