The Shout Magazine (New Zealand)

Celebrating the cocktail on World Cocktail Day & beyond

By Mike Egan, Co-Owner of Monsoon Poon, Wellington

World Cocktail Day is on May 13 and it’s the perfect opportunity to use this much-loved drink to get patrons through your venue’s doors.

For the history buffs, the date marks the first time the word “cocktail” was published, and the beginning of the drink’s rise in popularity around the world.

Mike Egan

On the same day in, 1806, the New York based tabloid The Balance and Columbian Repository defined a cocktail as “a stimulating liquor, composed of spirits of any kind, sugar, water and bitters”.

The word then increasingly became a regular term in the vernacular of the English-speaking socialite.

Interestingly, prior to this, according to the Oxford English Dictionary, the word meant “a horse with a docked tail which sticks up”.

In a New Zealand context, I’ve witnessed the evolution of the cocktail since the 1980s, when I began my hospitality career.

Back then, cocktails were very simple, sweet concoctions, and often very creamy. Milk companies made a fortune selling ‘bag in the box’ milk for venues so they could meet demand for the-then exceptionally popular Kahlua and milk drinks.

Prior to the passing of the new Sale of Liquor Act in 1989, you could only enjoy a drink in pubs, taverns, and licensed restaurants.

Most hospitality establishments were very large venues as there was a cap on the number of licensed premises in a town.

As they were mostly owned by Lion and DB Breweries, they mainly focussed on selling beer which was pumped through hoses from tanker trucks into our 2000 litre tanks.

The changes in this new legislation broke the previous duopoly as it now allowed for anyone to open a bar of any size, and it also changed the operating hours from compulsory 11pm closing to 3am.

One of the first in the new wave of openings was Wellington’s first pure cocktail bar, Route 66, on the corner of Willis and Bond Streets and The Marble Bar on Lambton Quay.

These places pioneered additional beverage choices as prior to this change a bars offering was largely jugs of beer, bourbon or rum and cokes, or wine, which came in 50 litre kegs from Australia, the choice was Medium or Dry, and it was dispensed through the split gun alongside the coke and lemonade.

These pioneering places sold bottled beer and varietal wine and, more importantly, cocktails and quality mixed drinks.

The cocktails that were first showcased were what we’d now consider the classics: Brandy Alexanders, Grasshoppers, Golden Dreams and Tequila Sunrises or shots like B52’s or Sex on the Beach. They were hugely popular.

As demand grew at these new bars, they started to offer more sophisticated cocktails like Martinis and Negronis. This era coincided with air travel becoming more affordable and a rise in overseas travel, which saw people having cocktail experiences while abroad which they wanted to also have back here in New Zealand.

Fast forward 30 plus years and now great cocktails are now a large part of many establishments’ beverage programmes and, just like coffee, a great cocktail is widely available throughout the country.

At Monsoon Poon they are an important part of our brand and I remember when we they really started to sell for us, in the early 2000s, after I had visited Chicago.

I decided to use a tip I picked up there and take it back home to the restaurant. I printed our cocktail list on the back of the food menu and placed the menu cocktail-side up on every second table setting.

The cocktail list was then in prime position to grab attention when diners were first seated and get them thinking about – and ordering – cocktails from the start of the evening. This one thing alone had the biggest positive impact we’ve ever had on our turnover – our cocktails tripled in sales the very first night, and we’ve never looked back.

So, let’s celebrate this special drink in our venues on World Cocktail Day this May 13!

My top tips for leveraging World Cocktail Day in your venue:

Come up with unique cocktail you’re proud of…

And promote it as your ‘World Cocktail Day’ drink on the day. Alternatively, you could try providing a ‘Bartender’s Choice’ option, where you have a range of cocktails to suit different tastes (sweet, tangy, dry, fruity) and give each customer the cocktail that best suits their desired taste. This creates a fun, interactive experience with the bartender which both patrons and bar staff enjoy.

Showcase a cocktail each day of the week

Choose a cocktail from a famous bar around the world, and tell customers a bit about where the drink originated from. For example, the Singapore Sling which sprang from the Long Bar at the Raffles Hotel in Singapore, or the Mimosa which emerged from the Hotel Ritz in Paris.

Showcase five cocktails from five “great Kiwi bars”

Pick venues that you revere, such as the Enzoni from Hotel Ponsonby, or the Hazelnut Espresso Martini from Dirty Little Secret.

Click here for creative cocktail recipes your venue could try this World Cocktail Day.

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