MIXING IT UP WITH — WHISK(E)Y, WINE, ENGLISH ALE, MIXOLOGY, CHEFS AND NATIONAL HOSPITALITY PROVIDERS

Every once in a while, I take a step back and recognize just how cool this industry is and what a privilege those of us in the food, beverage and hospitality world have. This is not to say all of you in other industries are not cool or that ours is so much better. It is simply a fact that this one is a lot of fun.

I spent the past week mixing it up with celebrity mixologists, chefs and a whole bunch of smart industry people who are making their mark in their own ways. The Rancho Bernardo Inn in San Diego, CA did a fantastic job of hosting our group. A special thanks to Director of Food & Beverage, Jocelyn Kraus and Executive Chef Carissa Giacalone. Aside from the amazing food and beverage we experienced, one thing that struck me from these industry leaders is the appreciation of history and those who came before us.

In his excellent presentation on his journey in mixology, Tony Abou-Ganim “THE MODERN MIXOLOGIST” offered his insights on the industry as a whole, both past and present and how the industry evolved right before his eyes. I loved his personal stories of getting started bartending and his open appreciation for the individuals who helped him along the way. That’s really what makes the hospitality industry special. The people are what make great service and experience. The people who come before you and help you along the way, are the foundation for everything that you get to do and be.

Tony gave thanks to the legendary Dale DeGroff “THE COCKTAIL KING” who gave him an early appreciation for loving what you do and taking pride in it. It was not so long ago that everyone bartending or waiting tables was doing it to get the next “real” job. Today, there are a whole generation of young people who are pursuing their passion with the explicit goal of being an excellent mixologist, brewer, wine maker, hospitality professional. Dale also recommended Tony for the newly created Director of Beverage role at the newly opened Bellagio way back when, that changed his life forever. Dale gave us a true appreciation for the great mixologists of the 1800s and pre-Prohibition era. His entertaining and spirited history of bitters was fascinating to experience, as we tasted 6 different modern bitters.

Tim Kirkland “THE RENEGADE SERVER” gave us incredible insights into the simple nuances of what separates truly exceptional hospitality service operations from merely good ones. His observations on customer service have direct application to training and inspiring front line crews to sell more and serve better. Michael “Bumby” Bombard “Straight Up Solutions” shared his learnings in cocktail menu development and presentation including a valuable discussion on glassware, ice and a drill down into garnishes. Its all about the presentation.

We had the opportunity to share some of the finest beers in the world with my industry friends. Anyone who has visited an English pub would recognize Old Speckled Hen, the #1 English Ale.

It was fun to introduce this quirky English brand to the hospitality folks in attendance. Judging from the response, there will be some Hen coming to a restaurant near you soon.

Chef Kathy Casey of Liquid Kitchen and Master Mixologist & Chain Accounts Manager for Beam Suntory Philip Raimondo shared a fun presentation of “Bar Redux” — in which they discussed new ways to train hospitality operator staff, jazz up your drink program and bring your bar layout up to date. Of course, Phil also served as lead pianist and singer for the groups late night escapades, all legendary, none reportable.

In Whisk(e)y “Boot Camp” we took a tour around the world from Scotland to Ireland to Canada and the US and back to Scotland. Led by the knowledgeable William Grant & Son’s Whisky Team, this fun survey of different styles of whisk(e)y was enjoyable and informative. Interesting facts — top Scotch whisky export markets 1. USA 569$, 2. FR 330$, 3. Singapore 288$, 4. Germany 138$ 5. Spain, 6. Taiwan. Among my favorites were the Glenfiddich 15 Solera and The Glenfiddich 18, but there were many other excellent ones including The Balvenie 21 and Irish Tullamore Dew. Monkey’s Shoulder was interesting too.

After the whisk(e)y tasting, several chefs joined me to taste some Scotch along side some BELHAVEN beer, Scotland’s #1. The BELHAVEN BLACK was particularly popular among the culinary set as an accompaniment to the fine sipping Scotches. We all decided this would be an excellent way in which to offer guests an enjoyable and true Scottish experience.

Celebrity Chef Rick Moonen (rm seafood at Mandalay Bay) shared inspiration at the final dinner as he gave us a fireside chat tracing his culinary roots to the great NY French restaurants and today with his focus on sustainably and seafood. Rick shared his great successes as well as some of the tough times he experienced during the downturn and how he had to be resilient and reinvent himself and his restaurants to survive. I love what he is doing with mixology and cannot wait to go check out his newest iteration in Vegas (RX Boiler Room)! We played a tasting game, whereby we all tasted different ice cream creations of his and had to guess the flavors. It was quite difficult but enjoyable. Apparently he does this regularly with a group of sommeliers in Vegas but instead of 3 types, he gives them 16 types to guess. Yikes!

As always, “The DUTCHESS”, Jen Robinson was the hostess with the mostess and kept everyone moving and staying on track at the Executive Hospitality Exchange West #HEEWEST. Thanks Jen for an enjoyable experience once again and I look forward to our next adventure together!

There are many other great stories, but alas, not for this post (not mentioning any names Mike Tolley “Beverage By Design”). It was great spending time with some of the leading hospitality accounts and learning how they are thinking about their businesses and how to compete and differentiate. There may be no more competitive environment than that of the restaurant and bar business. Many of the most successful in today’s environment are differentiating on service and their unique offerings. In many cases, the beverage side of the house offers the best opportunity to achieve this. I look forward to further discussions on this front with savvy operators and brands that want to activate their business. My next such opportunity will be at the YPO Food & Beverage Roundtable in February where I have the privilege of being Co-Champion for the event. We expect 60+ F&B CEOs for an educational and enjoyable week hosted by Disney.

As Jack says… all work and no play, makes Smoke a dull boy …

Originally published on my blog DrinkTechnology

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