6 strategies to elevate cocktails while maintaining efficiency

By Bret Thorn for Nation’s Restaurant News


Restaurants show their personality with drinks that are also easy on operations


Between soda and full-blown cocktails are low-alcohol drinks, which are becoming increasingly popular. Often made with wine, sake or beer, they tend to pair well with food, which has always been important with wine but is playing a larger role in beer and cocktail consumption, too.

Customers like them because they can drink more than one of them and still keep their wits about them. Bar and restaurant operators like them because they can sell more than one to their customers without getting them drunk.

Also spurring their popularity is the growing number of ingredients bartenders have to work with. Sherry is enjoying a resurgence in popularity, and more small-production vermouths are coming on stream, not to mention the craft beer explosion.

At single-unit Pubbelly in Miami, mixologist Derek Stilmann has no choice but to make low-alcohol cocktails, since the restaurant only has a beer-and-wine license.


That doesn’t keep him from making an Old Fashioned, which is typically made with whiskey, but sometimes brandy, along with sugar, bitters and sometimes fruit.

Stilmann uses sake, which he first infuses with burnt cherry bark and then lets it age in a barrel for around two weeks.

“It’s kind of a solera system,” he said, which is the process, common in rum production, of adding younger liquor to older liquor to moderate the flavor. The result with the sake is that some of it has a richer, more aged flavor, but the freshness of the new sake also comes through.

He also uses unfiltered, cloudy, nigori sake, which adds texture to drinks such as the Hey Kyuri. It’s a bestseller made with nigori sake, as well as dry sake, Cocchi Americano, spicy bitters, ginger syrup, cucumber juice and lime juice. He pours the mixture in a highball glass with a spicy rim made with shichimi togarashi, cumin, cayenne pepper, black pepper, a little sugar and salt.

“It’s not too heavy, not too light, definitely has a good heat to it,” Stilmann said.

He also has a unique approach to ice cubes. For the Shogun Old Fashioned, made with the aged sake stirred with cinnamon syrup, low-alcohol bitters, burnt cinnamon and orange peel, he uses whiskey stones, which are rocks that have been super-chilled and added to cocktails instead of ice, keeping the drink cold without diluting it.

Room temperature cocktails

One way to simplify the process of deciding what kind of ice is best for a cocktail is not to use any at all.

Ice cubes aren’t an issue for some of Nick Bennett’s favorite drinks. Bennett, the head bartender at single-unit Porchlight in New York City, has started to make cocktails meant to be served at room temperature.

“Given how much concern is given to temperature and the type of ice that cocktails use, and the purity of ice, it’s fun to kind of remove that,” Bennett said.

One such drink is the Fireside Chat, made with Bols Genever, Becherovka, amaretto, walnut liqueur, a little water and an orange twist that’s squeezed and then discarded. He pours it in a brandy snifter.

“You give it a quick little swirl and it all mixes together,” he said.


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