The Growler: What are Minnesota’s bartenders doing or learning these days that will progress the spirits scene in Minnesota?
Robb Jones, Spoon and Stable and United States Bartenders’ Guild, Minneapolis–St. Paul Chapter: Thanks to the popularity and innovation in the craft cocktail movement, we’re at a point in this industry where there are very few secrets left. If you want to learn a specific way to shake, force carbonate, combine acid solutions, or the history of a certain spirit category, there is a book or video to break it down.
What’s great about what we do is that much of it is fact-based. There is an answer for what vodka is, for what the difference between this gin and that gin is, and how Irish whiskey should taste compared to Scotch whisky and why that is. Depending on where you work and what you’re selling yourself as, guests expect bartenders to be able to answer these questions, and rightfully so.
What some of the great, forward-thinking people in this industry are doing now is using all of the knowledge available to customize bar programs for specific concepts. That’s starting to happen here locally as well. Finding our own niche in this system is the next step, and it’s one many local programs are tuning into. The cocktail room boom at local distilleries is very fun to see progress and evolve. The concept of “Nordic Tiki” is something I’m really excited to see continue to pop up.
I think what we can do as a spirits community is start traveling more. We have some of the best people in the country making drinks here right now. The national partnerships and access to major global competitions provided to USBG members is an amazing thing to be able to take advantage of. We need to be seen, and people need to know the amazing things we’re doing here.
What kinds of spirits/cocktails/styles of drinking have you’ve observed becoming more popular that Minnesotans need to pay attention to in 2017?
Pip Hanson, Minneapolis: My favorite style of drinks for the past few years has been ‘super-dry’ cocktails: savory, salty, and unsweetened drinks, often made with vegetables instead of fruit to better complement those flavors. This has been my focus for several years now and I would imagine that 50 to 60% of my drinks in the future will contain no sugars, liqueurs, honeys, or other sweeteners.
I am seeing this trend growing generally; peas were the sort of sleeper hit on a lot of menus last year and I think that’s an ingredient that could potentially become much more popular. My favorite is celery, which is crisp and dry in a way unlike anything else, and fits perfectly into light, lemony, salty cocktails.
Vegetables and savory ingredients represent an entirely new dimension of what is possible in cocktails. The rules are barely written yet for how salts, vinegars, soys and fermented ingredients, etc., interact in drinks. The challenging part with these drinks is filling out the flavor when there’s a huge hole left by the lack of sugar. Salty cocktails can easily become thin or brackish—no one wants to drink sea water—but when done well, there’s nothing else like them.
I’ve gotten a bit tired of the sugar that goes into most cocktails, no matter how much we insist they’re “balanced,” and I think the general public probably has as well. There’s a pot of gold waiting for the bartender who can out-dirty the dirty martini.
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