Cheers April/May 2018

Cheers is dedicated to delivering hospitality professionals the information, insights and data necessary to drive their beverage business by covering trends and innovations in operations, merchandising, service and training.

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Page 23 of 59 24 • April/May 2018 new premium Margarita, Bell says. The El Jefe Margarita is made with Maestro Dobel Diamante tequila percolated in a glass vacuum coffee brewer through grilled oranges. "That drink category—the premium Margarita— has been a big grower for us, up 10% and at Happy Hour, up about 30%," he says. "Margaritas are a very familiar platform so you can do new and interesting flavors with them because customers are willing to engage." That makes it the perfect trade-up vehicle, Bell says, with greater profitability. It also gives Abuelo's the opportunity to move into $10 and up cocktails. El Jefe is the most expensive, and in some units, the biggest seller. Yet, at the same time, Bell says that whenever he tries to upgrade the $6 house Margarita made with mixto tequila, an uproar from guests pushes him back. With tequila, you get a mix all across the gamut, "people who want to shoot it, people who want to sip and enjoy the craftsmanship of the product, and then there are people who want to throw it into a Margarita," Bell notes. "I'm a big tequila snob personally, but if we have people come in who want a Margarita with Herradura Selecion Suprema, I'm not going to turn away an order for $40-plus drink." MEZCAL'S MOMENT Flights have been useful as a sampling and educational tool, and. At 400 Rabbits they have helped drive sales for both tequila and mezcal, although tequilas still outsell mezcals two to one. "Our flights tend to be mezcal heavy. The base of mezcal drinkers isn't nearly as deep as with tequila, but it's growing as consumers come to understand that the mezcal they had years ago at a frat party that was bad is not what that category is," says Bill Norris, beverage director of Alamo Drafthouse Cinemas in Austin. "What's changed in the last 5 or 10 years is a growing appreciation for tequila and mezcal as spirits on their own and branching out," says Norris. As a mezcaleria, Las Perlas goes further. Bar manager Bartholomew Walsh co- curates the Mezcal Collective, a membership program that introduces brands to customers in frequent talks and sampling sessions. "Over the past couple of years, people have been much more interested to try things they have never heard about, and with mezcal that's especially the case," he says. That's not really surprising, "because it's one of the last really artisanal spirits out there." La Perlas, in fact, sells about as much mezcal as tequila, with more than 175 tequilas priced from $8 to $50 for a 1-¾-oz .pour, and at least 185 mezcals priced from $6 to $85 for a 1-oz. pour. EDUCATION AND PRODUCTION Like sampling via flights, staff education is key, especially as the ethics and practices of agave spirit producers receive more scrutiny from the trade. Patron, for instance, has taken a number of steps to limit the impact of its tequila production, including reforesting, creating fertilizer compost from leftover agave fibers and developing a water treatment process at its distillery. "If you look at brands like Siembra Azul and their mezcals, they are transparent about the process, number of distillations, type of oven, on the label. Those bottles tell a story and connect people more to what is really special about agave spirits," says Norris. Understanding how, by whom and from where tequila is produced can enhance the enjoyment. "Getting bartenders and servers excited and able to convey that contagious excitement to our guests is important, especially with mezcal, because once people go down the rabbit hole of mezcal, there's no climbing out," Norris says. Indeed, there is great enthusiasm for education. "For those deep in the spirits world—they listen, they sip, they taste, the critique, they enjoy, they educate," says Snapp. Don't overdo it, though. "Maybe only 10% of your guests are looking for an education, so forcing one on everyone isn't the right move," Snapp notes. "But having a bar team that is ready to discuss tahona vs. roller mill [methods of tequila production] gives that business and bar an edge." Jack Robertiello is a spirits writer and judge based in Brooklyn, NY. The Appeal of Tequila Lubbock, TX-based Abuelo's recently began offering the El Jefe Margarita, made with Maestro Dobel Diamante tequila percolated in a glass vacuum coffee brewer through grilled oranges. "WHAT'S CHANGED IN THE LAST 5 OR 10 YEARS IS A GROWING APPRECIATION FOR TEQUILA AND MEZCAL AS SPIRITS ON THEIR OWN." — Bill Norris, beverage director at Alamo Drafthouse Cinemas in Austin, TX.

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