COURTESY OF JADE BAR
Mixers, juices, purées, syrups: cocktail ingredients come in an increasing variety of forms and flavors. So, how do you choose which works best for your operation?
“The first question a new bar should ask itself is: What drinks does it want to be famous for?” says Philip Raimondo, director of drink development & training at Patrick Henry Creative Promotions, a food & beverage consulting firm based in Stafford, Texas. “Is it going to be a Martini bar? Feature frozen drinks? Or is it going to be a nightclub kind of place and serve everything?”
Then, Raimondo says, the operator can look for the ingredients including the mixers and juices needed to make those reputation-building drinks.
There are practical considerations as well, of course. At Foxwoods Resort & Casino, Mashantucket, Connecticut, volume is so high and storage so limited that options available to most operations are out of the question. The busiest of the resort’s 24-hour casino service bars, which produce complimentary drinks served in plastic cups for patrons on the gaming floor, keeps 14 servers and two bartenders hopping.
“The servers ice their own cups, then hold and turn the tray while calling out the drinks for the bartender, who has a liquor gun in one hand and a soda/juice gun in the other,” says Robert Hertlein, Foxwoods’s assistant beverage director.
Meanwhile, the resort, with 32 beverage outlets, doesn’t have much storage, says Hertlein. This must be kept in mind when choosing a Bloody Mary mix, for example or frozen mixes, both of which require refrigeration during the day. “It’s all bag-in-a-box or you keep it in the well and then refrigerate at night,” explains Hertlein.
And customer expectations have to be considered too. In an effort to accommodate its customers’ varying tastes, Foxwoods switched to Bloody Bold, a Bloody Mary mix known for its middle-of-the-road spiciness. “Our patrons are pretty mainstream and we needed something most of them will like. Some don’t like too spicy and you can always spice it up for those who do,” explains Hertlein.
On the other end of the spectrum, the considerations are different. Town, often named in NYC press as having the best cocktails in town, prides itself on having a “three-star” bar and charges accordingly. “We charge $14 per drink, so you’re going to get a $14 drink,” says Andrew Goldberg, who manages the restaurant’s lounge.
To live up to its reputation, Town must make careful bar-business decisions. So cost considerations, such as the price of the ingredients or the extra labor involved Town’s bartenders arrive at 2 p.m. to prepare fruit purées for the evening’s business are different than those of a more standard restaurant. “It’s definitely more expensive, but then we’re charging $14. And we’re doing well with it,” explains Goldberg.
Why purées? Why not juices? Why not a flavored liqueur? “The thickness and the quality, there’s just such a difference,” says Goldberg. “With our Apple Martini (made with Ketel One vodka and apple purée), you feel like you are eating apples. You are not blown away with alcohol.”
Kathy Casey, a Seattle-based food-and-beverage consultant, attracted national attention when she appeared on the Food Network program, “Unwrapped,” and urged people to become “cocktail snobs.”
Is Casey against using prepared mixes? Not necessarily. In fact, she has recently come out with her own line, called Kathy Casey Dish D’lish Cocktailors.
“They are shelf-stable, but we worked very hard to make sure they are super-delicious,” she says. There are three versions: Classic Cosmo, Sapphire Mojito and Lemon/Lime Sour.
“Squeezing lemon, lime and orange to order: if you can get that to work, that’s great,” says Casey, “but if you’re doing any volume, it’s going to be difficult. Many of our clients do use fresh, but I think many are going to switch over to our new products.”
MIX IT UP
When it comes to spirits, the key trends have been an increased consumer interest in quality and brand recognition. Those trends seem to be spilling over to mixers and other non-alcohol ingredients. Mott’s, for example, introduced a new version of its Mr & Mrs T Bloody Mary mix Premium Blend, in February. Made with 100% juice and all-natural ingredients, Premium Blend was developed at the Culinary Institute of America.
Mott’s has also just introduced Rose’s Cocktail Infusions, extensions of the best-known brand of prepared lime juice. Rose’s Cocktail Infusions come in three flavors: Cosmo, Sour Apple and Blue Raspberry.
“At high-end restaurants, where they are making premium cocktails, quality is important and, often, these operations try make their cocktail ingredients from scratch,” says Tony Jacobs, marketing director for Motts’s mixers and foodservice division. “What we’re trying to do is offer products that meet that ‘from scratch’ level of quality.”
Other major mix brands sell themselves as quality products. Daily’s touts that its products are made with real fruit purée and juice. So does the fast-growing Island Oasis, whose frozen products contain no preservatives, artificial colors or flavorings.
The major advantages of using a mix over making a drink from scratch, say mix suppliers, are efficiency, reduced waste (and hence, less cost) and consistency. “Sounds really good fresh juices all the time,” says Bill Hinkebein, director of marketing & sales for American Beverage, maker of Finest Call, another major mix line. “But when crunch time comes and you’re out of product, what are you going to do?”
Wildhorse Café in Beverly, Massachusetts, turned to mixer products from Island Oasis, when they wanted to do a frozen drink. “But we are not a blender-type bar,” says Laura Wolfe, general manager. Their solution, developed with Island Oasis: the Guava Lava, made with vanilla vodka and a floater of Chambord and Mambo Mango, made with coconut rum and a floater of Myers’s Dark Rum. Wildhorse prepares these signature recipes and keeps them frozen and ready-to-go in an Island Oasis machine behind the bar.
Even if an operator chooses to go with a mix, there are still more decisions to be made. Which brand do you choose? “A lot of mixes are horrible,” says consultant Raimondo. “It may say strawberry on the label but there’s not a strawberry in that bottle.”
TASTE AND SEE
So, the next questions operators need to ask themselves, Raimondo says, are “Number one, does it taste good? And number two: which mixer works best for my operation?”
A major difference between mixes is that some are shelf-stable, meaning they contain preservatives, and others, such as Island Oasis, are frozen and preservative-free. Many people like the idea of no preservatives and say that a frozen mix tastes better, but practical matters, such as storage and ease-of-use, have to be considered. “A frozen mix can be billed as all-natural,” says Hinkebein of Finest Call, a shelf-stable line, “but you pay a cost for that. With frozen, there can be a lot of waste. You can keep it refrigerated, but it will get old in a few days.”
How the product is packaged can also have an impact. Last year, Daily’s came out with a mixed six-pack case containing one-liter bottles of grenadine, lime juice and triple sec products, down from a 12 count. “This makes it more convenient for the bar manager in terms of storage,” says Jaynee Dykes, junior brand manager for the line.
While some mixer companies’ reps bash the idea of using fresh products, others encourage it. Raimondo points to several national chains, including Outback Steakhouse, which squeeze their own orange and grapefruit juice to order, and TGIFriday’s, which purées its own strawberries. “If Outback, a 700-plus chain, can do it, then so can you,” says Raimondo.
“No, it doesn’t cost more,” says Rich Verrecchia, Outback’s beverage director, “and while it takes a little longer, it’s really just a matter of a few seconds.” Outback Steakhouse restaurants are equipped with electric juicers. Another Outback concept, Cheeseburger in Paradise, uses hand juicers. Depending on the individual Outback restaurant, the made-to-order citrus juices are used in up to four of the 18 drinks listed on the cocktail menu.
Not that Outback is entirely against the use of mixes and other prepared ingredients. It uses its own proprietary dry mix for its Margaritas, and uses syrups in some cocktails. Outback may specify on their cocktail menu, for example, that its Margarita can be flavored with the addition of Ocean Spray cranberries or that a cocktail is made with a Monin syrup.
“I think it helps consumer confidence,” says Verrecchia.
WHAT YOU SQUEEZE
Not Your Average Joe’s, a Boston-area chain about to open its seventh location, uses freshly squeezed orange, lime and grapefruit juices. Its Margaritas are made with orange juice and an in-house prepared sour, made with freshly squeezed lime. “I worry about the flavor profile more than anything else,” says Jamie Storbino, chief operating officer and a partner for the chain. “Also, though it may cost more to do fresh juice, there is an added benefit: it is a selling point for the educated consumer.”
Raimondo says it comes back to what works for the particular concept. “It is worth every penny if that is the way you promote yourself, if it is something you are known for,” he says, “but if you are just a regular old bar than maybe nobody’ s going to care.”
Preparing your own ingredients can also be “more cost-effective [than using a mix],” he says. While a shelf-stable mix might cost six to eight cents per ounce and a frozen mix 12 to 13 cents, he points out, puréeing strawberries bought sliced in a sweetened syrup, as TGIFridays does, costs four to five cents per ounce.
“It does require some TLC and labor,” Raimondo says. “However, the product is superior and nothing can compete with it.”
SWEET AND LOW DOWN
While they have long been used in Europe, syrups are a relatively new addition to the bartender’s arsenal in American markets. “Five years ago, I didn’t even know about syrups,” says Outback’s Verrecchia.
One advantage of using a non-alcoholic syrup over a flavored schnapps in cocktails is the ability to lower the alcohol level. They can also be used in states whose laws make it difficult or impractical to obtain flavored spirit products.
Monin’s president and ceo, Bill Lombardo, points out that concentrated syrups are best used when flavors already present in the drink need a boost.
“Our products are often used in conjunction with a juice or a purée, where that juice or purée is a carrier for the spirit, but doesn’t have enough of a flavor on its own. That is especially true in frozen drinks,” he explains.
Syrups can also be used to intensify drink flavors, especially those made with flavored rum or vodka. “Flavored spirits smell terrific, but may not have enough of a flavor following the aroma,” says Lombardo. “A syrup can round out and complete the drink.”
Red, White and Blue, Island Oasis
Operators themselves can also create many more flavors by combining different syrups or pairing them with other ingredients, such as a purée. “You might pair a mango purée with a pineapple syrup,” says Torani’s Klaus. Not Your Average Joe’s, for example, has paired a cranberry syrup and a pineapple one with coconut rum and Absolut Citron to create its Wild Orchid.
Torani’s Klaus notes that sugar-free syrups are “a huge trend” in her industry. “They are the fastest growing segment of the syrup market,” she says. Sugar-free syrups, usually made with a sugar substitute, tap consumers’ desire for flavor without the calories.
When it comes to cocktail ingredients, the choices have grown dramatically. Outback’s Verrecchia marvels at a new line of floral syrups from Monin. “You can now get a rose flavor,” he says.
In short, the possibilities are endless.
For some cocktails, operators go beyond fruit juice and instead opt for purée made from fruit pulp.
Fruit-purée products can be extremely high quality. “They were originally intended for use in classic French pastry,” explains Jennifer Sims, marketing manager for Perfect Purée. “But in the last five to seven years, we’ve seen them increasingly used in cocktails.”
In fact, the use of purées in cocktails is the fastest growing segment of the company’s business, she reports. Some of the most popular cocktail-ingredient products include strawberry and raspberry, but also more exotic ones, such as prickly pear, passion fruit and pomegranate.
A prepared purée product, like Perfect Purée, can offer operators more consistent quality than purées made in-house, Sims says, and it require less labor. Perfect Purée products come frozen, in wide-mouth 30-ounce plastic jars equipped with standard bartender pour spouts.
Kira Klaus, foodservice marketing director for Torani, which produces the Frusia line of shelf-stable fruit purées, concurs. “Our products are consistent year-round, compared to the purées a restaurant could make from fresh fruit, from strawberries they get in March versus the strawberries they get in September,” she says. “And there are no issues with handling and storage.”
Purées often impart a more intense fruit flavor. “I won’t even order an Apple Martini when in another restaurant anymore,” says NYC restaurant Town’s Andrew Goldberg. “Ours are so much better.”
And customers notice. Although Perfect Purée is primarily a foodservice company, it does regularly receive calls from consumers looking for their products. “One woman, in New York, had a cocktail made with passion fruit purée once, and now, over the last few years, has ordered 11 cases of product, at $150 per shipment, from us,” says Sims.