Wishes for 2012: A Little More, A Little Less

As my final blog post for 2011, some year-end thoughts about what I’d like to see in 2012:

1) I’d like to see more drink programs that engage the drinker, a la the spate of bespoke menus in which customers are offered the opportunity to gather metaphorically their ingredients from the daily assemblage provided by the house from the farmer’s market or purveyors. When done correctly (and at the suitable location — culinary-minded, especially) and when the bartenders are quick and don’t over-season the stew, such engagement may make the wait for a cocktail more interesting.

2) I’d like to see less usage of certain liqueur drink modifiers; one wag has called such ingredients (I’m not naming names here) “ketchup for bartenders,” and he’s onto something; certain flavor profiles will dominate a drink at anything much above the level of a quarter ounce, so I’m hoping more bartenders will use these liqueurs now in vogue a little more sparingly and opt for some other flavors more often.

3) I’d like to see more menus focusing on interesting “sessionable” cocktails. Beer drinkers know what I’m talking about; monster IPAs and high-octane brews are rarely the choice for a night of serious drinking — instead, something down around 5% or 6% alcohol by volume and with a more modest hop profile are more likely to be leading the mix. Bars where strong and stirred drinks are the main option leave money on the table, especially when the customer mix includes other than experienced drinkers. Here’s where beer, wine and saké cocktails can make their mark.

4) I’d like to see more scrutiny and less automatic cred given to the new wave of craft distillers. Believe me, I admire greatly the work of pioneers like Steve McCarthy at Clear Creek, the Karakasevic family at Charbay and many other small American spirit makers. But I have sampled some awful stuff in the past two years bottled under the rubric of “local and independent” and have found that, in a number of cases, the flavor profile of a product will change from bottle to bottle and not in a good way. It’s one thing when the quality of a farmer’s crop of fruits and vegetables differs year to year; it’s another when a distiller hasn’t got the chops to know how to tweak his raw ingredients or establish a house style so that consumers can count on what’s in the bottle.

5) I’d like to see the word “master” thrown around a little less cavalierly. “Master distiller” or “master blender” is a term of art more than anything else; if you’re the top person at Joe Blow Distilling, then technically, you’re a master distiller. But just saying you’re something doesn’t necessarily make it so, and if you’ve been in the spirit business for fewer than 20 years and haven’t worked under someone who has shared knowledge of all levels of the craft, well, you’ll need to convince me. Ditto “master mixologist.” It sounds great to the uninitiated, but without agreed-upon standards, like those for the Master of Wine and Master Sommelier designations, it is meaningless. Can we just retire this one, please? Like, now? Or I’m going to start calling myself Master Writer.

6) I’d like to see more bartenders be rewarded (in competitions, coverage and accolades) for skill sets that include affability, charm, presence, wit, grace, sense of humor and command of the room. Call them publican techniques if you will, but once, a great bartender was known for his ability to turn a motley array of the thirsty, weary, sour, needy and rambunctious into a nightly soiree of the beautiful and elect. This, while serving nothing more complex than highballs and bottles of beer. All too rare a person today, and I’d like to meet more.

Happy Saturnalia everyone!


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