Article By: David Singer
LOOKING BACK at my recent article about winter and it relationship to big reds and after-dinner drinks got me to thinking about the other beverages of the season. The upcoming holidays present a smorgasbord of traditional drinks and foods on which to build with a creative twist. Who doesn't love a steaming mug of warmth after coming in from the rapidly cooling Massachusetts weather? One of the most common and beloved beverages of the season is hot cider. Having a container out on the bar gives the comforting smell of liquid apples and cinnamon, filling the room with its warmth. This is a beautiful example of suggestive selling via the nose, and an often under-utilized approach used in beverage sales. Cider is a relatively low-cost item, whether bought pre-made or brewed by creative souls in your own kitchen. As such, it can increase sales while lowering your beverage cost. One unique up-sell idea is to offer to add an ounce of calvados or caramel liqueur to the order. This worked well for me when I was in New Orleans, where cider is not so traditional - can you imagine the results in New England?
Another hot beverage favorite for the winter is hot chocolate. Enlist the help of your pastry chef by making real hot chocolate. In a retail store you can sell blocks of chocolate with a real hot chocolate recipe. This is one of those great items that works quite well on multiple menus, from dessert to cocktails, or even as an amuse-bouche. Adding an ounce of Baileys, peppermint schnapps or Godiva isn't a bad idea either. Customers order hot drinks for a treat or indulgence so it's important to remember the presentation. Have some fun with how you serve these new drinks by adding chocolate spears, cinnamon sticks, or candy canes. Homemade whipped cream, real chocolate shavings and cinnamon are garnishes that are guaranteed to please.
Celebratory bubbles are another big tradition this time of year. Of course, Champagne is the most commonly thought-of form. There are great values from small grower Champagnes that at times cost less than the larger houses and are equal to or better in quality. Some personal favorites are Gimmonet, Audoin de Dampierre and Charles Ellner. You can also encourage your clients to look at sparkling wine from other countries. Many have come a long way in quality that rival Champagne's larger house entry level NV offerings at a half or even a fourth of the price. My favorite: 1+1=3 Cava.
On the topic of celebrations, 'tis the time for office parties. In addition to the standard party cocktails, creative retailers can offer an alternative suggestion: punch. I know that for some people punch has the same reputation as white zinfandel, but it fits the bill if someone is looking to have alcohol at the party without worrying about people over imbibing. Think of how many embarrassing moments punch might prevent and, more seriously, poor decisions to drive home. A store can offer more creative recipes than the melted sorbet served at 4-year-old's birthday parties or grain alcohol-spiked mixtures at college parties. Take a look at a recent bar book or search online for a cocktail website where you'll find a number to choose from. In keeping with the season, "punch" can also be served warm, such as one based with dark rum and butterscotch liqueur.
An area that tends to be overlooked is beer selections. Many restaurants and bars stay with the same selections year in and year out. As much as I like a good hefe weizen in the summer, I tend to crave something with a little more meat on it in the winter. Porters, stouts and robust ales ward off the winter chill and work well as a pairing with the more robust meats and sauces found at this time of the year. Samuel Smith's Oatmeal Stout is a personal favorite, or for something more state side check out Stone Brewery.
Finally, I can't write an article about winter beverages without mentioning red wines. Adding to the list of big red grapes that are starting to gain momentum is Charbono. Thought to be the almost extinct French variety of Corbeau/Charbonneau, in the past Charbono has been made somewhat similar to Barbera. In the hands of the Californian winemakers, I can only describe the offspring as a love child of Syrah and Zinfandel. The earth and pepper notes of Syrah with the plumy extraction of a warm climate Zinfandel make a perfect wine for cold winter nights.