ccording to a Nielsen survey, Gen Xers and millennials may be at least partly responsible
for the constant search to find something new to drink. They list “craft” and “local”
among the reasons they choose the liquors they do, looking for smaller brands made
by old-school methods.
Craft spirits is the latest trend in the growing beverage market. Some 600 craft distillers are
now operating across North America, with one study projecting that the number will double
over the next six years, according to the American Craft Spirits Association.
EDUCATING AND UNDERSTANDING
Having craft spirits stocked at the bar does not make a bartender more talented or a beverage
program better. Craft spirits benefit a restaurant only if staff members fully understand what
makes it a craft spirit, and pass that knowledge on to guests.
Eureka! Restaurant Group has 12 locations in California, two in Texas and one in Washington state.
With its tagline, “Discover American Craft,” the concept is to feature items out of the mainstream.
Trevor Tyler, beverage director, says working with small, local distillers comes with the luxury of easy
access and a discussion about specific blends to include as part of the beverage program. “That’s not to
stay the more mass-produced spirits are bad, but those brands do not fit our concept,” he says.
Education for Eureka!’s service staff starts with inviting distillers to the restaurants to conduct
seminars and hold tastings. “You can’t accurately explain to a guest if you don’t know the story behind
the spirit or how it tastes,” Tyler says. “This is a vital component in providing quality service.”
Bully Boy Distillers, Boston, owned and operated by brothers Will and Dave Willis, conducts
learning experiences not only for bar staff, but also service staff and line cooks. Restaurants are
invited to the distillery for tastings, tours and education. “It could be a hardship for some restaurants
to organize a trip to Barcadi in the Caribbean or a Kentucky whiskey distiller,” says Will Willis.
Restaurants also need to understand who their guests are. Some people don’t want to try something
they’re unfamiliar with and are loyal to the brand of scotch, rum, vodka or whiskey enjoyed at home.
“Here’s an opportunity for staff to start a conversation with guests as to other options,” says Rob Ferrara,
beverage director at Lure Fishbar, Loews Miami Beach Hotel, Miami Beach, Florida.
The Fireplace, Brookline, Massachusetts, focuses on buying what’s local and in season in
New England. Jim Solomon, executive chef/owner, says it’s important to have a mix of small-
batch spirits and the more well-known, larger-produced varieties. “There are people who only
drink Jack Daniel’s or Gordon’s. I want them to have a nice dining experience and order what
they want,” he says. “I don’t want to force something on someone.”
Solomon also likes to use small-batch distilled spirits in recipes such as braised beef short ribs
with WhistlePig rye whiskey-smoked grits, rosemary roasted pearl onions, sauteed spinach and baby
carrots, and chocolate fudge cake with Bully Boy ice cream, espresso sauce and bourbon sugar.
Millennials are getting away from big-box stores and mass-produced goods. They want to
try unique products and items that are made on a smaller scale, because there’s a perception that
such goods are given more attention and care.
“People are looking for products made for quality rather than quantity and are willing to
pay more for that quality,” says Brian Willsey, vice president/co-owner, Hotel Tango Artisan
Distillery, Indianapolis, the nation’s first service-disabled-veteran owned distillery. (The name
derives from the names of owners Hilary and Travis Barnes, used in the phonetic alphabet as a
way to recognize Travis Barnes’ military background.)
Hotel Tango opened in September 2014 with a distilling area, tasting room and retail establishment.
Guests can tour the distilling area to get up close and personal with the stills and mash tanks, and view
the entire process and production facility.
eureka! restaurant group displays
spirits on shelves behind the bar to
raise awareness and spark discussion