Episode 059 - Drinkonomics 101
What’s shakin, cocktail fans?
Welcome back to another episode of the Modern Bar Cart Podcast!
This time around, we got the chance to pull up a mic with Brian McGahey (@bmichaelwrites) of the Neighborhood Restaurant Group, who’s currently running the bar program over at EatBar (@eatbardc) in Eastern Market here in Washington, DC. And our focus for this interview is to demystify the way that cocktail bars price their cocktails and to give you a set of tools to help you spot a good cocktail deal when you see one. The hospitality industry is driven by a really unique set of economic forces, and having a better grasp of those forces is a great way to understand the value of a perfectly crafted cocktail, both at home and out at the bar.
Some of the specific topics we discuss in this interview include:
- What you’re actually paying for when you go out to a nice bar or restaurant
- How a bar prices out their cocktails and creates a balanced and profitable beverage program
- The ways in which a cocktail menu is like a resume for a bar, and how to read that resume to determine the potential quality of the drinks before ordering
- How tipping and certain cultural expectations about how bartenders and servers are paid has led to new legislation that’s threatening the service industry here in DC
- A few notes on the Woody Allen movie, Midnight in Paris
- And much, much more.
This interview was recorded at a really cool spot called Rustico in Ballston, just across the river from DC, so please enjoy the audio verite that comes from recording on-location.
And with that in mind, let’s kick off this drinkonomics crash course with Brian McGahey of the Neighborhood Restaurant Group.
Featured Cocktail - The Bee's Knees
This week’s featured cocktail is a little classic called “The Bee’s Knees.”
To make one, you’ll need:
- 2 oz Gin
- ¾ oz Honey Syrup
- ¾ oz of Fresh Lemon Juice
- And an optional lemon twist for your garnish
All you gotta do is shake all those ingredients over ice, strain it into a stemmed cocktail glass, and enjoy.
This is a Prohibition Era drink, and all the recipe blogs out there - at least the ones on the first page of the google results for this cocktail - seem to be plagiarizing a wikipedia article that suggests the sweet and sour notes in this drink were meant to cover up the harshness of bathtub gin - i.e. stuff that was made without sophisticated distilling technology.
Now, I’m sure there’s at least a grain of truth to this - there was a lot of illegal distillation happening during Prohibition - but let’s also just appreciate the fact that sweet and sour just go really well together, especially when it comes to clear spirits like gin.
Cocktail Print Giveaway
I got an email from podcast listener Greg Azorsky, who was in DC for a couple days recently, and he wanted to grab a cocktail and hang out. Twist my arm, right? Well, Greg is a Kansas City based apparel and print designer, and he was kind enough to donate a couple really cool signed prints - one of a Negroni, and one of a Boulevardier - the two most iconic boozy Campari cocktails.
We’ll have photos of both prints on our Instagram the day this episode launches - July 26, 2018. And if you want to win one of these prints, you need to do 2 things:
- In a comment, specify whether you are on Team Negroni or Team Boulevardier, and
- Tag a couple friends who also enjoy a good cocktail.
Also definitely check out Greg Azorsky on instagram @kccool11 to see his creative designs and all the amazing cocktails he makes.
There are a few really important things to keep in mind when it comes to purchasing cocktails at a cocktail bar. Below, we summarize some of the economic forces that will affect your experience.
The Cost of a Cocktail
When building a cocktail menu, some of the costs that are built into each drink include:
- Cost of ingredients
- Utilities (electric, water, etc.)
- Wages (bartender, busboy, kitchen staff)
- Markup - in other words: the profit the bar makes on the drink
How to Read a Cocktail Menu
A cocktail menu is like a resume for the bar you're visiting. The number, variety, and price of the drinks can tell you something right away. However, there are some other elements you can look at to determine if you're getting really high quality cocktails.
- Descriptions - how well are the cocktails described, relative to the amount of room to do so.
- Brand Names Listed - if the names of the spirits are listed, you know that they were intentionally chosen.
- Typos - Just like on a resume, typos indicate sloppiness and a lack of care.
- House-Made Ingredients - Indicate commitment to both quality and consistency
You can also glean some information from your interactions with bartenders and servers. Someone who has skill will make eye contact, serve you as quickly as their time permits, and will take time to answer your questions. A skilled bartender will also take the time to measure ingredients carefully (never free-pouring) and will keep a very clean bar.
The Old Fashioned is something I'm a little obsessed with. I think there's a whole lot of potential to play with it.
If You Were a Cocktail Tool or Ingredient, What Would You Be?
Bitters. To me, bitters knit a cocktail together. They bring together all the disparate ingredients and make it work, and that's what I do as a bar manager.
Cocktail with Anyone, Past or Present
A Martini or a Daiquiri with Ernest Hemingway in Paris before the second world war - the reason being that Hemingway hung out with everybody in Paris at that time.
Influential Cocktail Books
Advice for New Home Bartenders
Don't be afraid, ever. Try things, experiment, have fun. And while you're experimenting, write things down.