“There’s something so charming about something small,” says Jess Schmidt, general manager at Dominick’s, an Italian-American restaurant and martini bar in Los Angeles. Open since the late 1940s, Dominick’s serves small plates as part of its menu, but the charming small options Schmidt is referencing are part of The Littles, a collection of $4 mini martinis served in small glasses during happy hour.
Mini cocktails are providing another way for tipplers to try different creations while bartenders experiment with flavors and ingredients, just like small plates for chefs. “These days the bar is just as much a part of a restaurant’s culture as the food,” Schmidt says. “Having small cocktails at a bar is like having small plates in the kitchen.”
Mini cocktails tend to top out around 3.5 ounces in size, which sounds diminutive when considering that the standard shot glass holds 2 ounces of a spirit and the average highball glass holds about 10 ounces. With such small portions, why would customers want to make their beverage a mini?
“If you order a big drink and you don’t like it, you feel locked into drinking the whole thing,” says Peter Van Etten, general manager at Salty Sow, a gastropub with locations in Austin, Texas, and Phoenix.
The bar there serves flights of mini cocktails that are batched before every dinner service. The small portions allow for guests to give more input on drinks.
With mini portions, a diner can try a flight of three cocktails and describe what she likes, or doesn’t like, about each one. After three full-sized drinks, on the other hand, guests’ taste buds may not be as sharp.
“Our customers love it,” Van Etten adds. “The successful mini cocktails end up on the full-size cocktail menu. It’s like testing.”
At The Nickel in Denver, chef and restaurateur Jake Linzinmeir has found that mini cocktails help control cost and create consistency. The restaurant’s Barrel Bar has a line of custom, barrel-aged cocktails on draft that it uses for its $12 tap cocktail flight. The flight has three mini cocktails including the Nickel Negroni, made with barrel-aged gin, vermouth, Campari, and an orange peel, and since there’s no shaking or mixing required, it’s the same each time. “From an operational standpoint, it’s fast and 100 percent consistent,” Linzinmeir says.
Schmidt at Dominick’s notes that just as important as taste is the presentation of the mini cocktail. “If a mini portion is served in a big glass, it doesn’t look like a good value to my customer,” she explains. She suggests bar managers and operators invest in mini coupe or martini glasses to achieve the optimal presentation.