Ordering your usual has gone out the window. Mark Stankus, operations director at Flat Lander’s Bar, said he’s watched a shift in how people are ordering. Instead of two or three Old Fashioned cocktails, “They’ll have one Old Fashioned, a Mississippi Mule and an Appleshine,” Stankus said. “They’ll mix it up.”
That one drink all night routine is tired and, with the high-end craft cocktail popularity, you’d be crazy to flirt with just one flavor.
“People are sacrificing that dollar or two and might have one less cocktail but enjoy quality cocktails,” Stankus added. So pass on the four mediocre drinks for two with high-end ingredients and more care.
IN THE RED
While the Bloody Mary Bar isn’t a new concept, the fact that this offering is popping up more frequently is worth noting. What started as a novelty at certain restaurants and bars now seems to be a regular feature which begs the question: Why the need? Why is everyone hopping on board?
“The guest’s expectations are raising the bar,” said Steve Van Dommelen from Hops at 84 East in Holland. Hops at 84 East offers a Saturday/Sunday morning Bloody Mary Bar (11 a.m. to 3 p.m.) with three different types of vodka, vegetables, three different salt rims, various hot sauces and meats including two different types of bacon.
“The trend is improvements in ingredients — more exotic offerings like jalapeno bacon,” Van Dommelen said. “The game used to be some celery, radishes and Tabasco.”
Bloody Buddies are a thing, too. “[Patrons] rarely come alone, but want to admire their creations,” Van Dommelen said. Hops offers a chaser beer to cleanse the palate that’s included in the cost. And, according to Van Dommelen, “You never see a frown on anyone’s face at a Bloody Mary Bar.”
HOME BAR MOVEMENT
With all the liquids, garnishes and accoutrements under one roof (plus, inclement weather and a lazy attitude) you’ve got the makings of a home bar. Speaking from the design and décor end, Kathryn Chaplow, owner of Kathryn Chaplow Interior Design, can tell you a thing or two about exquisite barware.
Her collectable barware line Gin + Juice was born of the need to have an exquisitely curated collection of vintage and retro barware on hand. With a pop-up shop mentality, Chaplow said Gin + Juice is “a great way for a collector to get a fix,” and works for those growing numbers interested in entertaining with cocktails in the comfort (and style) of their own home.
“I got the bug. It’s very easy to start collecting,” Chaplow said. “What we’re seeing in our culture today is that more people are entertaining and entertaining differently.”
People will gather in the home and have cocktails before enjoying a meal out or make a whole evening of dinner and cocktails right in their own nest. Barware also serves as strong design elements. From the popular Mad Men television show to new design trends leaning toward cocktail style (everyone is selling and styling bar carts these days), there’s a strong push for in-home imbibing. Which brings us to…
With an intimate selection of top shelf spirits, Art of the Table in Grand Rapids has an ear to the buzz of the cocktail crowd. From scotch, gin, vodka, bourbon and liquors like crème de Violette, there’s a bottle for every taste and personality and the paraphernalia to mix those drinks right.
“For sure muddlers are a big trend as well as the juicers,” said Art of the Table owner Amy Ruis. “Even cocktail sticks with garnishes like strawberries,” are big sellers and speak to that trend and need for the necessary and fun items that go into crafting and presenting a drink.
Ruis watches trends and finds more people trying and buying local craft cocktail mixers in vodka and gin selections as well as whiskey from Journeyman Distillery. Another tip? Get to digging out that old punch bowl because punch is on the comeback and people are mixing large batches of drinks most likely for those in-home soirees.
Cocktail makers and lovers are getting organized. The Grand Rapids Cocktail Guild, which formed this past February, is an official chapter of the United States Bartending Guild and a local collegiate of experienced professionals working to develop, enrich and share the history, art, culture and enjoyment of the distilled spirit.
“It’s a great resource in the industry for people who want to network and improve their skills,” said President Torrence O’Haire.
The group looks to improve the cocktail scene in Grand Rapids via education of bartenders and the general public by exploring spirits with more success and getting away from quantity to quality.
“Everyone knows we’re Beer City but there was nothing like that for cocktails and the spirits’ side,” he said.
O’Haire added that the recently-opened Sidebar in Grand Rapids: “Is doing a spectacular job and it’s a great spot to experience what I’m talking about.”
O’Haire’s trends touch upon using beer as a cocktail ingredient (something more than a boilermaker) or even lightweight cocktails. “There’s a trend toward session cocktails, like a session beer — you have one and go back to work,” he said. “It’s low alcohol and it might be four in the afternoon and you don’t feel like getting a buzz.”
While Grand Rapids is still finding it’s footing in the craft cocktail world, there’s a definitive shift taking place among consumers and restaurants.
“We’re in a great stage right now,” said O’Haire, who considers it like the teenage years of the cocktail scene. “There’s definitely some messes and mistakes and we need some significant direction. But at the same time, there’s talent and effort.”
There’s also Grand Rapids Cocktail Week. This is a first-time collaboration between the Grand Rapids Cocktail Guild, Experience Grand Rapids and the Michigan Distillers’ Guild. Cocktail Week helps pair the public with great outreach events and partnership opportunities like the Grand Rapids Public Museum’s American Spirits: The Rise and Fall of Prohibition.
It even helps get you some real live cocktail action. On Nov. 22, the Downtown Market and UICA will pair up for a lecture and demonstration series with cocktail tasting of themed-cocktails such as Pre-prohibition, Prohibition-era, Tiki and Modernist. The event runs 3–7 p.m. with the class portion focusing on local spirits with experts from the Grand Rapids Cocktail Guild offering up an interactive lecture on the cocktails through different historical periods.
Green Door Distilling Company is calling it a craft renaissance or craft revolution. However you phrase it, there’s a general consensus that when it comes to beverage (and food) tasting, “Everybody wants to be a part of what you’re doing,” said co-founder Josh Cook.
There’s a desire to learn and feel involved in the process. Where are your spirits being made? What ingredients are being thrown in? Are your ingredients local? Cook said these probing questions start “all the way from making our spirits to the cocktails themselves.”
People are interested — even engaging Cook, curious if he’s adding bitters and if he made them himself.
“We’ve gone from the quick and cheaper mentality to the handmade movement,” Cook said. “People are ok if it takes time, if they have to spend more money or if it’s healthier or naturally made. It’s part of a kind of story even down to a flamed orange peel — they like seeing that handmade stuff.”
While Green Door Distilling Company isn’t open yet, they’re hoping to be making spirits by December. By January, they plan to have the distillery and tasting room open to the public. This grain-to-bottle distillery is passionate about making spirits and honoring the craft with a limited amount of machinery and loads of spirit smarts.
HAVE SOME BALLS
Believe it or not, ice balls are all the rage. Craft cocktails are made with the finest ingredients so it seems counterproductive to throw in some low-grade ice from the fridge, right ice balls are one of the latest tools to have on hand and it’s a way to present a drink with class and without watering it down.
Ice balls don’t melt as fast as regular, crushed ice but keep your drink chilled nicely.
“I’ve been doing research and some places will hand-chisel the ice out of a larger block and make them into shapes, ice spheres are a huge trend,” Cook said.
Guys, even Martha Stewart is hip to this, selling her own (overpriced) sphere ice mold.