The conference sessions, workshops, keynotes and back-of-house tours aren’t the only opportunities for 2019 Nightclub & Bar Show attendees to learn. The Expo Hall is absolutely overflowing with products, services, trends and information that can take any operation to an entirely new level of success.
One of these amazing opportunities is the Nightclub & Bar Live Bar in the Expo Hall. Bob Peters, past Nightclub & Bar Show speaker, revered bartender, menu developer and industry consultant, will be behind our bar, demonstrating an incredible array of products and bar equipment. The cocktails he has created for this year’s Show feature spirits, mixers, flavors and equipment that will benefit all operators.
We sat down with Peters and asked him about cocktail, spirit and beer trends he’s noticing, along with some of the products and equipment he’s eager to demonstrate at the Live Bar. Cheers!
Tell our audience about bar equipment you’re excited to demonstrate at the Live Bar.
One of the things that I think is really trending right now is foam art. And so, having the Ripples sponsorship is fantastic because that makes it so easy to do really beautiful things. I think that company has taken that trend a step further than anybody else has because you can do it with coffee, you can do it with beer, and you can do it with cocktails.
That has so many applications, like for private parties, it's fantastic for corporate events, it's great for guest engagement in just a normal bar setting. You could use that in a beer bar, like a coffee house. There are so many applications for that, so that's one of the things that I'm most excited about.
Is the Ripple Maker complicated new bar technology or can basically any bar team use it right away?
I think that the process, once you put a beer or a latte or a cocktail underneath this machine, is kind of like an ink jet printer. It's got this tasteless, basically totally vegan dye, like a brown food coloring, that will print on top of the foam in a very light mist. And I think that it takes about 15 seconds, so as long as you put the cup in the right place and make sure that the right image is ready to go, it's something that everybody can use and use really well. And that's the whole appeal of that machine: that it takes some of the guesswork out of the ability to add that tool to your cocktail or beer experience.
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They sent me a picture of my face in a Guinness. It was hilarious. It is really, really, really, really cool. And I think they just took that from one of my bio pics. They just took it, you know kind of like your profile pic, and they enlarged it into a circle and got whatever image they wanted to, and then I think they just hit print and it printed it on a Guinness. You know, people are getting more and more innovative, and more and more creative, and so having pictures in your cocktail is just another beautiful tool of being able to tell stories, which I think is awesome.
Telling stories is a great point. We see experiential as a driving trend to motivate potential guests to get off their couches, away from their Netflix and DoorDash, and physically into a bar to experience moments. What else are you excited for attendees to see? What lessons can small operators, large operators, and operations where pre-batching is important, take away from what you’ve created and will be demonstrating?
I think that as far as the things that I've created, some of the recipes are incredibly simple. But what I really want to convey is that in the cocktail world, things can be simple so long as all of the details are paid attention to.
So, things like the foam art or using fresh juice or using appropriate and pretty glassware... Some of these things you don't think are uber-necessary. You might be able to get by with buying some juice store-bought but when you do it fresh it just makes everything so much better, and that's one of the details that I think people really need to start paying attention to and something that I want to let them know how easy it is to do. It really turns their guests' experience up to a whole other level.
And none of this stuff is hard. It's just the fact of doing them, doing them consistently, and doing them the right way. And again, things like the Sunkist slicer, Sunkist juicer, some of the rimming sugars that we have, some of the purees… Nothing that I'm gonna do is really that complicated, but when you put them all together and you do all these little things the correct way, then what comes out is something really beautiful. And again, it doesn't have to be complicated in order to be fantastic.
You’ve mentioned that operations small and large can succeed with simple cocktails. What are the benefits of simplicity beyond just speed and consistency?
Some of the stuff that I'm doing is just really, really simple. But it's really beautiful and it lets the ingredients shine. Something that I say all the time is something you hear world renowned chefs say a lot of times—and I'm not comparing myself by any means to anyone of that caliber, however, I have found a lot of truth in what I hear and in my terms—is that our jobs are to pick out the best possible ingredients, and then not to mess them up. I think that a lot of times people overcomplicate things. And then the products, the really amazing products that you have, don't shine the way that they could if you edit a little bit, or just don't think. Some people think that it has to be complicated to be good, and that's not true at all.
One of our speakers is Laura Newman, the first woman to win USBG Bartender of the Year for the United States. She's doing world-class cocktails in a small market. In her case, Birmingham, Alabama, and her cocktails also don’t seem overly complex or complicated. As you’ve said, it's all about execution and consistency. Would you agree that when it comes to simpler cocktails, you can’t hide when there are only two or three ingredients?
Exactly. It's like sushi—it's the same thing as sushi. When you have some fish and maybe some rice on your plate, that rice better be correct and that fish better be delicious, because there's nothing, that's it. Like you said, there's nowhere else to hide.
What are you seeing out there, spirit-wise? Gin seems to be exploding from a supply standpoint. Whiskey and tequila seem to be the tops in terms of consumer growth and demand.
I think that Ketel One’s leading the way for bringing back a little bit more of a serious repertoire for what flavored vodka could be with the botanicals that they've put in there. Basically, I think they've made gin in an American style or a Western style, whatever you want to call it, without the juniper in it. So, they've got these really complex, really beautiful vodkas. I think that can open up a whole new avenue for people who are not gin drinkers or have sworn off gin. That omits the juniper, the pine flavor, so that could lead to a gin experience later or get people back into it. [Ketel One Botanicals] have these really wonderful, complex, light flavors like gin has with tons of depth of flavor. In the cocktail world, that's bringing a lot to the table so there's a lot of fun stuff that you can do with that.
But whiskey and tequila are still at the top of guest demand?
Definitely bourbon and tequila. I think that everything is cyclical but America and the Millennials have either discovered, or are rediscovering, bourbon. I think part of that is the craft spirits movement sort of giving a rebirth or another life to different things. For instance, gin, like we were just talking about. And that leads the way to bourbon and tequila.
You know, bourbon is king. Bourbon is the most amazing thing in the entire world, I think. I think it's the most amazing spirit, and tequila a very close second to that. Because there are so many complexities and so many different characteristics, and attributes, and nuances to bourbon and tequila that you can have, and it all comes from that beautiful barrel-aging process.
So, you sort of start off with this blank slate which is either the tequila mash or the bourbon mash and then once you put it in the barrel, something magical happens. You get all these beautiful things that pop out, and I think that people are enjoying spirits in a different way these days, meaning in cocktails and drinking things neat, sipping on things very slow and neat, where those complexities are really what people are enjoying and these different experiences that you can get from reposado tequila or añejo tequila. It's not all about silver tequila anymore, which is great.
And bourbon is so different from one label to the next that people are really enjoying exploring all the bourbons. Like, “What is that? I've never had that before. I need to try that.” It's about exploring spirits and I think it's about new experiences, which I think is awesome. I love that part of the cocktail world.
You just brought up that perhaps more guests are enjoying spirits neat. Along with that order, what are some other currently popular drink orders you’re noticing?
Spirits neat is definitely a popular order when you're getting into some of the more expensive bourbons and tequilas. That's definitely something that I've seen an uptick in. I also think that people love sours. You know, the whole classification, the whole family of cocktail sours. So, citrus-heavy drinks that are refreshing—those are never, ever gonna go away. It's just so amazing to have a nice sort of citrus bomb that's really refreshing to drink, and they can be boozy at the same. I sell a ton of different variations of sours. Remember, you can call a Margarita a “Tequila Sour.” So, that family of cocktails is always strong. I think that's a continuing trend that's not going anywhere.
And I also think boozy and bitter cocktails are on the uptick. You know, Amaros have found a huge boom and renaissance over the past couple years and I think it's just getting bigger and better for everyone. As the collective palate of our guests gets stronger, it also gets broader and more complex. So now the flavor, or the profile of bitter, is pretty widely accepted for cocktail guests and they enjoy some of those really bitter, mouth-turning experiences in a good way. I definitely see that as another trend.
You touched on this earlier but this seems like the best time to follow up on this: How important, as we talk about refreshing, sour and bitter flavors, are fresh ingredients versus store-bought?
I tell people all the time when I'm teaching classes or preaching at the bar, people are like, “Why is this so good?” And my answer is, “Well, because we're using fresh ingredients.” People can make these same drinks at home and they can be equally as good. What I do is not rocket science. But I will tell you, “If you take one thing away from this experience that we're sharing right now, just use fresh juice in your cocktails.”
You know those little plastic lemons that you buy at the grocery that have “lemon juice” in them? Or the bottles of lime juice? That's not lime juice and that's not lemon juice. I hate to break it to you, that's citric acid with flavoring in it. It doesn't taste anything like a real lemon or a real lime. Even something that is so sour as a lemon is really quite a beautiful thing. But, if you're drinking bottled lemon juice, then it has preservatives in it. It has citric acid and maybe flavoring in it. It's just not the same. It's like drinking…it's the like the difference between drinking instant coffee and a beautiful cup that a professional barista makes you. It's just night and day. They're not even really the same thing.
So, I'm a huge, huge proponent of using fresh juice and reminding people about the fact that it's really not that big of a deal to have a little bit of fresh juice or make a little fresh juice at your house or at the bar. All of a sudden, they're like, “Why would I ever buy store-bought lime juice?” And I'm like, “I don't know, I don't know.”
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But that's another exciting part about the demo bar, that you have this opportunity to engage people, whether they're bar or restaurant owners or club owners or cocktail enthusiasts, whatever, that you can engage them and remind them and then show them with some of this equipment how easy and quick some things are, like drinks. Something as simple as juicing some fresh juice and how big of a difference that can make in the overall outcome of your cocktail. Again, it's just night and day.
How have you been approaching balancing out the menu?
Typically, what I like to do, depending on the operation, is have at least one very, very approachable cocktail. So, typically that is one of the—or the one—vodka cocktails on the list. So, if people come in and they're like, “I’m not a big drinker,” or, “I'm not big cocktail person, but I've heard you guys make fantastic cocktails and I don't know what to get,” you can show them the one that's really approachable. You know, people who are drink people or cocktail people know what all the ingredients are in there.
But for those who don't know what any of the ingredients are, it's really hard to order that drink.
It's like, “What in the world is Montenegro? What does that taste like?” Then you have to go through and talk about what that is and why that's in the cocktail. And I'm happy to do that. That is why I'm there, you know? I'm the translator between this world of cocktails and people who know less about cocktails, and so I'm happy to sit there and explain away all day. Because I'm lucky, I love my job, and that's exactly what I'm supposed to be doing.
We love that: You’re the translator behind the bar. Have some cocktails become similar to wine in that guests are too intimidated to order something “too” unique or made with something “too” new or esoteric?
Some people are too intimidated to ask and they think that would be something that I would find annoying or off-putting, when in fact it's quite opposite. I want people to be able to see something, read the menu for themselves, and be like, “Oh, I know what all of that stuff is. I don't know what anything else is, I'll have that.” So, I think that having something approachable and non-intimidating on the menu is very important at all times. Because, just like everything in life, menus and cocktails—well, life in general—everything is about balance.
I think you also have to have some things that are for people who are a little more cocktail knowledgeable. Let's say somebody who's more advanced, somebody who's a cocktail-head. That person might really enjoy a more complex or bitter or boozy or strange or unusual or tequila or bourbon drink, or mezcal for that matter. Or if it's a hot day, maybe it's gin. There are so many things that go into a menu, especially seasonal menus, that makes them balanced out, from the people who know every little to the people who know a ton about cocktails, to everything in the middle. I just try to have a little something for everybody on the menu, and typically it works out pretty well.
Switching gears, what about beers? The number of breweries is up to over 7,000 in the U.S., and there are an incredible amount of categories of beers being brewed. Yet the Mexican beer segment continues to do really well compared to all the other segments. Do you think there's a reason why Corona and Corona Premium, as examples, are doing well in comparison to everybody else?
I think that those are both amazing beers, you know? I think Mexican beers…I don't think that I've had a bad Mexican beer, ever. I’ve had plenty of bad American beer, but I don't think that I've had a bad Mexican beer. I think their track record alone is something that helps their growth, probably, and I think that they're all very drinkable. It's darn good beer, man. It's good stuff.
What are some other products you’re excited to demonstrate at the Nightclub & Bar Live Bar this year?
Jarritos Grapefruit soda. The mouthfeel on that soda, it's silky and rich. It has this great mouthfeel and it's a lot different than any sodas are that are made with corn syrup because they use all cane sugar. Since the mouthfeel is completely different, it changes the entire experience. And it makes a damn great Paloma! It's really incredible, and when you try it, you're like, “This is it, this is everything I want in a soda. It's really great.”
I'm also excited about using the purees from Les vergers Boiron. They've got a ton of really cool puree flavors. Some that you would expect, and some that are totally unexpected. I think they had a chestnut puree which I think would be a ton of fun to play with, with bourbon. That, to me, sounds really cool. I picked up a couple of interesting ones, a red plum, a cantaloupe—which is going to be delicious—and also a rhubarb puree. So, I'm really excited about using all of those as well.
- El Yucateco
- Two Roots Brewing Co.
- Liquid Ice Energy Drink
- US Weight
- Pure Pour
- Frozen Bean Frappe Blends
- Les vergers Boiron
- Corona Premier
- Hospitality Brands
- Ketel One Botanical