Are cocktail tasting flights beneficial to bars?

1st August, 2017 by admin

Are cocktail tasting menus a good idea? Do they offer a unique experience or do they detract from the rest of a bar’s output? Two industry insiders go head-to-head to debate the topic.

Alex Lawrence of Dandelyan and Porter’s Gin

Alex Lawrence, senior bartender at London’s Dandelyan and Porter’s Gin founder

“We put so much into each cocktail being perfect in its full form that a tasting menu would take away from that – there’s just so much thought that goes into each drink”

Tasting menus were in the Michelin star kitchen before they were in the bar, so I understand why they exist – but tasting flights have existed much longer than cocktail tasting menus.

As to whether tasting menus belong in bars is completely subjective – the bars that offer them tend to be smaller with more table service. Seeing them pop-up now doesn’t mean they haven’t been done before.

Bars have been offering half cocktails, which means you can taste more before getting drunk – but if you have a tasting offer that means you can try the whole menu in one sitting; what’s the motivation to go back?

Tasting menus would be unrealistic at Dandelyan from a practical point of view with the volumes that we do. Having said that, we do offer Wyld Afternoon Tea, where each course is paired with a cocktail. But that’s the afternoon tea experience – we don’t focus on the liquid.

We put so much into each cocktail being perfect in its full form that a tasting menu would take away from that – there’s just so much thought that goes into each drink, and each guest is provided with all the information about that serve. Also for us, the menu itself is so descriptive and the team so highly trained that that’s the hook, that’s the appeal.

I can see how a tasting flight might work for classic cocktails, for example an Old Fashioned, a Manhattan, and Scotch variants, but they would need to be similar to have the comparison – that’s why spirit tasting flights work. You can’t compare any of our cocktails with each other, there’s no link apart from the title of each section in the menu.

The occasion is important too – at the end of the day we’re putting booze in a drink and people are having a good time or relaxing with friends. A Michelin-starred food-tasting menu offers a different journey – they are guided and not comparable at all. The classic would be a wine tasting paired with food; other forms of a tasting menu don’t really make sense to me.

Stefano Tabellini of The Balmoral

Stefano Tabellini, bars manager at The Balmoral, Edinburgh

“We offer a six-course tasting menu that is usually enjoyed over two and a half hours and takes guests from the amuse-bouche all the way through to dessert”

The idea behind The Balmoral Bar cocktail tasting menu is to bring the tasting menu to the bar scene, so our guests can experience a journey into the cocktail world. We offer a six- course tasting menu that is usually enjoyed over two and a half hours and takes guests from the amuse-bouche all the way through to dessert. Each course is introduced with a story and there is a little bit of theatre at every step.

We change the menu seasonally so we can celebrate the best local ingredients, as well as the time of year. For example, the amuse-bouche in winter is a warm serve made with whisky infused with white tea and herbs. In the warmer months, the starter is made with white peach, orange blossom and Champagne, which truly is summer in a glass.

It’s an increasingly popular concept in the city, and we find that we get a lot of interest, especially from customers looking to celebrate a birthday or an anniversary. It’s an experience rather than just a drink, so while our general cocktail selection is popular with those stopping in for a drink or two, the tasting menu is for those who can linger longer.

There’s an art to creating the perfect cocktail tasting menu. We are dedicated to sourcing the unusual and the seasonal, as well as trying new techniques, flavours and ingredients. We try to create something that will please most palates, but, we are more than happy to modify the menu to suit anyone’s preferences.

It is a concept that would translate into other venues, but I believe that it sits especially well with us because of who we have been able to take inspiration from – namely our Michelin-starred Number One at The Balmoral that offers an award-winning tasting menu.

At The Balmoral, we have found that there are three main elements to the menu’s success: dedication to using the very best local and seasonal ingredients; well-trained mixologists with the knowledge and passion to create a rounded cocktail journey; and the right kind of environment in which guests can sit back and enjoy the story unfolding.

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