Liquors Can Be Local Too

Lumiere bar
Lumiere bar

Restaurateurs and consumers alike support small batch producers.

Nearly every restaurant has specialty cocktails these days, but there’s one way to make them really different: by using local liquors.

Local distillers not only provide very distinctive beverages, but they also appeal to customers interested in the “eat local” trend, while at the same time supporting and promoting these small-batch producers.

These drinks appeal to just about everyone, says Nathan Gerdes, lead bartender at H5O Bistro & Bar in Portland, Oregon.

“Locals want to see local products, and outsiders want to drink what’s from local providers,” he says.

H5O has an entire shelf behind its bar dedicated to local distilleries, including House Spirits Distillery, Integrity Spirits, and Deco Distilling, and it’s not surprising since Portland has an enormous number of distilleries.

Gerdes serves spirits on their own or in specialty cocktails, including the Portland Peppermint Patty, which is made with New Deal Distillery’s Mud Puddle chocolate vodka, Northwest Distilleries’ Lavishmint vodka (both are local distilleries), half and half, and simple syrup. It is shaken, strained, and served in a cocktail glass and garnished with cocoa powder.

“It’s a relatively simple cocktail, which is something I try to focus on, especially for my listed menu cocktails,” Gerdes says.

He has dozens of specialty cocktails containing local liquors, another of which is the Portland Proper. It features WhipperSnapper whiskey, a young local whiskey “with some great feisty and funky flavors,” he says. The drink also contains Fernet Branca, the restaurant’s own chai spice simple syrup, and Angostura bitters.

It is stirred, strained into a coupe glass, and garnished with a flamed orange peel. “It is a very heavy, slightly bitter, and complex cocktail, great for people who like drinks like Manhattans.”

A Talking Point

Every cocktail on H5O’s menu is specialty “because I think the public is being a little more aware of what a good bartender and a good bartender program can do for them,” Gerdes says, though he adds that he will make classic drinks, too.

What he really likes, he says, are the slight changes in flavors from one distiller to another.

“It makes a huge difference, and I like those subtleties for my cocktails. It allows us to go one step beyond having specialty cocktails.”

Featuring local distillers is also a great talking point and a way to connect with guests.

“People who are visiting have never heard of many of these products before,” Gerdes says. “It’s really fun for them to see this shelf, and I can start up a conversation about these and Portland.”

The increased demand for local liquors can help restaurants grow sales because of the number of consumers interested in “local,” says Brandon O’Dell, a restaurant consultant with O'Dell Restaurant Consulting, Kansas City.

“Additionally, products produced in smaller batches typically cost more than mass-produced products, and consumers are aware of this, so restaurants will be able to charge more for these local products,” he explains.



Also worth noting that if you are finding it difficult to locate local suppliers of spirits, then try adding the local fruit supplier you have sourced or jam/marmalade supplier, all adds to the local feel good/CSR appeal


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