These off-menu cocktails—which are accompanied by two full-proof drinks also created by Clark—serve multiple guest-facing goals.
Both Clark and Hilton understand that zero-proof cocktails have surpassed the status of trend, moving forward to menu staple. Alcohol-free drinks speak to younger generations, significant portions of which have shown a preference for consuming less—or no—alcohol.
Clark and Vera Manoukian, senior vice president and global head of Hilton Hotels & Resorts, shared their thoughts on the zero-proof movement, creating zero-proof menus, listening to guests, and delivering on expectations.
Elliott Clark (Apartment Bartender)
Why did you select these specific ingredients and flavors?
For this menu, I focused on trending ingredients and flavor profiles that are expected to grow in popularity in 2020. From the inclusion of new alcohol-free spirits like Seedlip to unique spins on classic cocktails by combining flavors like hibiscus and bourbon. I was also inspired by the season: the Café Cognac has a lot of warm winter-relevant flavors—vanilla, coffee, and the fruiter notes of the Cognac makes this drink a perfect winter cocktail.
What inspired you to use Cognac and bourbon for your other Hilton cocktails?
Bourbon is one of America’s favorite spirits. There is such a love and appreciation for it, plus it’s a go-to for so many. For the Café Cognac, I chose this because of my love for the spirit. I went to Cognac in early 2018 and learning about the production process and tasting different expressions sparked such a love for the spirit. Cognac, like bourbon, is an aged spirit, so it comes with similar properties but brings a softer touch and interesting complexity.
How important do you feel zero-proof cocktails are to today's bars, restaurants and hotels?
The zero-proof movement isn’t a trend, it’s here to stay, so it’s incredibly important for bars, hotels, restaurants and really anywhere that offers cocktails. Incorporating zero-proof cocktails creates an inclusive experience and provides people with more options. There is a need for variety of options in this category, so my hope—and I know the hope of Hilton as well—is that zero-proof options are a given on any cocktail menu.
What are your top tips for operators interested in creating zero-proof menus?
The same process applies, whether building out a spirit-forward or zero-proof menu. When creating a cocktail, whether it has alcohol in it or not, you’re always seeking balance. The menu offered at Hilton Hotels & Resorts embraces that balance. The Paloma Undercover incorporates Seedlip for added spice, brown sugar syrup, grapefruit and lime for a bitter/sweet balance, and soda for effervescence. Then you have The Tamed Tiki, which includes refreshing flavors like coconut water, lime, maple syrup and ginger beer.
While the process itself doesn’t change, you may have to get more creative with the ingredients you use because there aren’t as many non-alcohol spirit options out yet. That being said, recipe testing is all about making flavors work well together. Seeking out a balanced cocktail, whether it has booze in it or not, is the goal. This Hilton Hotels & Resorts menu has balance.
What was your approach to creating zero-proof cocktails that would appeal to today's consumer?
All of the cocktails on the menu for Hilton Hotels & Resorts embrace trending ingredients as well as those that are appropriate for the season. Coconut water is something that is incredibly popular at the moment, but then you have Seedlip, a non-alcohol spirit, which is a little bit more unfamiliar but something rising in popularity.
I also thought about the types of travelers coming through Hilton’s lobby bars, whether it’s a business traveler or just someone on a vacation. I wanted to make sure there was variety and difference between all of the cocktails and that guests have good options to choose from, but not so many options that it’s overwhelming.
Vera Manoukian, Senior Vice President and Global Head, Hilton Hotels & Resorts
Why did you choose Elliott to create these new zero-proof cocktails?
When looking for a partner, we felt Elliott was a natural fit. We share his passion for developing well-crafted, on-trend cocktails—both full proof and zero proof—and also were drawn to his approach to balance and overall wellness, which is a priority for the Hilton Hotels & Resorts brand.
How were the locations featuring Elliott's new cocktails chosen?
From the minute guests walk into the hotel, they should feel the Hilton difference—and the lobby bars are often the central gathering area and set that initial tone and energy. Right now, we’re in the process of re-energizing our lobby bars around the world, and the 12 hotels featuring this month’s drinks reflect a selection of U.S. properties already offering guests a refreshed lobby bar experience.
Why are these new drinks off-menu?
We want guests to know we hear them—they’ve told us options are important, they are interested in trying and experiencing the latest food and drink trends, and they want to feel “in the know.” By introducing these off-menu cocktails, we’re not only able to create a memorable experience with guests who are in the know, but we’re able to introduce a range of offerings to better meet the needs of our guests. We’re also using this menu as an opportunity to showcase the types of on-trend cocktails our guests can order at any time—whether that’s a twist on a classic or a zero-proof cocktail that has just as much flavor as a full-proof cocktail.
How important is zero-proof to Hilton operations?
The importance of zero-proof offerings, from an operations standpoint, continues to grow as the demand increases.
Our mixologist teams around the world continue to see the zero-proof cocktail trend rising in popularity, especially among younger generations who are deciding to either drink less or not at all. We know that as much as people enjoy cocktails, they are also searching for balance when it comes to maintaining overall health and wellness.
Does Hilton see zero-proof as a short-term trend or long-term investment?
As of now, we’re planning for these off-menu cocktails to be available in January only, but it is a year-round focus for us. All of our hotels offer zero-proof cocktails on their bar, restaurant or catering menus.
For example, at any time of the year, guests at Hilton San Francisco Union Square can enjoy the Cranberry Cooler, a mix of cranberry, apple spice elixir, soda and nutmeg, and the Perfect Pineapple with pineapple, lemon, cucumber and soda. In Los Angeles, The Beverly Hilton offers a Sparkling Lavender Mint Lemonade, with fresh, muddled mint, San Pellegrino Essenza Lemon & Lemon Zest, lemonade, lemon juice and lavender simple syrup. The drink is garnished with fresh lemon zest and lavender.
Thirsty for more? Las Vegas bartender Armon Noori will address the rising trend of zero-proof and low-ABV cocktails at Nightclub & Bar Show 2020 during the session "The Rise of Zero-proof & Low-ABV Drinks." Register today!