Your cocktail menu is FUBAR, but who are you writing it for?

Your cocktail menu is FUBAR

I have a lot of beliefs and cultish dogma on how a cocktail menu should be assembled.  But what has been recently making me want to 151 blow torch my eyes out is how bartenders / restaurants present a menu. A menu is a thesis, nailed you you bar, that states your values.  This list of values and opinions can’t necessarily be wrong, but the can create strife where none is needed. What is however definitively wrong, is presenting a menu and not asking yourself “who is this menu for and how will I serve it?”

These are all samples of how a very reasonable, diplomatic cocktail, let’s call it a FUBAR Sour, that is comprised of lesser known ingredients, can be a Greek tragedy on a menu. This cocktail has a botanical, gin like spirit called genever, an herbal liqueur called génépi, an exotic citrus called yuzu and a sweetener called pineapple gomme syrup.  It is fair to say that the average consumer is better at understanding the “causality loop” from Back to the Future than being able to explain this cocktail. That being said, the flavor combinations are simple and a menu shouldn’t hesitate on offering a cocktail just because it’s confusing.  Each of the below entries present a challenge for the consumer and for the bartender— pick which battle you want to fight.

FUBAR menu 1

This is what I see on most menus: courier font.  Courier is the typeface of false humbleness.  It is expected that you know what all of these ingredients are. Perhaps the bartender has the time to help & explain, but perhaps not.  When a menu goes out like this, the guest sees that this is a serious cocktail joint, seriously mysterious.  I think the most probable order will be a drink that they have had before, a comfort they know, before a the Russian roulette of this cocktail.

FUBAR menu 2

Here you are, at the cocktail equivalent of the Ikea cafeteria.  This is a menu that is trying to be inclusive and use terms you can understand, but with great specificity it has also created great ambiguity. Is is easier to say “Dutch Gin” or explain genever? Are you using an off brand chartreuse or pine cone liqueur or who knows what? Can you name a 2nd Japanese citrus other than yuzu? Are you assuming the guest can’t learn new things?  This offering is intriguing yet explains nothing.

FUBAR menu 3

This is what you see on a menu when the bartender has a friend who works for Bols. Before you ask, yes, I have seen a logo inserted into a menu before, and yes, it does look this awful.  By contrast, this bartender couldn’t give a fuck about génépi producers or from whom or how they get pineapple gomme. As a guest, I also worry that that when only 1 brand is listed that the cocktail will likely be unbalanced.  I respect branded cocktails but take the thought all the way through the listing.

FUBAR menu 4

On this menu, the bar manager accidentally cut and paste the instructions in the menu or they listed the proportions instead of fully training the staff.  It’s great & honest to list in detail each ingredient but in this case the extra branding  is just sound & fury signifying nothing— other than yuzu being a fruit, the guest has learned nothing.

FUBAR menu 6

Someone from Bacardi plays golf with the food and beverage manager of this hotel. Perhaps they can’t keep génépi in stock and perhaps they don’t want to explain genever.  Cocktails like this are sometimes the hand-me-downs from consultant menus.  However, this drink might be just as good if not better than anything else listed here but when more pedestrian ingredients are chosen it’s hard to be as excited.

FUBAR menu 5

This is written on a chalkboard at an industry bar. No one ever orders it. I wonder why, such effort.  But seriously, sometimes cocktails are written like greasy spoon waitresses barking at short order cooks.  Insider only drinks speak to me, I don’t need to wait for the menu to change, I’ll try the drink you are working on for a cocktail competition, but don’t expect to sell them with the power of chalk.

FUBAR menu 7

This restaurant has a separate cocktail menu, one that can change daily, one that has no issues for saving space on the page. Even though this restaurant serves 37 double Macallans on the rocks for every one of these well explained cocktails.  The key here is to hand the guest a cocktail menu before a wine menu or even water.  It is uncivilized to peruse a diner menu without a cocktail.  AT LEAST HAVE A VERMOUTH, ARE YOU A MONSTER!

FUBAR menu 8

This menu wins awards but only allows the guest to make decisions at the rate of 1 per 20 minutes. This menu will often be divided by drink family or by inspiration; a great way for the guest to tell the truth to one’s self: everyone loves a refreshing sour. The margarita will always be your queen.  However. wise bars will understand that not everyone wants to research, they might make a smaller “greatest hits” menu for this that don’t have the piety for worshiping a cocktail bible.

FUBAR menu 9

This is the Miranda July menu. It has 4 choices, all of equal whimsy. With only 12 seats in a tiny bistro, you have plenty of time to discuss with the bartender.  I feel like more bars should just say “cocktail, sour, highball or other?”

Going over all of these options and filtering them through my carved in stone belief that a bar should brand all of their menu or none of it, I actually prefer the first cocktail listed with a conversation.  But I like to create a trust tree and I normally worked in places of talking and info-taining was desirable.  But again, who is you menu for and who are you?

FUBAR menu

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The Batida- the original fat washed cocktail.

The Batida. What is is an how do you make it? Here is a basic recipe and a complex fancy recipe too.

Brazil does indeed have a cocktail OTHER THAN THE CAIPIRINHA. I know, it seems downright rude to have a second cocktail. I bet you’re thinking “they already have the Caipirinha, I just barely know how to say that, why are they making another god damn cocktail?” And here, that country wants you to learn how to say this one too— it’s pronounced “bah-CHEE-da.  

Historically, you’ll find that many countries actually have more than one cocktail.  It’s true, just look at Italy, they have the Negroni AND the Americano.  A bunch of go-getters in that country I’ll tell you what.

The Batida is just cachaça mixed with fruit juice. Most commonly you will see a Batida mixed with coconut milk and other fruit juice over crushed ice. In the UK (as 10-year-old Difford’s Guides affirm), they drink a Batida blended with coconut milk and sweetened with condensed milk.  The actual word “Batida” itself means “shaken” in Portuguese. And with that in mind, I think the most balanced way to make this cocktail is over crushed ice. Using a blender is more complex and we basically have a generation right now that has rebelled against the blender. The youngsters these days don’t know how to balance cocktails or use ice correctly in a blender. But they should practice the old “throw a straw in the blender and pour the drink into a glass wall the straw stands upright.”

just do whatever

just do whatever

Tom Cruise taught me how to do that.

I will come back to the ins and outs of how to make blended drinks at some later point. Maybe the next time I have to do a guest bartending shift and I have admit that my “guns can’t handle the heat anymore” and I’ll just do everything blended. But for now let’s just talk about how we make this crushed ice Batida.  

The mason jar craze will end when you fuckers stop stealing more expensive glasses

The mason jar craze will end when you fuckers stop stealing more expensive glasses

The one pictured here is

1.5 oz Novo Fogo Tanager (zebra wood finished)

1 oz unsweetened  coconut milk*

1 oz BG Reynolds Passionfruit Syrup**

1.5 oz lime juice

.5 oz Ancho Reyes***

Pinch of chili flakes and salt

Combine all ingredients in a shaker with cubed ice, shake and strain over crushed ice

The unnecessary mint garnish is indeed unnecessary. It mostly just looks good in this photo. I think it would be a lot cooler to use lime sprinkled with chili flakes or sal de gusano

* How sweet is sweetened coconut milk? I don’t fucking know. How consistent is it from brand to brand? Please see my previous answer. Sugar is cheap and a so are sweet ingredients, use drier ingredients and liqueurs that you sweeten to taste. Is this a principle that you should use for every ingredient in a cocktail? Yes.

** Fresh, unsweetened passionfruit juice is almost as acidic as lemon juice.  Passionfruit purée sweetened by 10% is acidic enough to be quite uncomfortable in your mouth.  Passionfruit juice you buy in a can out outside of Hawaii is similar to cranberry juice in bg reynolds PassionFruitthat it is mostly sugar and water.  If using that, then you likely won’t need sugar in a cocktail. BUT If you buy passionfruit syrup you can use it to make many classic tiki drinks, many classic tiki parties and it will hold for a while in the fridge.

***Ancho Reyes is quickly becoming my favorite cheater ingredient. It is not because it is spicy- I skipped spicy drinks a few years back. It is not because it is trendy- that is hard for me as well. It is because it gives an earthy & toasted flavor that adds depth, maturity & character to everything. I have been using it 011377546like bitters to give pedestrian flavors  a foundation or ground them. A dash turns a cocktail from Michael Bublé to early years Tom Waits.

Crush ice using a mallet and good old fashioned Lewis bag, for sentimental reasons I use the bag that my mother made me 10 years ago and the mallet that my father gave me 20years ago, but that oneis unavailable to you so I would recommend using a Bull in China bag.

The Batida cobull in china Mallet_LewisBagcktail breaks traditional templates in more than one way.  Unsweetened coconut milk has a lot of fat in it as well as natural acids. I find that it takes a little extra sugar to counteract the coconut milk. If you were making a more traditional Batita consider how much acid the juice also brings into the drink.  I think the most basic balance should be

grated nutmeg is the universal donor of over ice garnishes coconunt batida with cachaca

grated nutmeg is the universal donor of over ice garnishes

(a possible) Batida Template

1.5 oz cachaça

1 oz unsweetened coconut milk

.5 oz lime juice

.75  oz simple syrup

With that basic template, decide if your juice is replacing the acid in lime or adding to the sweetness in the simple syrup. Generally speaking, I would avoid using more subtle liqueurs in a cocktail like this as doing so is generally more like blending a one dollar bill into a cocktail instead of adding flavor.

And if you do a Google image search for “Batida Cocktail” you’ll see awful, awful cocktails. So please, please make your own Batida and post the images online to drown out the garbage that is already there.

behind the scenes

behind the scenes

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A rebuttal to the Seattle Weekly

I recently saw this post from the Seattle Weekly about the cost of craft cocktails in Washington.  Here is my response:

Seattle News and Events | The Bar Code: How Craft Cocktails Are Robbing 2015-04-28 07-28-21

click bait

Dear Bar Code,

Before I sincerely ask you to go fuck yourself with a broken Chihuly sculpture, I would like to take a minute to agree with you.

Craft cocktails are too expensive when they aren’t worth it. I understand, and agree with your point. For the past 5ish years, it has basically been my job to drink $15 dollar cocktails (smallest violin sonata in the key of fuck off) and I agree, a lot of these people are robbing you- but not maliciously. They are robbing you by:

  • Lack of skill
  • Unreal expectations on liquor’s value
  • Having the highest liquor taxes in America

Skill: Most any spirit, bereft of the stylings that make it a cocktail, would sell for $7-$12, just as components. What a consumer pays for is the (hopefully) expert assembly of those ingredients. Even a derelict alcoholic would agree that the poor assembly, thoughtless flavors or lack of balance would ruin these ingredients. This happens a lot. I sometimes want to scream after my first sip “NO ONE HAS EVER FINISHED THIS COCKTAIL, YOU ARE JUST TRYING TO BE CLEVER AND YOU ARE NOT.” Problematically, this is a post spending $15 revelation. However, when the inverse occurs, a bartender serves up their craft for nothing but a foolish desire to do things the hard way.

How can you tell which twisty mustache is true to craft and which is someone that just wants to sleep in and chug fernet at night? Well, it costs $15 to find out.

Expectations: America has unrealistic expectations on what alcohol is worth. And we do so because we compare the scalability of Goliath to David’s desire to hire a second employee.  Consumers, we are told, want small, handcrafted, micro-nano-local-grain to glass booze these days.  We read every week that those are better, well, at least they are more costly.  Conversely, a $15 bottle of vodka is about 80% taxes & shipping and should really make you think twice about how they got the product so cheap.  I want to be clear, zero are the fucks I give about micro distillers. I care about good and bad, integrity and shortcuts. I support quality and care, from David and from Goliath, from what they respectively have to offer.

Taxes: Washington State also has the lovely benefit of having the highest liquor taxes in America.  Without getting into whose fault that is or what the trade offs of privatization are, this is the hand dealt to barfolk in Washington.  And until consumers lobby against these taxes that hurt business (large and small) or decide that Washingtonians should pay income tax (political herpes) these taxes give us the highest liquor cost in America.  Yet, we have far from the highest cocktail prices.

Bar Code, you should rip on craft cocktail culture.  The very idea that “craft” is a modifier to cocktail culture is sad.  By the same wordplay, I go to a “craft” doctor because she is good at her job.  I often wish I had been critiqued more when I was a bartender— it would have made me better.  But price is not the issue here, as always, it is value.

For the past decade the media has done quite well to cover the “cocktail renaissance” and I have personally benefited from this coverage on multiple occasions.  I am looking forward to coverage actually giving way to critiques as “not shaking a Manhattan” ceases to be impressive and the Boulevardier becomes de rigueur.   I am legitimately looking forward to reading a column in a weekly that has a sentence like “ the menu has a handful of stirred amaro drinks that use bitterness as a crutch,” or “the Aperol sour was so 2010 and it separated quickly, seriously, don’t we all know how to measure egg whites?”  Critiques like this will push the industry forward. Reviews like “booooo, $15 cocktail? I’ll take my brewed in California can of Rainer instead,” are another lazy type of faux-blue-collar hackery used only to hit a quick deadline.  If the drink sucks, say it, bars can’t afford to advertise with you anyway.  You’ll save a restaurateur the time of reading the ensuing Chinese water torture of bad Yelp reviews that are sure to out the truth.

But worry not Bar Code, I didn’t forget my earlier promise- go fuck yourself with a broken Chihuly sculpture.  Craft cocktails are worth every dime as much as a glass of “3 Dentists decide to make wine” Washington cabernet, and twice the price of the most “rip out your throat” micro brewed IPAs.

Chihuly Fountain 2

discomfort

 

-Andrew Bohrer

 

Cheers

 

p.s. I generally like your column, I agree with you that rose is great and what not, good work on all that stuff, just this one thing got me a touch upset.

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Holiday Flask Guide: Après Ski

holiday flask guide logo

The Après Ski edition of the holiday flask guide isn’t just about hitting slopes, it’s also about having something to do on a ski lift. It is a time honored tradition to get flasky on the mountain and this is my selection of what you should actually drink while you are pretending to be in a Coors Light commercial.

 

But wait, Not from Connecticut, don’t do winter break in the alps or are you looking up the word après ski? Well these sweet, warming oddballs will work for any outdoor winter activity, maybe even just caroling.  Too secular for caroling? No you aren’t, I was raised Unitarian and I know that you can just say whatever word you want when the song gets to “insert deity,” and no one is the wiser.   You can also drink these outside, at a football game, at the intermission of a Christmas pageant or while shredding down fine champagne powder.

HOLIDAY FLASK GUIDE APRES SKI

 

Malört— a type of liquid tattoo that you get on your tongue that coincidentally also has a powerfully vicious wormwood flavor. malört face

Green Chartreuse VEP— the oak aged version of Green Chartreuse sands off the bite of alcohol

Green Chartreuse— 110 proof, herbal as fuck, drinks like a scratchy wool scarf that has cough syrup spilled on it

Athol Brose— a proprietary brose, which is an herbal scotch liqueur sweetened with honey and oats, this one is on a base of 10 year scotch and tastes of scotch blended with some sort of sexy toothpaste & honeycomb

Becherovka— my wife once quoted the 90’s, saying “it tastes like welfare Christmas” but I’d say it tastes like a ginger snap with a like crisp bitterness, makes a great toddy

Yellow Chartreuse VEP—tastes like a bouquet of flowers boiled in water, sweetened with honey & poured over pancakes

Drambuie 15 — the aged Drambuie that tastes better poured out of the bottle than 9 out of 10 craft cocktails

Yellow Chartreuse— the lighter, sweeter Chartreuse, start here

Génépi— an alpine herb, an accessible, full flavored herbal

Grand Marnier— always excellent, always available, if you aren’t in America, the exotic orange blend is a must try, If you are in America, I hope you enjoyed their cherry bottling **sarcastic emoticon**

Drambuie— eh, it’s like a illustrated, abridged version of the Hobbit compared to the Silmarillion of the rest of this chart

Bärenjäger— this is for babies, it is delicious candy that will split your head open like the bear’s beehive with you ensuing hangover, but, it’s great during

Rumple Minz— when I was a kid, the punks would shoot this proprietary 100 proof peppermint schnapps and listen to Wesley Willis

Every Coffee Liquor under $20— BOOOOOOOOOO, but, if you spend more, they can be good

Jägermeister— talk shit all you want, but one day, someone is goind to blind taste you on Jåger and you’ll say “what is this new amaro?”

Home-made coffee liqueur— look, quit infusing coffee beans, that sucks, blend aged rum with sugar and cold press or fuck off

Stroh— I won’t say where, but I know a bar that pours this for annoying guests and tells them that this profoundly shitty, 160 proof rum is something rare & special

Kümmel— technically an after golf liqueur, this caraway liqueur isn’t very popular and is often found with an unfortunate layer of dust on it but I love it, all by myself

Zirbenlikör— I hate hearing that “gin tastes like pine cones,” THIS TASTES LIKE PINECONES, because it’s ground up purple pinecones mixed with booze and honey, if it’s too gnarly for you, mix it with brandy and pineapple juice

 

FLASK(s) OF THE DAY

 

The Gentlemen’s Ski Pole is a home-made flask is the ski pole. Enjoy the DIY guide here. Otherwise, it’s fairly important to NOT fall on a metal flask when skiing, try this collapsible one. Worst case scenario is that it would pop, rendering you sticky, but likely minty fresh.

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Holiday Flask Guide: Intro

holiday flask guide logo
It’s that special time of year when I want to write about drinking sweet advent drinks, make Tom & Jerry’s or value shop for whiskies. But this year, I’m drawing my inspiration from my wife’s company holiday party — how do you plan on how to flask up for the holiday season?

 

I brought a flask of 10 year old Irish Whisky to the shindig.   Yes, there was an open bar, but who knows what terrors that would hold? And while the man behind the stick wasn’t the “all thumbs catering rhino” that he could have been, and he did indeed pour short and he did indeed take his time.

 

There where only 2 “whiskies” available and a 3rd in my pocket. Here is how I would chart them.

AN OPEN BAR EXAMPLE

 

Now think of them this way:

 

Fireball: pretty much only for shots, hard for people that don’t want to do shots, it os the new Jägermeister (don’t lie to yourself) also, you know, it’s NOT WHISKEY.

Maker’s Mark: always good, quality, easy to drink, easy to find, a sweeter bourbon, a gold standard but still a standard, good new is that you can find it in airports

John L Sullivan: a 10 year Irish, it’s civilized, soft, comes with a great story of and Amazing Irish American and it’s sold out forever, and in general, Irish Whisky is a starter whisky (bring the hate mail)

 

Now, these all have their place and time from tailgate to tablecloth but when you flask up, think twice and pour once — plan your dram.

 

Find the below graph for what the generalized dusty leftovers are that you may have at home.

Over the next couple weeks, leading up to all of your holiday parties, I’ll be posting several of these with different topics like scotch, mezcal or tummy-soothing amari.

 

This is how these spirit types are likely to be received when the flask is passed

This is how these spirit types are likely to be received when the flask is passed

 

 

 

FLASK OF THE DAY

Also, if you aren’t blessed with a dozen plus flasks, I’ll offer you some sweet tips on clandestine sipping. Also, get this event kicked off right with just having a few extra flasks on hand —here is a flask 6 pack. And here is the bandolier to hold them.

 

Cheers, more soon

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“How to write a good cocktail menu” or “how to not write a cocktail menu like a fucking hack.”

 

Enjoy this very incomplete list of drinks, ideas and bases spirits to test your menu.

Just write in your recipes in each square to pick your favorites!

Just write in your recipes in each square to pick your favorites!

 

can you write a menu without repeating these drink styles and drink families? Remember, different brands of "Amaro" still all count as "AMARO"

can you write a menu without repeating these drink styles and drink families? Remember, different brands of “Amaro” still all count as “AMARO”

Posted in Cocktails, menu design | 3 Comments

Happy Vodka Day

October 4th is national vodka day. I thought I would take this as an opportunity to discuss an important part of my bar philosophy: If you don’t care about vodka, that means your vodka choices are that much more important.  

It’s popular and easy in the mixologist/bar craft/cocktail community to deride vodka. Such sentiments are lazy and derivative. If you have chosen a career in the branch of the hospitality business that deals in drinks, you should know that vodka is 32% of American spirit sales. If you don’t enjoy reading stats-packed trade journals, I would point you to Don Lee and the creation of the very true T-shirt “vodka pays the bills.”

These brands to not endorse this article.

These brands do not endorse this post.

Disregarding the value of vodka for a restaurant is stupid, ignoring what the consumer wants is doubly so for a “business.” It is the cultural equivalent to saying, “I don’t care about beer, wine or tequila.” If you read my blog, you already know that I take this shit too seriously. For me, the spirits that a bar chooses to put on their back bar, or on their cocktail menu, is a mission statement, a thesis and their ethos in liquid form.  

All too often I see too cool for school fernet chugging “cocktologists” only stocking the three biggest brands of vodka. “We don’t really care about vodka,” might be spoken as they reach for brands that they don’t care about. Why would you tell me that you don’t care about Grey Goose and also buy Grey Goose? If you don’t care about Grey Goose don’t buy Grey Goose. Tell people, “I don’t care about it so I don’t fucking buy it.” Conversely, a person like me would be proud if you said “I appreciate that Grey Goose as a well-made vodka for the money and I appreciate that I can charge a premium price for it and I appreciate making money and I appreciate having an option I believe in on my back bar.”  But a counterpoint to that is quite simple, if you only carry it because it sells then how do you ever make any of your decisions, only on sales? Pinnacle whipped cream flavored vodka used to be the best selling vodka in Washington state, but I didn’t see that in a lot of white tablecloth restaurants.  

Buy what you like, think about what you like, and believe in what you buy.  

I think that Grey Goose is a good vodka. I think that Ketel One smells like the dumpster of a Thai restaurant.  I enjoy potato vodka even though potatoes didn’t make it into the hands of the white man until the 16th century and vodka existed long before it was made from potatoes.  I like craft brands with full flavor and think that there are plenty of other craft brands whose “full flavor” is “poor distillation.”  

Vodka may be Voltaire’s blank slate, but vodka says more about you and who you want to be.  

Take Tito’s vodka for example. It’s a darling in the young people’s bar scene. Why? Because it’s handcrafted? Because it’s gluten-free? Because it’s a great price? Or because people believe that it is some sort of important brand? All vodka that doesn’t have a slice of toast floating in it is gluten free. Tito’s vodka is an 850,000 case per year business, that takes a lot of hands that go into making a handmade vodka. Tito’s vodka is neutral grain spirit that is re-distilled, you know, like engine cleaner. Tito’s vodka was fined in 2010 for not properly disposing of industrial waste. Tito’s vodka is currently being sued for misleading consumers about their “craft” vodka. So I ask you, when you stock Tito’s on your back bar does this matter to you? No, is a fine answer. I respect the shit out of that answer. Who wants to think about this bullshit when you’re sitting down to have a relaxing cocktail. But, it does matter to me. And I want to be crystal clear when I say, “I think that Tito’s vodka is 100% marketing horse shit.” But that is just my opinion. Go get your own fucking opinion.  

It’s easy to pick on Tito’s. But plenty, if not most, vodkas are made this exact same way. And I bet most of those vodkas are good. But, there are literally thousands of choices out there. If you wanted to support a vodka brand that was made by a 9 fingered, dyslexic man named “Julius” I bet one exists. That is how many vodkas are out there.  I bet there’s one out there for you. They may or may not lie about it.  

But this is something that you, a beverage industry professional, should consider when you make your choices. You can not write-off an entire spirits category as unimportant. And if you don’t believe in the products that you sell, and the products that you mix your cocktails with, you are just as lazy as the guy who muddles through ice, shakes his Manhattan, and never refrigerates his vermouth.  

Who do you want to be? The person that cares about vodka or the person who doesn’t?

P.S. Reminder, these are my personal views and not the views of any of my co-workers, pets, peers or anyone who has ever written me a check. Do your own research and click on the links if you don’t believe me. If those news stories aren’t true I’ll take this down and apologize because I’m not a lying jerk.

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