Bar Bites

National booze trends filtered through a Colorado lens.

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Forget quarantinis; margaritas are the king of COVID cocktails. / Oksana Bratanova © 123RF.com

¡Tequila! #FTW

According to WineSearcher.com, tequila saw a 64.3 percent growth for the week ending August 1, thus crowning margaritas the king of COVID cocktails. And Nielsen, the consumer analytic services company, agrees, “Tequila was the fastest-growing category in on- and off-premise before COVID, and that trajectory hasn’t changed.” On the ground and behind the well, the view is very much the same: Sales have been strong. Leo Dunaev of Dos Santos Taqueria in Denver’s Uptown neighborhood says the lockdown seemed to have people chasing familiar flavors—margaritas among them. “I think this was an attempt to restore some sort of normalcy in their lives. Tacos and margaritas did just that for many,” he says. “In an eight-week period, we sold over 5,000 to-go margaritas and over 15,000 tacos!”

Say It Ain’t So…

If there is one thing we know, it’s that Americans are drinking more than ever. Luckily for us, moderate consumption with the absence of binge drinking presents little health risk. That said, the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee (DGA), an independent advisory board appointed by the Departments of Agriculture and Health and Human Services (HHS), thinks differently. In an update to the dietary guidelines for Americans, HHS lowered the recommendation for moderate drinking for men from two drinks per day to one. We asked Denver cardiologist Abid Hussain what he thought about this. “If there is no new study to show that lowering the guideline is needed, why do it? I get that there is more consumption, which is not healthy, but why lower the recommendation instead of reinforcing the existing healthy guidelines?”

Help Lebanon, Buy Wine

The massive August explosion in Beirut’s port is causing further stress on a country already in the midst of a financial crisis. What many people don’t know is that wine is one of Lebanon’s highest-profit exports. According to a 2019 BlomInvest Bank Survey of the country’s official wine producer association, Union Vinicole du Liban (UVL), Lebanon produces around 8.5 million bottles a year and exports around 50 percent to markets including the United States. Although the country has an estimated 46 producers, the four largest producers—Château Ksara, Château Kefraya, Château St. Thomas, and Château Musar—together account for about 70 percent of the country’s total production. Wine exports in 2018 were valued at $20 million, up from $10.9 million in 2010, or around 2,322 tons, up from 1,662 in 2010, the report said.

Château Musar, which has been around since 1934, is probably the best known of Lebanese wines. The wine is produced in Bekaa Valley, a region whose winemaking history reaches back to biblical times.

You can find Château Musar on the wine list at Elway’s, Guard and Grace, Beatrice & Woodsley, Safta, El Five, and Ash’Kara, to name a few. If you’re interested in carrying these wines at your restaurant, Château Musar is distributed by Maverick in Colorado.

Oh, To Be a Sommelier Right Now

Sophie Yoneoka, former head sommelier at Summit at the Broadmoor Hotel, on shifting from the floor to retail.

My experience over the last six months started when I was furloughed from my job as a head sommelier at Summit at The Broadmoor, a job I held for five years.

A couple of weeks after being furloughed, I managed to snag some part-time work at Sovereignty Wines, a local fine-wine retail shop [in Colorado Springs], which felt nice because I was staying busy and involved in the wine industry. However, the future of restaurants opening back up and being a stable industry amid the pandemic never escaped my mind.

Leading up to the Independence Day holiday, things began to open up again, including the hotel I worked at. I was invited back, but didn‘t feel comfortable around the tourist industry that was flocking to Colorado from states like Texas, Florida, and Arizona. I also knew that business for the rest of 2020 was not going to be the same as in years past. I didn‘t want that uncertainty to weigh on me, so I decided to stay at the wine shop full time.

Many other local sommeliers have also shifted out of the restaurant industry. A handful that I know have also pivoted to retail. I’m finding that it’s a unique time to be an off-premise buyer because many restaurants cannot take their typical fine-wine allocations and many rare placements are available for retail to now acquire.

A lot of consumers have also had a substantial amount of time on their hands due to the pandemic and are more educated and open-minded than ever before. The quality and pedigree of the wines I am seeing being sold is remarkable. They are also buying and inquiring about more obscure liqueurs and cordials to make their own cocktails at home. 

I think restaurants are very important, relevant, and more special than they were before COVID. That being said, it’s a highly competitive time for restaurants, and to be successful will mean being the most mindful, clean, and creative. The food programs and hospitality teams that stand out the most will survive. 

The pandemic has been a huge turning point for the industry. We were in a restaurant renaissance. It will be interesting to see the long-term effects on the industry, especially fine dining; fast casual was already heavily favored before the virus.

As for the future of sommeliers, people still want that consultation and experience. I have done a handful of intimate, outdoor wine dinners in the past month, and they have been special to a lot of people. Having a sommelier thoughtfully introduce a wine and/or pair it with food is a very personal moment that, we now know, is memorable and fleeting. Being a sommelier or having the service of a sommelier in some capacity (restaurant, Zoom, or retail) is all about living in the moment, which is becoming a priority to people in uncertain times.

What 25-year-old is going home at 11:30 p.m. and not going to someone’s house party where no guidelines are being followed?

William Frankland, Recess Beer Garden and The College Inn

The Real Problem with Early Last Call

William Frankland, Recess Beer Garden and The College Inn

This 11 p.m. thing is forcing people to have after-parties at their homes where there is no social distancing, so in a way, I think it’s making things worse. What 25-year-old is going home at 11:30 p.m. and not going to someone’s house party where no guidelines are being followed? If anything, I think the bars should stay open later. At least guidelines are being followed. I mean, Little Man Ice Cream has people on its patio and a line out the door until 1:30 a.m. How is that any safer? The guidelines are completely killing me right now. I’m down 75 percent. How am I going to survive the winter like this?

DiningOut Tip: When customers ask how to maximize their last call, encourage buckets of beer or large-format drinks that stay colder longer.

Italian Wines are Enticing U.S. Drinkers

We have all been reading about tariffs on imports from the European Union and how they place considerable stress on member countries like France. In the meantime, Italian wines have separated themselves as one of the best values. Ryan Fletter, co-owner of Denver’s Barolo Grill, had this to say about the situation. “Just a few short weeks ago, Italy remained unscathed again, for no additional tariffs [were imposed] by the United States Trade Representative. Italian wines were already a tremendous value considering the high-quality output from the boot. With more than 600 grape varieties in commercial production, Italy has the diversity and the high quality within categories from the sparkling prosecco wines and the robust reds of Chianti to the southern Sicilian reds and the northern whites of the Alto Adige. But with looming tariffs and stunning vintages in the market currently, the buying opportunity is quite good for consumers right now. The best bang for the buck is in Italy. For our customers dining in with us, they are treating themselves to more expensive wines. On the other hand, on take-out orders, people want the best possible value.”

Welcome the onset of autumn with Breckenridge Distillery’s cool-weather mule. / arinahabich © 123RF.com

Mules Aren’t Just For Summer

That’s what Billie Kiethley at Breckenridge Distillery says. Instead, she extends the season (because we all know guests can’t resist the copper mug) with this version:

Rocky Mountain Fall Mule

  • 1 1/2 ounces Breckenridge Bourbon
  • 1 ounce unfiltered apple juice
  • 1/2 ounce honey simple syrup*
  • Top with ginger beer
  • Squeeze in a quarter lime
  • Garnish with a dehydrated apple chip
  • *To make honey simple: Over medium heat, add 8 ounces water, 4 ounces Colorado honey, and 4 ounces sugar. Stir until dissolved. Let cool.

What national beverage trends do you think are worth exploring? Email your experiences (and thoughts, opinions, and questions—anything, really) to askus@diningout.com

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