Over the last decade or so, Ireland has become a nation whose restaurants and bars pride themselves on their Irish foods. Provenance is everything now, to such an extent that if a local venue chose not to use items like Irish beef, we would be wondering why and hitting them up on their social media channels to complain. Yet at the same time, the love for our native drinks in the hospitality sector is not as strongly apparent. Current licensing laws don't help this of course. They are structured to easily allow for wines to be sold and although there are a couple of commercial vineyards in Ireland now, 99% of wines served come from abroad. It's been over 50 years since Myrtle Allen famously turned her own home into a hotel so that Ballymaloe House could use a legal loophole just to serve Irish whiskey. If one were in that predicament today, the same would have to be done as the law has not changed. It seems insane that if a budding restaurateur were just starting off, he or she would have to jump through hoops or pay a lot more for their licence, simply for the privilege of buying and selling native Irish draft beers and spirits.
But despite our archaic laws, we still need to evolve our Irish drinks culture to pair with and indeed, enhance our Irish food culture. It's a key element in helping to create a long lasting unique identity for the Irish hospitality sector at both home and abroad. For me, that can come about by nurturing and promoting both the bars and the drinks brands. It led to me to establishing Great Irish Beverages, a consultancy company that solely works for Irish drinks brands and bars for marketing and innovation, at both home and abroad. After many years of projects and travel, I have realised that there are are some very simple exercises that national and international Irish bars and restaurants can roll out in order to achieve a better quality Irish drinks program. The kind of which can ultimately keep us up to speed with our competitors without losing our core identity. Here are my top three!
Nail and own your Irish coffee
It's one of the most popular cocktails in the world and yet finding a really good one is as rare as hen's teeth. When made well, the Irish coffee is the perfect balance of sweet & spicy whiskey mixed with bitter coffee topped off by a luxurious finish from the fresh cream. Heaven in a glass! The modern love for properly made coffee and unprocessed ingredients has allowed some bars to bring their Irish coffee rocking and rolling into the 21st century. Both The Dead Rabbit in NY and Swift in London are two examples of bars whose Irish coffees have become so famous that a visit to either premises without having one would be a sin! Rocket science is not needed to implement such a successful serve.
Your staff training for the Irish coffee should not just include how to perfectly make it, but up-selling it as well, to such an extent that it should always be offered at some point in a customer interaction.
Some of my Irish coffee pointers would include:
- The ratio of coffee to whiskey should never be more than 3 to 1. So therefore, get the right glassware and stop using latte glasses for it.
- Don't use instant coffee as it tastes bloody awful. In fact, you should never use instant coffee for anything!
- Don't use an espresso shot even if you've watered it down. It's too strong and therefore kills the taste of the whiskey. I might also add that it takes too long to prepare. Medium roasted, filtered coffee will usually pair best with the whiskey and is quick to serve.
- Never use cream from a can as it's not natural, ruins the aesthetic of the serve as you're losing the ritual of laying the cream, and it looks super tacky!
Separate your Irish beverages from your international ones on your menu
Most wine lists are broken down by the region from where they're sourced. It's an easy way to navigate a menu. Any time I've recommended that a bar do the same so as to give better pride of place to Irish beers, ciders, cocktails, whiskeys and gins, it has always led to an increase in their sales.
The fact is, tourists come over here to experience as many Irish things as they can. Many of them will not even be aware that there are so many Irish beers and gins. Once they actually see them, they will want to try them out. The same applies with cocktails as they may not have had the pleasure of an old fashioned or sour made with an Irish whiskey. If it's plain for them to see on their own page, you'll stand a better chance of selling more cocktails made with Irish spirits.
Then when it comes to locals, they are constantly seeking out more and more Irish brands that they can support and once they're made aware of them, they will get curious and give them a go. And don't make them hidden somewhere at the back of the menu either. The first thing that diners in the Michelin starred Ox in Belfast see when they take a seat, is the all Irish gin selection. That immediately entices the customer and lends itself to a much easier up-sell for the waiting staff.
Put more Irish drinks into your food!
There are good reasons why you can find a Guinness beef stew in practically every decent Irish bar around the world. To begin with, it tastes bloody great and secondly, it’s an excellent use of our most loved tipple cooked into a very hearty dish. On another level, it helps to sell more Guinness for as we all know, a pint with a bowl of stew is a culinary classic. So why stop there?
Irish salmon cured with Irish gin is also delicious and makes for a gorgeous starter or tapas style bar snack, especially when paired alongside a gin & tonic. The citrus notes in a gin & tonic always lend themselves really well to pairing with fish, especially when the fish itself is cured with the gin. If you're more of a whiskey bar, curing salmon or trout with some liquid gold is equally tantalising on the palate and allows for a nice opportunity to upsell more whiskey alongside it.
And when it comes to desserts, the aforementioned G&T is a marvellous component for a sorbet and if you can't throw some Irish whiskey into your ice cream, a Bailey's cheesecake is a serious crowd pleaser!