In Vino Veritas LV – Scoured Grapes

Distilled grape spirits present yet another opportunity for you to boost F&B revenues, both through their gracing of the drinks list and as worthwhile cooking ingredients or pairings for cuisine.

The title here of ‘scoured’ was a shaky attempt at rhyming off of the common ‘sour grapes’ expression, but in a lot of ways it’s still relevant. To scour is to clean – albeit primarily through scrubbing – which is in many ways similar to the process of distilling the alcohol from a fermentation batch of whatever macerated fruit, pomace or sugar-filled primary ingredient a producer starts with. After all, they are called ‘spirits’ because these distilled products are first the hollow, tasteless essence of their juice before additional flavors are reintroduced through barrel aging or other supplementary processes.

Enough about the science of how these beverages are made; what’s most important for hoteliers is how to wield these higher-than-20% elixirs for more restaurant sales.

That 20% threshold happens to be quite important in order to properly distinguish high proof liquors from fortified wines such as marsala, madeira, sherry and vermouth. While you can craft a distilled spirit from almost any fruit or sugar-laden substance, the grape-based ones offer enough variety to merit their own discussion. These include, but are not limited to, brandy, marc, cognac, armagnac, grappa, amaro (sometimes), grand marnier, pisco, tsipouro, ratafia and orujo.

When it comes to putting these on the cocktail menu, first note that your outlet patrons may not be readily familiar with any or all of these names, which would translate into hesitation or resistance to ordering them straight up. Simply expressing to customers that they are made from grapes and have a comparable flavor may be enough to dispel any friction. Tasting notes written on the menu can work in a similar fashion. For others that need a bit more convincing, a server might explain how they make for superb aperitifs and digestifs, helping to quell the stomach while it churns the recent meal.

In this sense, such spirits are versatile for every season and can help distinguish your drink list from the prevailing obsession with small-batch whiskeys and añejo tequilas. A personal winter favorite is cognac with a splash of amaretto warmed up, while brandy also goes surprisingly well mixed into hot chocolate. These liquors are adaptable to nearly any cocktail your culinary team might concoct with many classics that I’m sure you’re already familiar with.

As for the food side of things, with many of these imparting hints of vanilla or smoke on top of the more prominent notes of wine or red fruit, the pairings work best with sweets such as fruits, tortes, select pastries, chocolates, cream-based desserts and some cheeses.

The other aspect to this is in using these liquors for cooking, either as a minor component in finishing sauces and soups or as a fiery additive to the pan to bestow a caramelized flavor that’s near-inimitable from other sources. This is doubly true for desserts where a bit of alcohol can do wonders to balance out the hyper-sugariness of most last course treats. In any case, all boozy contributions of this ort are worth mentioning as ingredients on the menu to, at the very least, make your dishes appear more elaborate in their preparation – this being especially true for those liquors with established cachet like cognac.

Whether it’s for food or just for the lounge, these beverages are yet another chance for you to distinguish your operations and attain culinary leadership within your locale. Challenge your team as a wide assortment of distilled grape spirits may be exactly what you need for the coming year to differentiate your lobby bar or another frequented outlet.

(Article by Larry Mogelonsky, published in Hotels Magazine on Tuesday, February 7, 2017)