Article By: DAVID SINGER
It’s spring, at last. Time to deep-clean our homes, our lives and our cellars. It’s the time of the year to look at our inventories and see what hasn’t moved since the Truman Administration.
Yes, I’m referring to that case or odd bottle of fermented beverage that someone thought was a brilliant idea to bring in (and may very well have been) only to languish in anonymity for perpetuity. Usually it’s one of a few scenarios that generally brings this long-forgotten stock to attention. One, the gremlins of the cellar/storage have just recently brought that case out of some hidden cave where items seem to magically disappear or resurface without any rhyme or reason. Anyone who’s been responsible for a large inventory knows there is some chaos theory at work in regards to keeping it accurate. Or you’ve walked by this item more times that you can count and you are finally not too busy, distracted, or whatever and it is now time to do something about it. Unless you’re the owner, the worst of these situations is having your boss walk by it and ask in a hopefully pleasant conversation, “what is going on with this product?”
The first order of business is to figure out if such an item is still of good quality. If it’s a spirit then lady luck should be on your side. Though if this is a cream based liquor it is very possible that the dairy has curdled and that’s the end of it. Outside of this, your liquor is probably in good condition and you might even get a surprise or two. A friend of mine working for a retailer recently discovered a few bottles of a rye with a liquor stamp on it from the 195Os. These can be surprisingly good as sometimes these spirits from a bygone era had a superior blend to their present-day twin and may even be worth something to the collector.
For beer, one is wise to heed the “best before” seals. Because of its much shorter shelf life than either wine or spirits, breweries have become very aware of having the correct product on the shelf. If you are in good relations with your rep, they will occasionally swap the product out for something more recent. Many brewers are very conscious of their brand image, so changing out a skunky beer for what the product should be is definitely worth it to them, though I would not recommend making this a habit.
Now for wine. This is where it can be a little tricky, depending on the type of wine and your storage conditions. First off, unless you are very familiar with the producer, appellation, vintage, and even the cuvèe, some research is in order. As we know, a true Vino da Tavola of one producer is certainly not the Super-Tuscan of another. Even then the great producers will occasionally miss the mark so it is worthwhile to check some of the major wine sites to see how this wine performed in the vintage of question.
Now armed with such knowledge, how are storage conditions at your establishment? Is it temperature controlled? If not then a price must be paid. That being a cork should be popped to see how the wine is doing. One way to minimize this is to open the wine the day of an in-house tasting and offer it as a special by-the-glass that evening. Of course this is assuming the wine is still sound. Then your cost can certainly be recovered and even turned into a profit.
Some locations, restaurant or retail, will put wines that are dead in the bottle into a discount location, either on the list or in a bin. This is a very dangerous, short term strategy with long term repercussions. Even if the client does not refuse or return such a bottle, the reputation of the establishment is now perilous. Reputation, as the saying goes is like virginity: you lose it once. At times it is appropriate to suffer a short term monetary loss, rather than be on the receiving end of a client with a bad experience.
Keeping an accurate inventory so that bottles don’t get “lost” until a thorough spring cleaning is a task that takes constant vigilance. Yet even the most conscientious establishments have many hands assisting and people are bound to make mistakes. Sometimes they are caught, but sometimes not until much later. And like anything else in our hospitality trade it’s what we do with the mistakes when they are found that separates the great
from the mediocre.