When I set out a few weeks ago to write about the spiked seltzer water revolution taking over the summer of 2019, I found myself in a tailspin of online threads, memes and industry banter. Through it all, what I found so interesting was the level playing field among folks championing for the same libation. Most of the community that makes up Louisville Hard Seltzer Snobs, a private Facebook group (of over 400 members now), are in the service industry. Many of the founders and moderators of the group are working in, or have worked in, some of the best bars in America or for spirits brands or distributors. And they have incredibly well-developed palates. Yet, here they are toasting with tall boy cans of Truly and shotgunning Natural Light Naturdays strawberry lemonade beer. I had a moment of wondering: Has the nature of bar culture shifted as of late? Are we getting a little more lighthearted and perhaps taking ourselves a bit less seriously for the sake of community (without sacrificing our delicious beverages, of course)? In what direction is bar culture moving, and what changes can we expect?
I hope we can all agree that gone are the days when pretention was cool in bars. Sure, bartenders are the experts when it comes to crafting your cocktail and helping steer customers in the right direction when they need guidance, but I think it’s a safe consensus that no one in the history of the universe enjoys being talked to like they aren’t knowledgeable enough about a particular spirit or ingredient. I remember a dear friend telling me years ago that every single time he’d gone into Haymarket Whiskey Bar, no matter what whiskey he ordered, be it a Benchmark or a $75 pour of Angel’s Envy Cask Strength, the bartender talked to him like he was a complete moron for making that choice. While I believe it’s still in operation, I think we all know how that place turned out. We’re in a new age, folks, being nice is cool, and everyone should be welcome (except that guy from Haymarket — he’s not welcome).
While we’re on the subject of pretension, I believe a shift in bar culture is that many bars have maintained their artisanal reputation and creations while utilizing new ideas and technology to make things a bit more streamlined and, I’ll say it, easier. We’ve all been there, waiting for a bartender in a leather apron to mix up our 11-ingredient drink whilst they peruse their hanging herb garden for the perfect sage leaf for said cocktail. Yes, when the libation arrives 15 minutes later, it’s beautiful and delicious.
But, it’s 2019.
What can we do as industry professionals to maintain the integrity of the drink but make it a far more efficient process? We can batch drinks. We can buy infusions. We can put cocktails on draft! We can even purchase technology that’ll allow us to input ingredients into a system, and it’ll tell us our profit and loss and offer alternatives on more affordable spirits to use that won’t compromise flavor! Mind = blown. Work smarter, not harder, am I right?
A common theme I’ve been noticing in bar culture (and something I hope reverberates into other aspects of our lives) is so simple yet makes all the difference. It’s that proprietors, beverage directors, bartenders and spirits professionals care. We care about how our bars are creating a carbon footprint on the planet, so we are coming up with alternatives to establish sustainable bars. In fact, the iconic Portland Cocktail Week (an education and networking conference mecca for the bar world in November this year), includes an entire concentration on anti-waste in the industry. We care about curating experiences and helping educate our guests about products that we’re passionate about in relationship to their palates. We care about our brands and are hiring social media strategists to ensure that our marketing aligns with our missions in our community. We care about the safety of our patrons in the era of #MeToo and are putting policies in place to make sure every person that walks into our establishment is safe and supported if need be. We’re looking at our careers in the beverage world as exactly that: careers, not simply placeholders until we find our next gig. We care. It’s part of the culture. Let’s keep doing it. Cheers! •