Bloomberg Businessweek: Star Bartenders Mix $10,000 Cocktails in High-End Spirits

From Bloomberg Businessweek:

Jim Meehan won the James Beard Foundation’s first Outstanding Bar Program award last week as the foodie group decided to expand its beverage honors beyond the wine list.

At the foundation’s annual party, the Academy Awards of the U.S. culinary calendar, Meehan’s Manhattan bar PDT was selected as “a restaurant that displays and encourages excellence in cocktail, spirit, and/or beer service,” according to the citation.

Meehan, PDT’s general partner and general manager, took the stage at Lincoln Center’s Avery Fisher Hall amid applause from legendary chefs such as Wolfgang Puck, Thomas Keller and Jacques Pepin.

“The awards committee decided that it was time to recognize the money and time restaurants were investing in their bar programs,” Mitchell Davis, executive vice president of the James Beard Foundation, said by phone.

The Beard award was the latest sign of how the growing demand for exceptional cocktails has accorded near-celebrity status to the people who excel at creating them.

“We’re seeing the elevation of the bartender as an artist,” Dave Karraker, director of public relations and events and brand manager at the San Francisco-based Campari America (CPR), said by phone. At one time, “if a bartender took more than 30 seconds to make your drink, you were upset. Now, bartenders put on a show in front of the customer,” Karraker said.

More Drinking

The trend also has boosted growth in spirits consumption. Sales of vodka, which makes up about a third of the distilled- spirits market, rose 5.9 percent to 63 million 9-liter cases, according to the Washington-based Distilled Spirits Council of the U.S.

Campari sales were up 16 percent last year, Karraker said, as the company has been nudging influential U.S. bartenders to create unique cocktails with spices, herbs or fresh fruit juice and to market some of them as a complement to food.

“You’re seeing people change their idea of what to drink,” said Marshall Altier, co-founder of industry site The Hooch “You’re seeing a farm-to-glass movement with bartenders using local ingredients.”

Meehan is appearing at this week’s annual Manhattan Cocktail Classic, along with author Dushan Zaric and Dale DeGroff, master mixologists who helped lure about 8,000 ticket buyers this year, up from about 7,500 in 2011 and about 3,500 the year before, said Lesley Townsend, the MCC’s founder, by phone.


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