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Bernbach, Thomson on Creating Cocktail Programs

Range/Doi Moi
Range/Doi Moi
Photos: R. Lopez
Missy Frederick is the Cities Director for Eater.

Nowadays a cocktail program is an important part of a restaurant. Going beyond the usual old fashioneds and vodka tonics, a great cocktail program is cohesive with the cuisine and complements the dishes being served.

Cocktails are an American drinking tradition, but have clearly been adopted by other countries. That's why Eater discussed how some bartenders design cocktail menus with two bartenders who have experience creating for a variety of cuisines: Adam Bernbach, Bar Director at 2 birds 1 stone, doi moi, Estadio and Proof; and Owen Thomson, Beverage Director at Range and former Head of Mixology for Jose Andrés' ThinkFoodGroup.

You've created cocktail menus for a number of restaurants with different cuisines. Where do you begin? What are the factors that you consider?
Adam Bernbach: One factor is complementing the cuisine in some form or the other. The second is referencing some aspect of the cultural context of the restaurant. For instance, the tonics at Estadio are referencing the gin and tonic tradition in Spain. And the third is a menu that frames the general environment of the restaurant in a positive way.
Owen Thomson: In creating cocktail menus for restaurants with various cuisines, I always start with whether or not that country has a particular spirit associated with it. From there I move on to the types of produce and spices that will be heavily utilized in the cuisine. However, it's always important to note that the bar does not have to be quite as thematic as the rest of the menu. Bars are always adaptable to a guest's whims (as they will constantly order off menu), so I don't try to conform too much to any theme.

How do you select which brands you stock in the bar? How much of it is based on customer expectation versus your preference?
AB: Space is very much the deciding factor. We have a very small selection at Estadio and doi moi because of the limited space at both of the bars there. In contrast, we have a very expansive selection at 2 birds and Proof. A lot of what we carry is what we think will fit the place. We base our selections on customer expectation to some extent, but in D.C. I've found that customer expectations are generally in line with what you do at the restaurant.
OT: In the end it's all about taste. At Range, all of our spirits were chosen via blind tasting so as to remove all the marketing and personal bias. Space is always an issue, but if something is good and we want to use it then we make room.

Are there any spirits that are the dominant ones in your bar?
AB: Definitely gins at Estadio. I have a large gin list there because I need and use it. We also have an unusually large selection of blended scotch at doi moi because we thought it would be interesting. It's something you don't see on a lot of lists in the city.
OT: Though we have a fairly good array of all spirits, there is a slightly larger rye selection which ties in with the Mid-Atlantic region that the cuisine is based around.

Are there any things that you find you always put on a menu -- a signature ingredient or spirit?
AB: I've probably included bitter elements on pretty much all my menus. I like it because it accentuates the body of a drink and focuses the other elements.
OT: For me it's always mezcal, no matter where I am. Any chance I can get to introduce people to it, I take.

Are there items you feel that you have to put on a menu because customers ask for them?
AB: No. I do tastings, and a couple of the bottles will make it into the bar as a result. Some of them are Bombay Original Gin, which I like for the brilliant citrus qualities; it's my favorite gin for Negronis. And I've added Four Roses Yellow Label, which I like for its nutty qualities.
OT: No, I always try to have a wide variety of flavor profiles that will hit on the notes a guest is looking for, but I don't put anything on the menu that doesn't fit just because we feel we have to. There's still an odd disconnect with guests' opinions about what they drink that does not match up with what they eat. Nobody would walk into Range and demand lo mein because that's the only thing they eat, but at the same time people will only order the same drink everywhere they go.

What inspires you to add new cocktails on to the menu?
AB: Seasonal changes are important. It keeps things exciting and fresh not just for new guests but also people who come in more often. It keeps our guests interested in what we're doing.
OT: Menu changes are definitely inspired by seasonal produce, etc., but it can also come from a new product that I'd like to work with.

Do you have any favorite pairings at the restaurants? What are they?
AB: I like the Adonis [dry oloroso sherry, sweet vermouth, bitters] with the duck and foie gras montadito [at Estadio]. I find the passion fruit, coconut and oloroso cocktail plays really well with the spices in doi moi's dishes.
OT: Los Rudos [mezcal, Lillet Blanc, grapefruit, lemon, aji syrup, egg whites] and bone marrow. The citrus can cut through the fat while the mezcal itself complements anything coming out of that big wood oven.
—Jamie Liu
· Range [Official Site]
· Doi Moi [Official Site]
· All Previous Cocktail Week 2013 Coverage [-EDC-]


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