Local and seasonal drink ingredients may be all the rage, but Trevor Frye, beverage director of the Washington D.C.-based Jack Rose Dining Saloon and its downstairs cocktail bar Dram & Grain, doesn’t like trends. That’s why “we have an ‘anti-seasonality’ program using preserves,” Frye said during a March 31 cocktail session at the Nightclub & Bar Convention and Trade Show in Las Vegas.
The bar uses fruit preserves to make syrups that offer rich and often unexpected flavors out of season. The bar actually makes and cans its own preserves, Frye said, but store-bought products work just fine. “The best thing about them is that they are preserved —you can put them on the shelf until you’re ready to use them,” he said.
Frye recommends equal parts preserves to hot water (170 degrees) to make a fruit syrup. But you should experiment and taste syrups at different ratios, because some fruits and preserves can be more intense than others.
What to do with your fruit-preserve syrup? “We serve a Clover Club cocktail in the winter,” Frye said. The drink, made with gin, lemon juice, raspberry syrup and egg white, is typically associated with fresh raspberry season, he explained. “So when it’s snowing outside, that raspberry flavor really surprises” and appeals to guests.
That’s not to say you shouldn’t use fresh ingredients in drinks, Frye said. You should—especially fresh citrus juice. Here are a few other tips from his session:
Always have three to four “lifesaver” cocktails on your list. These are drinks that are easy to make or that can be made ahead of time and batched, Frye said, so they give your bartenders a break from stirring and shaking.
“Batched cocktails are the best thing in the world,” he said. “Made accurately and with care, they can be better then drinks made while the bartender is under pressure.”
Pack a punch. Frye is a big fan of having a bowl of punch on hand so you can offer a complimentary glass to guests while they’re waiting to be served. This buys you some time when your bar is busy, he noted, it makes the guest feel welcome “and who doesn’t like something for free?”
What’s more, punches offer a preview to the quality of your cocktails, and they get guests to sample something different, Frye said. They’re also a way to make use of some of the sample spirit bottles you might get from your distributor, he added.
Demystify drink descriptions. Don’t assume guests know what all the different spirits are and what they taste like, Frye said. Dram & Grain’s 13-page cocktail menu includes a key along the bottom to describe ingredients and flavors.
For instance, Suze is a popular drink ingredient now, but not everybody knows that it’s a gentian root liqueur from France, Frye said. You should also use adjectives next to drink descriptions or maybe even a scale to rate drink complexity, he added.
Ease guests out of their drink ruts. It can be hard to get some customers to break out of the Vodka & Soda or beer habit, Frye said, but you can try by using something they’re comfortable with.
For example, beer cocktails and shandies “are an awesome way to get beer drinkers into cocktails,” he said. Or you can often substitute beer for another ingredient, such as making a French 75 cocktail with lights beer instead of Champagne.
Always be hospitable. Personality is everything in being a bartender and working in the service industry, Frye said.
If your bartender or any member of your team has a bad attitude, “your guests aren’t going to have a good time,” he noted. “We are not in business to bestow negativity on guests.”