Each Seabourn ship employs six to 10 bartenders, with two or three circulating between venues. Van Flandern initially spent 10 days with Seabourn’s bartenders, teaching them for four hours a day. He then followed up at a later date with a week-long course that reiterated core messages.
This training involves a comprehensive spirits education—including an overview of all spirits on the back bar, methods of distillation, area of origination and so on—plus garnish theory, bar tools review, mixology training, flavor profiling, social responsibility and a study of Michelin Three Star-beverage and dining standards.
Once they complete the program, Van Flandern says, “we’re certifying these bartenders as mixologists.” The training program also allowed Van Flandern and Seabourn to identify staff standouts and elevate their rank. Each cruise ship now lists one head bartender who oversees the cocktail program; he or she can also contact Van Flandern while out at sea should any questions arise.
Van Flandern has succeeded as a teacher, Prelog believes, because he brings an “amazing amount of knowledge and passion to the table, and that has really resonated with the staff.”
It’s also an investment in the careers of the bar staff. Van Flandern thinks that the mixology movement is helping bartenders see beyond their jobs as just a way to pay bills, and rather feel secure that they can spend the rest of their lives in this service.
“My clients have very low attrition among staff, because I help these bartenders take a personal and professional pride in their careers,” he says.
Seabourn is an all-inclusive cruise model in that everything is included with the initial cost, including alcoholic beverages. The complimentary spirits include well-known premium brands like Ketel One and Don Julio tequila, Van Flandern says, as well as lesser-known craft spirits.
To keep up with the interest in mixology and rare bottles, Seabourn has amassed a collection of ultra-premium spirits that will be available to guests for an additional charge. These include the stuff of a collectors’ dreams: Pappy Van Winkle, Remy Martin Louis XIII Cognac and other pricey, much-sought-after selections.
A standard 1 ¾-oz. pour of the Louis XIII will cost $198. Customers can also opt to enjoy an ultra-premium spirits in a drink; Van Flandern has a special cocktail menu of luxurious concoctions.
For example, the Louis XIII Sidecar ($150) is made with the Louis XIII Cognac, Cointreau, fresh lime juice, demerara and sugar syrup. The Blue Blood and Sand ($35) is with Johnnie Walker Blue Label, Cherry Heering liqueur, Carpano Antica sweet vermouth, sugar syrup and fresh blood-orange juice, while the Very Last Word ($20) mixes Plymouth gin, V.E.P. yellow chartreuse, Luxardo maraschino liqueur, sugar syrup, fresh lime and cherry juices and saffron.
While some discerning drinkers may believe that using ultra-premium liquors in a cocktail is a faux pas, Van Flandern notes in a message on the menu that “in the last decade mixologists are using quality fresh ingredients and balancing the flavors like a chef composing flavors on a plate.” The special menu honors these spirits “by showcasing their flavors in drinks that only a select few get to enjoy.”
But Van Flandern says the program is not designed to be a money-maker for Seabourn. “Our objective with the ultra-premium bottles is not to make a profit, but just to offset the cost if a customer wants them.”
By updating the cocktail program through the partnership with Van Flandern, Seabourn hopes to tempt more guests into branching out beyond their alcohol comfort zone.
“Maybe they don’t order their typical glass of wine, but try a cocktail,” Prelog explains. “More guests will be experimenting if they have the option to try out something unique.”
Foraging in Port
Seabourn ships stop at an array of ports ranging from Peru to Barcelona, Hong Kong to Dubai, Halifax to Bora Bora. When a ship is anchored in port, staffers can travel ashore and purchase local ingredients and wine for the food and beverage programs.
Part of the ship’s programming already allows guests to follow chefs into port as kitchen staff shop for regional fare, says Prelog. He foresees a similar experience for guests who want to accompany the head bartender into local markets in search of fresh cocktail ingredients and unique spirits.
For instance, when anchored in Brazil, head bartenders might head ashore to look for cachaça, fresh tropical fruits such as guava and mango, sugarcane and spices. Even local exotic wood could be used to infuse spirits with flavor.
“This allows the bartender to create a truly unique item,” Prelog says. And when the participating guests can later enjoy a cocktail made with ingredients they watched the bartender procure earlier that day, “it allows us to elevate the experience of the destination.”—KS
A Deep Dive Into Exceeding Expectations
Luxury cruise line Seabourn and craft mixologist Brian Van Flandern share the business philosophy that the guest is always right.
“In Michelin Three-Star restaurants, the customer experience trumps everything—including your ego,” Van Flandern explains. “So I was excited when I got onboard with Seabourn, because they have adopted that philosophy from the very beginning.”
The luxury line will accommodate any guest requests within the realm of possibility, he adds. And Seabourn often exceeds customer expectations.
Van Flandern relayed one story of a Seabourn guest who dropped a pouch containing her wedding ring when she was exiting the ship at port; it fell over the gangplank and into the water. The guest was distraught over loss, but she figured the ring was gone forever and continued on with the excursion into the port city.
Meanwhile, the captain called in local divers, who explored the murky waters under the ship and after some time were able to retrieve the pouch. When the guest and her husband returned from their excursion, the captain invited them to the deck.
The couple expected to be offered condolences. Instead, with a Champagne toast, the captain personally returned their lost wedding ring. Seabourn’s service standards “are impeccable and unsurpassed, without a doubt,” Van Flandern says.
Kyle Swartz is associate editor of Cheers Magazine. Reach him at email@example.com