Shooting for the High End

Shooters have come a long way in our culture. Shots of favorite spirits — from Jack Daniels to Patrón — or liqueurs such as the ever-popular Jagermeister and flavor-forward DeKuyper Pucker line or the Hiram Walker liqueur family will always be the call for those guests looking for the quick, intense experience. But as the industry and the bar patron navigate back to the classics and incorporate the freshest of ingredients for the present, shots can and should move in a similar direction.

Classic and Fresh
“The No. 1 thing for me when I think of a shot is quality alcohol,” says Tim Cooper, cocktail consultant with Contemporary Cocktails Inc., a New York City-based consulting and education firm. “That’s obvious enough, but the second thing I look for is absolutely fresh ingredients. You definitely want to taste the alcohol in a shot, but, just like when you are making a cocktail, everything needs to be fresh.”

When he’s not advising on behalf of Contemporary Cocktails, Cooper can be found bartending at GoldBar on the city’s Broome Street. He says that despite being the type of upscale place that doesn’t hear a lot of calls for shots, he still fields enough orders for them for the diminutive but powerful tipples to be financially viable.

“I have been discussing better brands with my patrons, and when someone asks for your typical requests, I have been suggesting they try Partida or Averna Amaro. I know people are drinking more quality in cocktails these days, so shots should be going the same way,” he says.

Jonathan Pogash, director of cocktail development for Hospitality Holdings Inc. — the owner/operator of New York City venues including The World Bar, The Campbell Apartment, The Carnegie Club, Bookmarks Lounge and Madison & Vine — has similar observations. While his establishments don’t see high shot traffic, he says he can’t ignore their viability. Patrons who want shots, he says, are indeed looking for something better today, and supplier marketing shapes that demand.

“Truthfully, my bars are not shot places, either,” Pogash says. “But in creating some shot drinks for various spirit and liqueur brands, I’ve noticed that for the most part, liqueur brands are most interested marketing shot recipes.

A huge trend is making shots more interesting — less sticky sweet and more natural in flavor or seasonal. Shooters are basically following the trend in cocktails these days. Shots can now even be mistaken for hand-crafted, full-serving cocktails themselves.”

Hot Trend, Small Glass
One familiar shot concept is taking on a new role at the bar, and adding to ticket totals. Chasers create an opportunity to really impress and educate patrons with fresh, seasonal ingredients, bringing out underlying nuances of flavor and adding that special something to keep the host establishment top-of-mind.

“I have seen a few mixologists working with their own recipes for chasers,” Cooper says. “There is a place here in the city called The Rusty Knot, and they do a Pickle Juice chaser. This trend is a movement spinning off from Sangritas following tequila shots. In Italy, they use pear nectar as a chaser. It’s one thing I personally have not played around with enough, but am definitely planning to.”

Skyler Spohn, manager of The Rusty Knot, explains that the Pickle Juice chaser comes alongside a shot of Jameson Irish Whiskey upon request for $1 added to the $8 shot.

“It sounds strange, but the taste is like a fast food hamburger,” Sphon says, “kind of similar to the taste of a McDonald’s hamburger with pickles. We actually make our own pickles here back in the kitchen, and we leave a decanter of brine behind the bar.”

The pickle juice isn’t even on the menu. “It’s become really popular through word of mouth,” Sphon explains of the unique chaser. “It’s also our buy-back drink now if we have a customer we know and love.”

Going even higher up the upscale ladder, some are places featuring molecular mixology are applying that technique to the shot category. Tailor in New York City, for example, is one spot where you might encounter an errant Absinthe Gummy Bear [85 percent absinthe with a bit of gelatin and sugar] or two going over the bar.

“That’s the nice thing about molecular,” Cooper continues. “These individual processes and pieces take a lot of intensive time, but as long as you have time to prep these before a shift, you then just have to plate them. If you have the time and the knowledge, I’d say there’s a real ‘wow’ factor in them.”
Batching Works Best
If your spot is not high-end or is too high-volume to warrant an individually handcrafted Sangrita presentation or an Absinthe Gummy Bear, shots are still a viable way to upsell your customer into the age of fresh and classic. For those looking to save time but send the message of quality, both Cooper and Pogash agree that batching is a must.

“If you keep them in batches in the fridge,” advises Pogash, “you can pour them right from the container they’re in — basically like bottled cocktails. Stick to just a few ingredients in the shots themselves, and this will aid in time management on busy nights.” NCB

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