Part II with Cameron Mitchell Restaurants Beverage Director

Dear Client:

Yesterday, we published the first part of our interview with Cameron Mitchell Restaurants director of beverage Ryan Valentine [see WSD 04-16-2019]. Today we’ll pick up where we left off in the conversation.

Wine & Spirits Daily: In general, how do your sales break down across bev alc categories?

Ryan Valentine: Wine is number one, spirits are number two, and beer is a distant third, as a company.

WSD: Do you think that’s based on the nature of the concepts?

Ryan: I would say so. I mean most of our concepts are pretty upscale, so they tend to be more wine friendly.

Our sister company, which is The Rusty Bucket, it’s the other way around. The Rusty Bucket has beer as the number one, and wine as number three, and spirits in the middle. But that’s our most casual concept, so it makes sense.

WSD: Digging further into trends, what are the most popular cocktails and wines in the Cameron Mitchell Restaurants?

Ryan: Generally speaking seven to eight of the top ten things that are selling are usually our specialty cocktails, and then the other two things almost without fail are Tito’s and Grey Goose.

Tito’s came from nowhere, used to be Grey Goose was number one spirit named in your category, but now Tito’s is doing that more often than not.

WSD: That’s a nice segue to craft. How do craft spirits fit into the beverage programs?

Ryan: So [we use some] local spirits, local distilleries in some of the markets we’re in. We do try to localize our Ocean Primes. So Denver [Ocean Prime location] has some Leopold’s in it, because it’s a great little distillery. You want your restaurant to reflect the market that it’s in, so we definitely pay attention. We don’t just buy them because they’re local, but if they’re good and they’re local then we’ll find a way to make sure they’re on the back bar.

WSD: In your opinion, how have consumer tastes changed over the years?

Ryan: There was a time where we would do things and people weren’t ready for them. I remember when we opened the first Ocean Prime, I put a margarita in play that had a little splash of Laphroaig in it to give it a little smokiness, and people just sent it back every single time it went out. I had to get rid of it.

But now–10 years later–you can sell mezcal. So what people weren’t ready for 10 years ago, now they’re ready for it. And when people say they wanted something spicy 10 years ago, they didn’t really mean it, and now if it’s not really spicy when you say it’s spicy, then you’re going to disappoint them.

So the guest is so much more focused, and I think it’s a great opportunity if you’re trying to make things great, and you’re looking to have points of differentiation – they’re going to get noticed.

On the other side of the coin, if you’re not doing something behind your bar to make sure your restaurant is attractive to people, you’re in trouble, because it’s too late not to be.

WSD: As a result of changing consumer tastes, do you feel you have more freedom to experiment with cocktails?

Ryan: Oh yes, for sure. People are more open to trying so much more nowadays, and it used to be if you wanted to put bitter in something we would use Aperol instead of Campari because it’s far less bitter. And now you can actually use Campari if you want to.

WSD: What other trends are you seeing in wine and spirits on-premise?

Ryan: With wine obviously we’re seeing tons of interest in the rose category, we’re seeing tons of interest in the red blend category.

You’re still seeing a lot of craft cocktails, and I think we’re seeing, for us, a lot of classic cocktails. But classic cocktails with a twist – just freshened up, or with something unique added.

Another trend that we’ve been working with for these next two restaurants that we’re getting ready to open, is some of the visual theater elements….We have this one cocktail that’s going to come in a hot teapot, and you pour it into a teacup… and it’s got a milk fat washed vodka that has chamomile, this really strong tea flavor.

I think the other big piece that we’re seeing is we’re starting to name some of our cocktails with whimsical, fun names instead of just naming them after some description of what would tell you is in it.

WSD: How else has on-premise strategy evolved?  

Ryan: I think the bar has been awakened in America. We started doing fresh cocktails almost 14 years ago, and there really wasn’t a lot of competition. Now, everybody’s doing something great behind their bar.

And while that happened a lot of things along the way came down the pipe, and some of them were such complexity, the cocktails, and so much time to make them, and so on and so forth, and now I’m all the way back to the beginning where I don’t want people to wait forever for a cocktail, I don’t want people to see a bartender that’s too cool to talk to them because they’re such a mixologist.

I want people to have a great time. We are spending our time talking to our bartenders about, “Hey, you need to be a part-time map quest, part-time concierge, a part-time comedian. You need to provide a great experience for people, whatever it is that they’re looking for.” Yes, we want you to make the cocktails correctly, and we want you to care about the craft, but let’s not get silly about it. Let’s realize that the people that are coming and sitting in a bar are still looking for a great experience, and let’s not lose sight of that.”

13, 14 years ago, if you cared about how you made a cocktail, you were the dork, but now if you don’t care and you’re behind the bar then nobody wants to work with you. So the fundamentals are good now.

WSD: Thank you for your time, Ryan.

ALABAMA INTRODUCES BILL TO OPEN UP DTC WINE SHIPPING

Alabama lawmakers introduced a bill to open up direct-to-consumer wine shipping in the state. Alabama is one of a handful of states that don’t allow DTC wine shipping along with Delaware, Mississippi, Utah and Kentucky.

HB 350 would allow a licensed wine producer to obtain a direct shipping license and ship unlimited quantities of wine directly to consumers’ homes in the state, per a local news affiliate.

Similar legislation has been introduced in the past, but never garnered enough support to move forward.   

The bill is scheduled for a public hearing in the House Commerce and Small Business Committee.

You may recall, Kentucky may also open up DTC wine shipping soon. The state Senate passed a bill to allow out-of-state wine shipments earlier this year, but it still needs to pass the House.

WSD BRIEFS:

COPPER & KINGS UNVEILS ANNIVERSARY LIMITED RELEASE. Copper & Kings is celebrating their fifth anniversary with A Song for You, a limited release American Brandy. It is matured in Kentucky bourbon barrels for five years before being bottled at 100 proof. It is available at the distillery and select retailers.

LE GRAND NOIR LAUNCHES SPARKLING BRUT ROSE. Le Grand Noir has launched a sparkling Brut Rose from France. The wine is made from 100% grenache, created by secondary fermentation in the bottle and spends six months resting on lees. Le grand Noir Brut Rose is imported by Prestige Beverage Group and is available nationwide with a suggested retail price of $15.

QUINTESSENTIAL WINES INKS PARTNERSHIP WITH FOPPIANO VINEYARDS. Foppiano Vineyards will be marketed and sold exclusively in the US by Quintessential Wines. Through this partnership, Quintessential will bring five varietals from Foppiano Vineyards to trade outlets nationwide, including chardonnay, sauvignon blanc, petite sirah, pinot noir and zinfandel.

GREY GOOSE VODKA INVITES CONSUMERS TO “LIVE VICTORIOUSLY.” Grey Goose vodka has launched its newest global brand platform, Live Victoriously. This invites consumers to live victoriously by realizing that they are the special occasion and to never compromise on quality. The company launched several TV spots directed by Fredrik Bond featuring taglines like “Live like you’re the special occasion” and “Live like every day is your birthday.” To celebrate the launch of this platform, Grey Goose treated bar crowds to surprise performances from comedians Jamie Foxx, Aidy Bryant and Colin Jost in New York and Jack Whitehall in London.

Until tomorrow,
Sarah

“All change is not growth, as all movement is not forward.” – Ellen Glasgow

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