SPOTLIGHT ON Jonathan Pogash, President & Owner, The Cocktail Guru

Educator and consultant for bars, restaurants, and well-known beverage brands, and voted “Best Craft Cocktails of New England” by Yankee Magazine, Jonathan Pogash tells us how hotels are getting it right, where he can work with them on improving their bar program and highlights trends for 2018.

How has the luxury beverage experience changed in the last few years?

Over the last several years the beverage industry has seen an uptick in premium spirits and cocktails being offered at bars, restaurants, and hotels.  The drink ingredients have improved in quality, while the actual drink recipes have become simpler.  The trend is to consolidate ingredients for ease of service and maximum efficiency.  Guests are requesting drinks that are more natural, local, and organic when possible.

Where do you think hotels are going right?

I think that there is a continued trend towards premium spirits and ingredients, but with a catch.  It’s all about pleasing the guest and various likes and dislikes.  As far as cost is concerned, menus are becoming more varied in their offerings as it pertains to cost.  There is a mix of premium, super-premium, and more cost-effective offerings on menus nowadays.  Guests have a choice as to their budget.

There is an overall discrepancy in the spirits/cocktail world.  Casual dining has seen a huge increase in sales, and super-premium spirits sales are up in the double digits.  To compensate, luxury establishments need to (and will need to) cater to several demographical layers of consumers.

Where are they going wrong?

The “wrong” of it is two-fold: Ineffective drinks menus and training – and – overly-complex cocktails.

To stand out from the crowd, drink menus need to be creative and enticing to the guest.  This is only the first part.  These drinks need to be properly executed by bar staff that is properly trained in technique, ingredients, and efficiency.  I’ve walked into numerous luxury establishments and taken a peek at their drink menus.  They seem creative and well-written on paper, but when that drink arrives, it says an entirely different store.  It’s unbalanced, not enticing to the eye, and sloppy.  It’s this ineffective execution of the drinks that undermines one’s entire bar program.

Keeping the drink recipes simple, with methods that are easy to train on and execute are pivotal in a successful craft cocktail program.  There are simple shortcuts to implement in your establishment that do not take away from the overall appearance and taste of the drink.

How are you able to work with them on improving their programs?

The first step is to assess the existing program, what needs improvement, and what needs to change.  Whether it’s an entirely different direction, or if it’s just a simple boost, we are able to work with our clients to determine their needs.  Our programs are known to increase year to year sales in the double digits (56% up in craft cocktail sales year to year in the case our most recent hotel project!).  We develop an extensive training program for each and every venue we work with.  This is key in ensuring the craft cocktail recipes and techniques we develop are properly implemented.  We don’t leave a venue high and dry after our initial trainings – part of our programming includes in-person and remote follow-up, as well as developing new drinks based on the seasons and special events.

What are the key trends for the next year?

Mexican and South American spirits are hot now, and they will continue to grow in 2018 – specifically Mezcal, Pisco, and Cachaca.  We will also see the huge rise of gin and rum products to market begin to even out.  High volume establishments will continue to realize the ability to produce quality cocktails, with quality ingredients, in an efficient manner. The luxury experience will continue to rise while keeping in mind more moderate selections for varied budgets.

Because when it comes down to it, we all want that luxury experience, right?