Boulder bistro offers option of becoming your own drink creator
When Evan Faber, a trained sommelier and now beverage director at SALT Bistro, was at one of downtown Boulder’s many coffee shops not long ago, he listened customers ordered espresso drinks precisely to their liking: large or small; single, double or even triple shot; decaf or high test; non-fat, low-fat, whole milk, soy milk or no milk; lots of foam, little foam, no foam; this flavoring, that flavoring or no flavoring. His observation led to musing and then to some deeper thinking:
In this Mad Men-inspired culutral age when people are again appreciating classic, retro and even pre-Prohibition drinks. Faber (below left) began formulating an idea whose time has come. He began creating comparable cocktail customization. He realized that that people feel comfortable ordering drinks that they know but most haven’t dissected cocktails on their own to slot drinks into specific mix-and-match styles. He floated the idea of guiding customers. He took his idea to owner/chef Bradford Heap (right) who told him, “You’re free to fly.” So Faber took off with his idea.
Now, when customers are seated at SALT’s upstairs or downstairs bars or at a table, they receive the conventional menu and also a plastic card and a grease pencil. On the card are pictograms of different spirits that are the foundation of cocktails (vodka, gin, tequila, Scotch, bourbon, etc.), liqueurs or other flavor or sweetening agents (citrus, mint, cucumber, cardamom, tamarind, vanilla, lavender and more for summer, with some options to be switched in fall) and style (short, tall, rocks, neat, with soda water or not). Some combinations are suggested, but customers are encouraged to create their own. The bartenders, who have all enthusiastically bought into this concept, are happy to provide some guidance. Pricing is simple: $4 for a short drink, $8 for a tall one.
A very cool iPhone app (below) being developed starts out displaying an empty glass that fills up as each ingredient is added. When the glass is full, customers can save the combination, should they want to order it again. When it goes live, it will be accessible only in the restaurant, which I consider something of a technological trick.
SALT launched the concept quietly about six weeks ago, and I finally tried the DIY cocktails last night at a special tasting that also included flavor identification by sip and smell, and “error detection” by tasting cocktails that had too much or not enough of some element. I learned a lot during a couple of head-spinning hours. A “Daisy” was a popular drink in the 1920s, but when Prohibition hit, it migrated south of the border. The Spanish word for that flower is margarita, and that’s what the drink become, eventually after Repeal migrating back across the border with returning tourists and Mexican immigrants. Add soda water to a Cuban-rooted mojito and it becomes a sling — or is it a Rickey? There’s so much to play with and so much to remember.
My combination, which I dubbed a “TequilaRind,” was a short drink: tequila, Triple Sec and on the theory that more is more, all three of the “suggested” flavors (tamarind, vanilla, pomegranate) instead of just one, a splash of soda and an edible flower that I didn’t eat as garnish. It won’t win me an mixologist honors. but it was mostly tangy with vanilla tempering the fruitiness and soda as a refresher.
When I asked Evan whether anyplace else in the country was doing anything similar and encouraging customers to concoct their own cocktails, he said that the New York Times had recently written about “a bar in Tribeca”.that was doing something similar. The story, called “Name Your Potion: Bourbon, Cardamom, Twinkies?”, was about Ward III, whose “Bespoke Cocktails” operate on a similar principle. Frank Bruni wrote the Times piece, so of course,.he called his drink, which included strawberries, a “BruniBerry.” Click here for the recipe. My TequilaRind is lost to posterity.