Whether they are called apptails, couptails, or minis, appetizer-sized cocktails are small in size, but big on charm. They appeal to indecisive guests who just can’t pick one drink from the list, as well as those concerned about the amount of alcohol in ordering several full-sized libations.
Mini cocktails also enable a bar or restaurant to showcase and sample signature drinks. Casual American dining chain Houlihan’s, for instance, offers a mini Martini flight of three small sips for $10.
“People love to ‘taste around’ when it comes to cocktails,” explains Suzanne Frentress, director of brand marketing for the 83-location chain. “The mini Martinis have a cute factor which guests love, and allow them to try different flavors.”
All mini options include one variety of Absolut vodka, along with fresh juices and other mixers. The Hibiscus Mini mixes Absolut Hibiskus with Solerno blood orange liqueur, lemon and cranberry; the Key Lime Mini combines Absolut Vanilia with key lime, house made fresh sour and half and half; and the Mandarin Mini uses Absolut Mandrin, Malibu coconut rum, mango and fresh lemon and orange juices.
The mini cocktail trend is akin to the small-plates dining experience, says Richard Vickroy, assistant manager of the Houlihan’s in Hershey, PA. “It’s like going to a tapas restaurant and having a little bit of this and a little bit of that.”
The small “couptails” offered at The Southwestern-focused Anasazi Restaurant and Bar, pack a lot of flavor into their tiny size. “Guests view them as they do tapas, and also appreciate the fact that the drinks don’t contain mixers or sweeteners,” says bar manager James Reis, who created the couptails. “This allows them to enjoy the bold flavors of high-quality liquors.”
The four couptails offered at the 92-seat restaurant, which is located in Santa Fe’s Inn of the Anasazi, are priced at $6 to $7 each. The Bon-Bon combines Maestro Dobel tequila with Grey Goose Cherry Noir vodka and Godiva Chocolate liqueur, while The Republic stirs Campari with a blend of Bowmore 12-Year Scotch, preserved lemon and lemon juice, garnished with a blue-cheese stuffed olive. The Kiss Kiss mixes Bushmills Irish Honey Whiskey with Pama pomegranate liqueur and Bols Amaretto, and the Gold Dust Women is made with G’Vine Nouaison gin, Esprit de June liqueur and Solerno blood orange liqueur.
FOR YOUR AMUSEMENT
Beyond providing guests with opportunities to taste several tipples on a menu, small cocktails can also whet their whistles and tide them over until the craft cocktail they order can be executed. Guests at the 60-seat New York craft cocktail bar Dead Rabbit Grocery and Grog receive a demitasse cup of punch as they are seated.
“The amuse bouche offers a sense of belonging—you feel at ease, comfortable and at home,” says Dead Rabbit bar manager Jack McGarry. “It’s important that guests have something to drink right away, as that means they are prepared to wait five to ten minutes for a well-made cocktail.”
Welcome punches served include Cross Punch, with pineapple-infused Pisco Porton, Green Chartreuse, chamomile tea and lemon; Counter Punch, with Jameson Black Barrel Irish whiskey, Dead Rabbit Jamaican rum, pimento dram, Lapsang souchong tea and Irish stout; and Knock-Out Punch, with Jameson Black Barrel, cranberry and elderflower liqueurs, hibiscus tea, dry cider and Burlesque bitters.
McGarry said the bar’s original intention of serving punch was to remove its stigma as a “grotesque mixture” consumed at college parties. “It has become much bigger than that now; it acts as an amazing welcome to a world-class cocktail bar.”
Small cocktails also make great Happy Hour specials. Dominick’s, a Little Italy-inspired restaurant in West Hollywood, features $4 mini versions of five popular cocktails during its “5 O’clock Meeting” daily from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m.: a gin or vodka Martini, Manhattan, Tequila Daisy (with Napoleon Mandarin, lime, honey and grapefruit peel), and an Italian spin on a Champagne cocktail made with prosecco and strawberries.
“The minis are three and a half-ounce coupes that look graceful and adorable,” says Dominick’s general manager Jessica Schmidt. Beverage director Nikki Sunseri was inspired to add the petite potables to the menu to give the former Rat Pack hangout more of a classic Hollywood vibe.
A mini cocktail’s more manageable size allows experimentation with peace of mind. For instance, each mini Martini flight at Houlihan’s is equivalent to one cocktail.
“Everyone at some point decides they want that second or third drink because there are too many good options on the menu,” Vickroy says. “Why not offer them in the smaller size to provide that safe environment?”
Reis of The Anasazi Restaurant and Bar agrees. “I wanted guests to sample more than one drink without having to worry about consuming too much alcohol,” he notes. “With each drink containing only an ounce of liquor, it’s not overwhelming to consider sampling more than one.”
MAKING MINIS WORK
Adding apptails to the menu requires specific consideration. You might think that smaller drinks are easier to execute than their larger counterparts, but that’s not the case, says Reis of The Anasazi. The smaller size “is the exact reason they can be so difficult to produce—they require extreme accuracy!”
Houlihan’s Frentress suggests bartenders batch the mini cocktails ahead of time if possible, to avoid getting overwhelmed during busy shifts. That’s why punches, house-made infusions and batched/bottled signature cocktails tend to work well in small formats.
Hard Rock Café in late March unveiled a new beverage menu that includes the Air Mexico, a sampling-sized portion of its signature Margaritas. Guests can choose three flavors, which include watermelon, mango, cucumber, Blue Curacao, pomegranate or wildberry for the flight.
Bartenders at Hard Rock Cafe can prep the classic Margarita base, which uses Avion silver tequila and Cointreau, and then easily assemble the flights by adding the various custom flavors on order, says Cindy Busi, Hard Rock’s senior director of worldwide beverage. The Air Mexico, which is served with chips and house-made salsa, is priced at about $13.99.
Quality control is key when batching drinks for a mini cocktail or punch program. The Dead Rabbit purchased an $8,000 punch-circulation system, which allows staff to keep 40 gallons of punch cold and in suspension to prevent spoilage.
The drink vessel is important too: The Dead Rabbit sourced demitasse and regular porcelain tea cups, and vintage punch sets, since the bar also offers punch by the bowl for $55 to $90, depending on the number of servings.
“Presentation is everything to the guest,” Vickroy says, from the glassware to the rim to the garnish and flavors. In the end, appetizer-sized beverages should produce the same visual appeal and flavor as any cocktail. ·
Kelly Magyarics is a wine, spirits and lifestyle writer and wine educator in the Washington, D.C. area. She can be reached on her website, www.kellymagyarics.com, or on Twitter and Instagram @kmagyarics.
Tiny Tequila Tipples
Mix-your-own mini tequila cocktails are a creative option for guests who want to experience the Mexican spirit in a new way. At Mex, a 209-seat, family-style Mexican restaurant in Bloomfield Hills, MI, guests can order tequila flights comprised of any of the more than 100 tequilas on the menu. The tequilas, priced $4 to $100, can be sipped before or mixed with a selection of sangritas served alongside.
“Mixing and matching different tequila brands and styles, and sipping them with the chasers, provides limitless possibilities,” notes director of training Jaimee Tepker. Mex’s Sangrita Herbaceous has notes of cilantro and cucumber notes, Sangrita Citrus mixes in lime and spice, and Sangrita Spice is infused with red pepper. “It’s interactive and fun, not to mention educational,” she says.
At El Centro, D.F., a duo of Mexican restaurants in Washington, D.C. owned by Richard Sandoval Restaurants, tequilas are infused with seasonal fruit, herbs and vegetables. They’re served in flights of three, with a traditional sangrita palate cleanser, for $21. The tequila infusions render unique mini cocktail-esque libations that often appeal to guests that tend to eschew the spirit.
“Even when tequila is mixed with orange juice or soda, or made into a cocktail, it does not even come close to the beauty, flavor and aroma of a properly made infusion,” says Robert Day, national beverage director for the 35 concepts of Richard Sandoval Restaurants. Twelve seasonal flavors include cucumber/watermelon, cranberry/orange zest, pineapple/serrano and strawberry/basil, all attractively served in wrought iron swirled stands with angular shot glasses. “The presentation of the tequilas along with the sangrita is unique and impressive,” he says. —KAM