Bonefish Grill, the Tampa, Fla.-based restaurant and bar with 29 locations is holding the “Best Cocktail Featuring a New Spirit” contest at Tales of the Cocktail in New Orleans, which takes place this week. Applicants submitted their recipes online — featuring a new spirit that’s only been around since 2009 — and on Saturday, the selected participants will present and pitch their best cocktail creations to a panel of judges: Dale DeGroff of kingcocktail.com, Francine Cohen, editor in chief of Inside F&B and Bonefish Grill’s Director of Bar Innovation, Leigh Merritt. We contacted Merritt to hear all about what Bonefish is looking for in a new cocktail, why this competition is important to Bonefish Grill and what the winner and his or her libation can expect after the victory.
First Round: What is Bonefish Grill hoping will come out of its “Best Cocktail Featuring a New Spirit” contest?
Leigh Merritt: At the Bonefish bar, we are constantly striving to provide our guests with an exciting, fresh, “big city” bar experience right in their own backyard – with handcrafted cocktails featuring fresh, seasonal ingredients, regionally sourced craft beers and an eclectic wine list. We are always in search of the newest trends and ingredients in the industry and this contest is just another fantastic avenue to try something new and different on our bar menu.
FR: Why are you searching for a new cocktail?
LM: We are inspired by our constant quest to find the best quality ingredients and ideas in the beverage world. Our guests know they can count on us to always keep their bar experience fresh, unique and interesting, and we constantly challenge ourselves to meet and exceed this expectation. Superior quality cocktails and consistency are the basic ingredients in Bonefish Grill’s signature “bar fresh” recipe.
FR: It’s interesting that Bonefish is reaching out and involving people outside of the company in its drink development. What was the reason for this approach?
LM: We are constantly engaging professionals in our beverage program. Inspired ideas and new perspectives are crucial to keeping our bar relevant, and we are always inspired by new ideas and terrific presentations.
FR: What does the Bonefish customer like to drink?
LM: We have wide-ranging group of guests who enjoy everything we have to offer – from fresh seasonal Martinis and flavor combinations to the classic, clean whiskey and cola or a regional craft beer selection. My current favorites include our eclectic and locally relevant wines and our signature twist on the classic Bee’s Knees Martini and summertime Watermelon Martini. Our commitment to freshness lies at the Bonefish Grill core – in the kitchen and at the bar – and our fresh fish lends to a perfect food and drink pairing. We always aim to provide a customized bar experience suited to satisfy and inspire each guest’s distinctive palate.
FR: What are the judges looking for in a new Bonefish cocktail?
LM: Entries will be evaluated on a variety of criteria, including taste, innovation, recipe inspiration, freshness and presentation, among others.
FR: What cocktails do you feature on your menu now, and which ones are your best sellers?
LM: We are highlighting two seasonal cocktails that are guest favorites for the summer. The fresh Watermelon Martini is a hit with freshly muddled watermelon and fresh watermelon “popsicle” garnish. Watermelons have been especially ripe and perfect this summer, and our guests love this specialty Martini to refresh and cool off. Also widely popular is Bonefish Grill’s take on the classic Bee’s Knees Martini, a 1920s Prohibition-era throwback. We add a few unique ingredients to give our version a signature twist! We also offer a terrific “$5 All Day, Every Day” bar menu of cocktails and drinks.
FR: Are you looking forward to Tales of the Cocktail this year?
LM: We are excited to experience what’s new and different at Tales of the Cocktail this year and explore the possibilities with our winner. Our craft bar prides itself on a fabulous “big city” bar experience, and we look forward to the entries that offer something new for the Bonefish Grill guest.