Friday, April 9, 2010

Teatime for cocktails

When Rye House opened in Manhattan late last fall, a quick glance at the drink menu gave many indications that this was a bar where cocktails were taken seriously. The list of bourbons and ryes is appropriately long, befitting the establishment’s name, and the cocktail menu is filled with the contemporary bartender’s favorite ingredients: bitters, house infusions, amaros, egg whites.

Taking prime position is the Rye House Punch, featuring chai-infused rye along with lemon, grapefruit, bitters and absinthe. It’s just another sign that tea, in all its guises—chai, black, green, white, herbal tisanes, fruit-flavored, smoked — is increasingly moving onto the cocktail-ingredient list.

It’s not a revolutionary change; Colonial-era American punch recipes, now returning to the bar scene, were traditionally built on a base of freshly brewed tea that knit together the tang of citrus, a bit of sugar and the zap of brandy and rum. Since punches started appearing on menus in the speakeasy and pre-prohibition-themed bars now springing up across the country, tea has been beckoning other bartenders as well.

Hot tea spiked with a little whiskey is as old as, well, whiskey, but until recently, hot-tea cocktails were overshadowed by winter drink menus favoring fancy, dessert-like coffee and cocoa mixers. At 508 Restaurant & Bar in Manhattan, however, bar manager Nick Freeman last winter offered such tea drinks as Blueberry Fields, with black tea, amaretto and Grand Marnier. The Norwegian Wood combines orange pekoe, dark rum and vanilla vodka, and Freeman’s Jalice features chai, bourbon and lemon juice. With 508 located on the windy Hudson River side of Manhattan, chilly guests welcome the handcrafted hot drinks.

“I enjoy the idea of working with natural flavors,” says Freeman. “I also enjoy the time spent on a drink’s construction; there’s a distinct pleasure in the steeping process and in making a proper cocktail. The enjoyment of working in a restaurant setting is [that you have] a generally more captive and appreciative audience. Experimentation with anything, including recipes, requires one to play with proportion and order.”

(Read the rest of the story below, originally published in a recent issue of Flavor and the Menu.)

Tea and Cocktails

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Successful Beverage Management

I keep pretty busy writing about cocktails, spirits, wine, bars and restaurants. But getting involved with writer and consultant Robert Plotkin last year on his latest project, “Successful Beverage Management,” is one of my favorite things now, although presenting in front of an audience with the Tasmanian devil can be quite a work out. We sold out our session at the recent NC&B Bar Show, and soon we’re making the next step and taking the show on the road. 

First stop: back in Las Vegas in partnership with distributor Wirtz Beverage Nevada, where at the end of the month we’ll be helping bar owners and bartenders looking for help fighting the effects of the slumping economy. Those in the area have an added bonus – Wirtz is footing the bill for all qualified attendees, though they must register first. The all-day “Successful Beverage Management” profitability seminar will be held April 27, 2010 at Wirtz headquarters.

Attendees will learn how to reduce costs by preventing internal theft and waste, tracking sales productivity, analyzing pour costs, controlling inventory and effectively managing payroll. Other sessions provide advanced strategies for increasing beverage sales by enhancing drink quality and appeal, smarter pricing, premium product use, improving guest service, taking advantage of beverage trends, increasing effective in-house marketing and building repeat business. For more info or to register, contact Robert Plotkin at, call Wirtz Beverage at (702) 699 8851, or visit See you there.