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The drinking of alcoholic beverages is as old as human history, and the serving of drinks for profit is as old as the concept of profit itself. In most cultures over the centuries, these beverages have been accepted as an essential part of everyday life. And yet, they also possess a magic that can sometimes take the edge off human troubles or add a special dimension to a ceremony or celebration. There has always been a dark side to alcoholic beverages, too, and that is something we will examine closely in coming chapters. The purpose of this chapter, however, is to offer a quick look at the past and the present, the good and the bad. It provides you the important background to understand the challenges the bar and beverage industry faces today.
In the last century, in the United States alone, the bar and beverage business has gone from an illegal enterprise, carried on behind the locked doors of a speakeasy, to one of the nation's most glamorous andprofitable businesses. Together with the food service or restaurant business, the two form the country's fourth-largest industry. In fact, it is impossible to separate them.
In the 1930s, the United States was nearing the end of Prohibition, an unsuccessful attempt to regulate alcohol consumption by outlawing it entirely. History tells us such attempts have never worked, because people find other ways to get what they want. And from earliest times, human beings seem to have wanted alcoholic beverages. Indeed, some historians theorize that one of the reasons our nomadic forebears settled into civilized life was to raise grain and grapes to ensure supplies of what they looked upon as sacred beverages.
Perhaps 8,000 to 10,000 years ago, someone discovered that fermented fruit or grain or milk or rice tasted good, made one happy, or both. The Bible mentions wine consumption in both Old and New Testaments. When Noah settled down after the flood, he planted a vineyard "...and he drank of the wine and was drunken." With all its benefits and hazards, alcohol was a universal feature of early civilizations.
At least one legend claims that wine was discovered accidentally, by a neglected member of a Persian king's harem. She attempted to end her loneliness by ending her life, drinking from a jar marked "Poison." It contained grapes that had fermented. She felt so much better after drinking the liquid that she gave a cup of it to the king, who named it "the delightful poison" and welcomed her back into active harem life.
Early peoples all over the world fermented anything that would ferment--honey, grapes, grains, dates, rice, sugarcane, milk, palms, peppers, berries, sesame seeds, pomegranates. We know that grapes were cultivated as early as 6000 B.C., both in the Middle East and Asia. The Egyptians, Phoenicians, and Chinese were tending their vines at about the same time. It is believed that the ancient Greeks got their viticulture knowledge from the Egyptians, beginning to make wine about 2000 B.C.
The practice of aging wines was first discovered by the Greeks, in cylinders known as amphora. Made of clay, they were remarkably airtight. Fifteen hundred years later, the Romans tried a similar method, but their clay was more porous and didn't work as well. So they began coating their clay vessels with tar on the insides, a process known as pitching. Yes, it prevented air from mixing with wine, but can you imagine what the addition of tar must have done to the quality of the wine?
By 1000 B.C., grapevines were found in Sicily and Northern Africa. Within the next 500 years, they reached the Iberian Peninsula, Southern France, and even Southern Russia. Conquering Saracen (Arab) tribes in the Middle Ages brought both winemaking and distillation skills with them. In fact, the words "alcohol" and "still" are Arabic in origin.
As the Roman Empire spread, it brought grapes to Northern Europe, too. After the fall of the Roman Empire, the Catholic Church was the most prominent promoter of viticulture. Monasteries became the vanguards of wine production and knowledge, because wine was needed both in everyday life and in sacramental activities. The Portuguese are credited with shipping the first corked bottles of wine to England, but not until the year 1780.
In many cultures, people associated intoxicating beverages with wisdom. Early Persians discussed all matters of importance twice--once when they were sober and once when they were drunk. Saxons in ancient England opened their council meetings by passing around a large, stone mug of beer. Greeks held their famous symposiums--philosophical discussions--during hours of after-dinner drinking. In fact, the word "symposium" means "drinking together." As the Roman historian Pliny summed it up, "In vino veritas" ("in wine there is truth").
Alcoholic beverages, often in combination with herbs, have been used for centuries as medicines and tonics. Indeed, herbs and alcohol were among the few ways of treating or preventing disease until about a century ago. But probably the most important historic use of alcoholic beverages was also the simplest: as food and drink. Bread and ale, or bread and wine, were the staples of any meal for an ordinary person, with the drink considered food. For centuries, these hearty beverages provided up to half the calories needed for a day's heavy labor. And they were considered the only liquids fit to drink, with good reason. Household water was commonly polluted. Milk could cause "milk sickness" (tuberculosis). But beer, ale, and wine were disease-free, tasty, and thirst-quenching, crucial qualities in societies that preserved food with salt, and washed it down a diet of starches.
Both wines and grapevines were imported from France to the New World in the 1700s. As U.S. Minister to France, Thomas Jefferson was one of the primary supporters of the fledgling winemaking industry, and tried (passionately but unsuccessfully) to grow his own grapes at Monticello. By the early 1900s, there were about 1,700 wineries dotting the United States, mostly small, family-owned businesses.Wine was still considered an effete beverage until the 1800s, when Italian immigrants came to the United States with their home winemaking skills and a hospitable culture that accepted wine as a simple, everyday part of mealtimes and celebrations. Many of today's best-known California winemakers, with names like Gallo and Mondavi, are descendants of these immigrant families.
Early beers, ales, and wines were considered gifts from the gods, that is, miracle products with magical powers. People used them universally in religious rites, and they still do. The Israelites of the Old Testament offered libations to Jehovah. Greeks and Romans honored Bacchus, god of wine (see Figure 1.1). Christians used wine in the sacrament of communion. Primitive peoples used fermented beverages in their sacred rites.
Victories, weddings, and other sacred and joyous occasions were celebrated with "mellow wine" or endless supplies of ale (the word "bridal" comes from bride + ale). Camaraderie and fellowship were acknowledged with a "loving cup," passed around the table and shared by all until it was emptied.
Of all alcoholic beverages, wine has the greatest religious connection. In the book Religion and Wine: A Cultural History of Wine-Drinking in the United States (1996, University of Tennessee Press), the author, Robert Fuller, traces the development of winemaking from the French Huguenots, Protestants who settled along the East Coast of North America in the 1500s, to the Pilgrims in Plymouth Bay in the 1600s to the Franciscan friars and Jesuit priests who built the early missions in California during the 1700s and 1800s.
Whether these early Americans were Baptists, Methodists, or Mormons, they permitted and enjoyed limited wine consumption as part of their worship. According to Fuller, the United States did not have "grape-juice Protestants" (who decried the alcohol content of wine and replaced it in ceremonies with grape juice) until the late eighteenth century. Interestingly, this alternative was first developed by Thomas Welch, a dentist and Methodist minister. His name later became a famous trademark for juice products.
At that time, attitudes about alcohol changed as some religious groups (Fuller calls them "ascetic Christians") began to espouse the theory that the road to heaven required total self-discipline, including the denial of all earthly pleasures. It was feared by some that consuming alcohol would weaken sensibility, ethics, and moral values, and diminish self-control in an age where many churches sought greater control over their members.
On the other hand, some religious groups felt equally strongly that rituals using wine could mediate God's presence and foster greater enjoyment of what life had to offer. These included Roman Catholics, Eastern Orthodox, Episcopalians, and Lutherans. And so the rift widened.
Since the 1800s, the relationship between alcohol and religion has been the subject of debate and ambivalence. As recently as 1990, California winemaker Robert Mondavi designed a new label for his wines, to include a paragraph extolling the beverage's longtime role in culture and religion. In part, it read, "Wine has been with us since the beginning of civilization. It is a temperate, civilized, sacred, romantic mealtime beverage recommended in the Bible... " Mondavi was prohibited from using this wording by the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms.
As far back as 6000 B.C., Babylonian scribes included beer recipes in their writings, and the ancient Egyptians made note of Ramses III, the pharaoh whose annual sacrifice of about 30,000 gallons of beer appeased "thirsty gods." Before 1850, the beverage preference in the United States was ale, which had been popular in England. It was made like beer, but fermented more quickly, at higher temperatures than beer.
The word "beer" comes from the ancient Latin word "biber," a slang term for the beverage made by fermenting grain, with hops for flavoring. Back then, biber was considered lower-class compared to ale, which was made in similar fashion but without the addition of hops.
Just about every civilization has made some type of beer, from whatever grain or root or plant was available in abundance. African tribes made their beer from millet; in Japan, it was rice; in Europe, North and South America, the chief ingredient was barley. The brew was hearty, filling, and provided calories and nutrients to fuel manual labor. The significance of beer in the average person's diet was demonstrated at the landing of the Mayflower at Plymouth, in what is now Massachusetts. The Pilgrims were headed for Virginia, but the ship was running out of beer. So they were "hasted ashore and made to drink water that the seamen might have more beer," wrote Governor Bradford later.
Beer production and sales played colorful parts of U.S. history. The first American brewery was opened in Lower Manhattan by the Dutch West Indies Company in 1632. There is speculation that the crude streets of New Amsterdam (later, New York City) were first paved to help the horse-drawn beer wagons make better progress, since they were so often stuck in the mud!
Brewing became an aristocratic and popular business. William Penn, the Quaker leader who founded the state of Pennsylvania, Revolutionary War leaders Samuel Adams and Ethan Allen, and even George Washington, all were brewery owners. (Adams is credited with suggesting to Washington that he supply the Revolutionary Army with two quarts of beer per soldier, per day.) By the mid-nineteenth century, brewing dynasties, that are still household names among today's beer-drinkers had begun in the United States. In Detroit, Michigan, Bernard Stroh, from a beer-making family in Rhineland, Germany, opened his brewing company in 1850. Five years later, Frederick Miller purchased an existing facility, Best's Brewery in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. In St. Louis, Eberhard Anheuser purchased a struggling brewery in 1860. His daughter married Adolphus Busch, a German immigrant whose family supplied grains and hops, and the mighty Anheuser-Busch Company was born. A dozen years later, another German immigrant from the Rhineland, Adolph Coors, started to brew beer in Colorado.
The Germans brought with them a different brewing style that produced a lighter beer known as lager, which is more pale and clear in appearance than ale and has a drier flavor. Its name comes from a German word for "storage" or "storehouse," since it was routinely stored for several months in cold temperatures before serving. Making lager-style beer required ice, so it was typically brewed in winter and stored until summer, when the demand was highest. Milwaukee emerged as the nation's brewing center for the most practical reason: ice was easily available from Lake Michigan, and there were plenty of local caves to store the beer. When refrigerators and icemakers were invented, lager could be brewed anytime, anyplace.
Heat was just as important as cold to the fast-growing beer-making industry. The French chemist Louis Pasteur discovered in the 1800s that, like milk or cider, beer could be heated to sufficient temperature to kill harmful bacteria without diminishing the quality of the brew. This process of pasteurization allowed beer to be bottled for shipment.
The art of distillation--first heating, then cooling and condensing liquids to extract and concentrate their alcohol content--was known in crude form even in ancient times. The Chinese and peoples of the East Indies distilled liquids and used the resulting potions for medicinal purposes as early as 800 B.C.
About the time the Pilgrims ran out of beer at Plymouth Rock, these forms of concentrated alcohol were coming into favor in Europe. Distilled spirits made from fermented liquids were many times more potent than the original liquids. The first ones were called aqua vitae (water of life) and were used as medicines, but they were quickly assimilated into society as beverages.
Highland Scots and Irish distillers made whiskey. The French distilled wine to make brandy. A Dutch doctor's experiments produced gin, alcohol flavored with the juniper berry. In Russia and Poland, the distilled spirit was vodka. In the West Indies, rum was made from sugarcane, while in Mexico, Spaniards distilled the Indians' native drink to make mescal, the great-granddaddy of today's tequila.
With increasing supplies of spirits and their high alcohol content, excessive drinking became a national problem in several European countries. In England, cheap gin became the drink of the poor. They could--and did--get "drunk for a penny, dead drunk for two pence," as one gin mill advertised. This particular mill, in the same advertisement, mentioned that it also provided "free straw" (a bed of hay) for sleeping it off.
Across the Atlantic, Americans welcomed the new spirits, and it wasn't long before rum became the most popular drink and New England became a leading manufacturer. George Washington put rum to political use when he ran for the Virginia legislature, giving each voter a barrel of rum, beer, wine, or hard cider. By the end of the century, whiskey was challenging rum in popularity. Washington was once again a forerunner, making his own rye from his own grain in his own stills.
However, in 1791, the new U.S. Congress enacted the first tax on whiskey production. Many of the distillers, still trying to recover financially from the Revolutionary War, did not have much money and refused to pay the taxes. By 1794, President Washington had a real problem on his hands. He mustered 12,000 troops and marched into Pennsylvania to avert the so-called Whiskey Rebellion. It ended without a shot being fired, but many angry distillers packed up and moved further west to enjoy greater freedom and avoid future confrontations. In fact, relocation to the limestone soils of Tennessee and Kentucky led some of these early distillers to a real gold mine: the cold, clear water supplies of these areas, which are still famous for their whiskey production. The spirit soon became known as "bourbon," since some of the first distillers set up shop in Bourbon County, Kentucky. As the American West was settled, whiskey--easier to store and transport than beer or wine, and much in demand--became a very popular commodity in the trade-and-barter commerce of frontier life.
Distillation gained momentum as the process was refined. Rectification (described more fully in Chapter 5), or distilling a liquid more than once, yielded a much cleaner and almost 100 percent pure spirits than previous efforts. Before rectification was perfected, spirits contained flavor impurities. Herbs, honey and/or flowers were added to mask them. After rectification, these items were also routinely added, but now, to enhance the flavor. Some of today's grand liqueurs are the results of these early flavor concoctions. Cognac, for instance, was a pale, acidic French wine for which there was little public demand... until it was concentrated in the 1600s as an eau de vie, French for aqua vitae. It became enormously popular, and still is today.
Pouring for profit developed hand in hand with civilization. The clay tablets of the Old Babylonian King Hammurabi refer to alehouses and high-priced, watered-down beer. A papyrus from ancient Egypt warns, "Do not get drunk in the taverns... for fear that people repeat words which may have gone out of your mouth without you being aware of having uttered them." Greek and Roman cities had taverns that served food as well as drink; excavations in Pompeii (a Roman city of 20,000) have uncovered the remains of 118 bars. In both Greece and Rome, some taverns offered lodging for the night, or gambling and other amusements.
After the fall of the Roman Empire, life in most of Europe became much more primitive. When next the taverns reappeared, they were alehouses along the trade routes, with a stable for the horses, a place to sleep, and sometimes a meal. In England the public house, or pub, developed during Saxon times as a place where people gathered for fellowship and pleasure. An evergreen bush on a pole outside meant ale was served. Each pub was identified by a sign with a picture--a Black Horse, White Swan, or Red Lion, for instance. These early "logos" were used because most people could not read.
As time went on, the tavern became a permanent institution all over Europe. There were many versions: inns, pubs, cabarets, dance halls, meeting places. Neighbors gathered at these establishments to exchange the latest news and gossip over a mug or a tankard. In cities, men of similar interests met for a round of drinks and good talk. In London's Mermaid Tavern Shakespeare, dramatist and poet Ben Jonson and other famous literary figures met regularly. Lawyers had their favorite taverns, students theirs. Members of Parliament formed political clubs, each meeting in its favorite tavern for lively discussion of strategy.
Whatever its form, the tavern was a place to enjoy life, to socialize, to exchange ideas, to be stimulated. The beverages intensified the pleasure, loosened the tongue, sparked the wit or, as Socrates once put it, "moistened the soul."
When Europeans immigrated to America, they brought the tavern with them. It was considered essential to a town's welfare to have a place providing drink, lodging, and food. In Massachusetts in the 1650s, any town without a tavern was fined! Often the tavern was built near the church so that parishioners could warm up quickly after Sunday services held in unheated meeting-houses. A new town sometimes built its tavern before its church.
As towns grew into cities, and roads were built connecting them, taverns followed the roads. In parts of Pennsylvania today, it is possible to find towns named for such early taverns--Blue Bell, Red Lion, King of Prussia. In some towns, the old tavern is still standing.
It was in the taverns that the spirit of revolution was born, fed, and translated into action. These were the rendezvous spots for rebels, where groups like the Sons of Liberty were formed and held their meetings. The Boston Tea Party was planned in Hancock Tavern, while in the Green Dragon, Paul Revere and 30 companions formed a committee to watch the movements of the British Soldiers. In Williamsburg, the Raleigh Tavern was the meeting place of the Virginia patriots, including Patrick Henry and Thomas Jefferson.
In New York's Queen's Head Tavern, a New York Tea Party was planned, and many patriot meetings were held there during the war. After the war, its owner, Samuel Fraunces, renamed it Fraunces Tavern (to shed any reference to the Queen). It was here that General George Washington said goodbye to his fellow officers in 1783. When Washington became President, Fraunces became his chief steward. Today, Fraunces Tavern is a New York City landmark.
When Americans pushed westward, taverns sprang up along the routes west. As towns appeared, the tavern was often the first building. Homes and merchants grew up around it. By the middle 1800s, the "modern" American tavern was becoming a large-scale inn for the travelers and businesspeople of a nation on the move. At the same time, drinking places without lodging were appearing. These kept the name "tavern," while the more elaborate inns adopted the term "hotel." But the hotel kept its barroom; it was often a showplace, with a handsome mahogany bar and a well-dressed bartender who might wear gold and diamonds. Certain hotel bars became famous--the Menger in San Antonio where Teddy Roosevelt recruited Rough Riders, and Planter's Hotel in St. Louis, home of the Planter's Punch.
By the turn of the century, the successors of the early taverns had taken many forms. There were glittering hotels that served the wealthy in cities and resorts. There were fashionable cabarets, such as Maxim's in Paris, where rich and famous men consorted with rich and famous courtesans, and music halls, such as the Folies Bergères. There were private clubs, cafés ranging from elegant to seedy, big-city saloons that provided free lunches with their drinks, and the corner saloons of working-class districts, where many a man drowned his sorrows in drink (see Figure 1.2). The restaurant industry also made its appearance in the nineteenth century, serving wines and other beverages to enhance the diner's pleasure.
Meanwhile, in the United States a growing number of people sought to curb the use of alcoholic beverages. At first this movement went by the name Temperance and its target was "ardent spirits" (distilled spirits). But its proponents soon included beer and wine and expanded their goal from temperance, or moderation, to total prohibition. In a century-long barrage of propaganda and moral fervor, the movement succeeded in convincing many Americans that drink of any kind led inevitably to sin and damnation. If you outlaw "Demon Rum," they believed, sin would disappear and Utopia would naturally emerge. Along with this belief went the notion that those engaged in making or selling alcoholic beverages were on the devil's side of this battle between Good and Evil or, as it was also dubbed, "Dry" and "Wet."
The fervor was fed by the proliferation of saloons opened by competing breweries to push their products, many of them financed by money from abroad. By the late 1800s, there was a swinging-door saloon on every corner of small-town America, as well as in the cities. These establishments often became unsavory places, because there were far too many of them to survive on sales of beer and whiskey alone, so many became places of prostitution, gambling, and other illegal goings-on.
The Prohibition movement was also an expression of religious and ethnic antagonisms, of fundamentalist middle Americans against the new German and Irish Catholic immigrants. The brewers were German and the bartenders were Irish, and both brought with them cultures that included alcohol intake as a fact of everyday life. The movement also pitted small-town and rural America against what was perceived as big-city licentiousness.
During World War I, the Dry side won its battle. The Eighteenth Amendment, passed during the wartime fever of patriotism and self-denial, prohibited the "manufacture, sale, transportation, and importation of intoxicating liquors" in the United States and its territories. Ratified by all but two states, Connecticut and Rhode Island, it went into effect in 1920.
Prohibition had a short and unhappy life--not quite 14 years. There was simply no way to enforce it. While legal establishments were closing their doors, illegal "speakeasies" began opening theirs to those who could whisper the right password. Legal breweries and distilleries closed down, but illegal stills made liquor by the light of the moon in secret hideouts--hence, the nickname moonshine. Illegal spirits also were smuggled into the country from Canada and Mexico and from "Rum Rows" offshore, bootleg supply ships that sold to small, fast boats whose entrepreneurial captains made the run to shore. Some folks just decided to make their own beer, wine, and gin at home.
Prohibition impacted the wine industry as dramatically as it did other alcoholic beverage producers. Many winery owners simply plowed their fields under and planted different crops. A few received special license to make sacramental wines, or permits to make wines strictly for home use, only up to 200 gallons per year.
Ironically, rather than decreasing drinking, Prohibition seemed almost to invite it: flouting the law became, to some, the fashionable (or, at least, enterprising) thing to do. After nine years of Prohibition, New York City had 32,000 speakeasies, about twice as many as the number of pre-Prohibition saloons! To add to the problems of enforcement, organized crime took over the bootleg business in many cities. Gangsters quickly became rich, powerful, and seemingly immune to the law. The combination of racketeering, gang warfare, and bootlegging became a major national problem. Everyone--even those who first vehemently supported it--agreed that things had gotten out of hand under Prohibition. In 1933, Congress passed the Twenty-first Amendment, repealing the Eighteenth.
Before Prohibition shut it down, the beverage manufacturing industry had been the fifth largest in the country. After passage of the Twenty-first Amendment, it made a quick comeback, despite stiff taxes and heavy regulation by federal and state governments. Today, alcoholic beverages are an accepted part of the American scene, and have been for some time; the sale of liquor is legal in every state and the District of Columbia. The serving of liquor in bars and restaurants is a normal part of the culture, and restaurant patrons expect to be able to buy mixed drinks, beer, and wine with their food. In fact, restaurants that don't serve liquor often have a hard time competing. But the Wet versus Dry controversy never really ended. Control of the issue was given to states, counties, towns, and precincts, resulting in a mishmash of local liquor laws that has made America into a wet-dry checkerboard. Even today, this pattern mirrors our society's longstanding mixed feelings about alcohol use.
Historically, alcohol has always had its dark side as well as its benefits, from the drunkenness in the taverns of ancient Egypt to the cheap gin consumed by the poor in eighteenth-century England to the corner saloons of small-town America 100 years ago. Today, the problems are just as critical, with drunk-driving accidents taking thousands of lives each year and some 10 percent of drinkers becoming alcohol-addicted. What is it about alcohol that can "moisten the soul," yet cause so much harm? That's what we will discuss at length in Chapter 2.
Since 1990, there has been a gradual decline in alcohol consumption in all its forms--beer, wine, and spirits. Expert observers relate the drop to a change in lifestyle for many busy Americans, many of whom turned their focus on health, fitness, and job success. These people have stopped smoking, they exercise, they watch their weight and their cholesterol count, and they keep their heads clear during working hours. The "three-Martini lunch" is now a rarity, replaced by bottled waters or fruit juice or sometimes a single glass of wine. These people are moderate drinkers, limiting their consumption to the one or two drinks a day. At the same time, they are very much interested in the quality of whatever drink they choose. When they do imbibe, they tend to choose premium or superpremium liquors and wines. "Drinking less but drinking better" has become the norm.
The health-and-fitness enthusiast is looking for lighter drinks, those perceived to have less alcohol and fewer calories. (Some of them do and some of them don't, as we shall see). Sales of spirits (high in alcohol and calories) continue to decline. "White goods" (vodka, gin, tequila, and rum) generally do better than "brown goods" (bourbon, scotch, and other whiskies) even though they all have similar alcohol contents. But according to Beverage Digest magazine, which tracks U.S. beverage consumption figures, Americans drank the highest amount of distilled spirits--two gallons per person, per year--back in the 1970s. Today's consumption figures are more like 1.2 or 1.3 gallons per person, per year, and have been since 1993.
Wine enjoyed its largest upsurge in popularity in the 1980s, reaching a high of 2.4 gallons per person, per year. Wine is still popular and boasts a loyal following of hobbyists and collectors, but overall consumption has leveled off at about 2 gallons per person, per year. Despite jam-packed supermarket wine section shelves and all kinds of exotic choices, the three best sellers continue to be Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon, and White Zinfandel.
Beer sales look mighty impressive when compared to wine and spirits! For the last decade (also according to Beverage Digest) Americans have consumed more than 22 gallons of beer per person, per year. Trends during this time include the so-called light beers, which are lower in alcohol and calories than their "regular" counterparts; dry beers (crisply flavored, and touting "no aftertaste"); and nonalcoholic beers, with about two dozen brands on the market in the early 1990s. Light beers now account for about 40 percent of all beer sales in the United States.
Imported beers and beers from small, regional breweries (microbreweries) have gained substantial followings, and there's a small but lively home-brewing hobbyist market. In most major cities, you'll find at least one beer-making store where home brewers can buy equipment and supplies and get advice. For a fee, some allow you to brew on-site, let the beer age in their storage tanks, then come back and bottle your own creation yourself!
Smart restaurateurs now offer wines by the glass in addition to wines by the bottle, realizing that today's diners may not want to order a full bottle. (In Chapter 7, you'll learn more about creating a workable wine list.) Customers may also ask for a nonalcoholic drink. Offerings include mineral waters, nonalcoholic beers, soft drinks, juice drinks, and even no-alcohol mixed drinks. Some bars have invented "mocktails," alcohol-free versions of the Bloody Mary, Piña Colada, and others, mixed and served with the same care and flair as their house specialties.
This does not mean that Martinis or Gin and Tonics are obsolete, or that fewer people are patronizing bars or ordering drinks with their meals. There has been renewed interest in the traditional cocktails (Martini, Bloody Mary, Screwdriver) and "tall drinks" (Scotch and Soda or Bourbon and Soda, Gina and Tonic or Vodka and Tonic). There is also strong interest in call brands, the slang term for premium brands that are asked for--or, "called for"--by name. Superpremium imports, like single-malt scotches, Irish whiskeys, Cognac and Armagnac brandies, also have loyal followings. They are popular with customers who have developed a taste for and interest in "buying the best," and are willing to pay more for it. They are also interested in experimenting--trying new brands and learning more about beverages. By contrast, most brown goods customers are in the upper-age groups and are comfortable with their reliable favorites, such as Scotch and Soda or Bourbon and Water.
But be wary. By the time you read this it all may have changed! New drinks will be invented, new twists added to old favorites. Managing a bar means keeping your finger on the pulse of the market and making the changes necessary to stay ahead.
Let's look next at a few different types of beverage service. Though it is impossible to divide bars into just a few categories--there are almost as many variations as there are bars--certain kinds have distinct characteristics and styles of service, and it may be revealing to see how they differ and what they have in common.
The simplest kind of beverage enterprise is the bar that serves beverages alone, with no food service except snacks: peanuts, pretzels, cheese and crackers. This type of bar serves beer or wine or mixed drinks or any combination of the three, plus nonalcoholic beverages. It may be a neighborhood gathering place, a way station for commuters on their homeward treks, a bar at an airport or bus terminal or bowling alley.
Business at such bars typically has a predictable flow: a daily pattern of peaks and valleys, a weekly pattern of slow days and heavy days, with the heavy days related to paydays and days off. There may also be seasonal patterns. In airports and bus terminals, business is geared to daily, weekly, and seasonal travel patterns, and according to the time of day; light beverages are served mornings and afternoons, heartier drinks are ordered as the working day ends. Because only one type of product is sold, and because business is generally predictable, the operation of a beverage-only bar is relatively simple, from production to staffing and purchasing to keeping track of the beverages, money, and profits.
This type of bar also usually has a specific reason for success, perhaps its location, its reputation as a friendly place (or for pouring well-made drinks), or simply a lack of competition; maybe it has just "always been the place where everybody goes." Often such bars thrive by being the same as they always were. Customers become sentimental about them and would not tolerate change.
That said, as the mood of the country changes, many neighborhood bars are adding food to their offerings. Hotel chains such as Marriott, Radisson, and Hyatt have phased out their cocktail-only lounges in favor of food and beverage combinations. The decision is practical: some states do not allow beverage sales without food sales; other bar owners have decided it's simply more responsible to offer people food if they will be drinking. Master concessionaires, such as Host Marriott, now run more than 1,800 restaurants in 73 airports, and the trend has been to upgrade these facilities to pour more premium beverages, serve better food, partner with brewpubs, and offer entertainment for travelers awaiting their flights.
In short, beverage-only bars are definitely a minority today. Although some are highly profitable, most bars find that serving liquor alone is not enough to attract and keep customers. So the majority of bars offer something else--entertainment or food or both.
Bars offering entertainment range from the neighborhood bar with pool, pinball, dartboards, or giant TV screens to nightclubs with big-name entertainers and comedy clubs and ballrooms with big bands. In between are cocktail lounges and nightclubs with live entertainment--piano bars, country-and-western dancing, jazz or folk duos, or rousing rock-and-roll groups. This concept must include the decision to make room for a stage area, sound system, and dance floor. And having entertainment means hiring someone knowledgeable to book the bands or entertainers that people will want to see (negotiating contracts at a fair but affordable price) and always thinking ahead to the next fad or hottest music trend to attract the fickle public. A concept that includes regular entertainment of any kind also includes the fixed costs and additional financial risk of hiring and paying the entertainers.
In most cases, the entertainment may draw the crowd, but it is the drinks that provide the profits. If there is a cover charge, an admission fee per person paid at the door, at least part of it is likely to go to the entertainers. The fortunes of this type of bar will rise and fall with the popularity of its entertainers, unless the place has something else going for it.
Probably the most stable type of bar/entertainment combo is the smaller place with an attractive ambience, good drinks, and local entertainment to draw a loyal, local crowd. Its success potential is much the same as the bar-only enterprise. Larger operations featuring out-of-town entertainers have a higher but riskier profit potential. It is likely to be either feast or famine. The bar gears up for each crowd with temporary extra help, a large investment in liquor inventory, and possibly extra security personnel. Weather, holidays, location, and weeknight versus weekend crowds all heavily impact this type of business.
Casinos are another enduring combination of entertainment and beverage service. Today's casinos may be run by a huge corporation or a Native American tribal council, and may include everything from big-name stage productions and professional boxing matches to restaurants and nongambling arcades that attract families instead of adults only.
Sports bars offer a different type of entertainment. They center on the viewing of popular sporting events, such as Monday Night Football, or special events like hockey finals or the World Series. Equipped with large television screens (or plenty of smaller ones strategically placed), the sports bar often sets a fixed price or cover charge to guarantee a good profit because customer turnover is so small. Large sports bars often serve a menu of full-course meals, and many take reservations in advance of popular events like a professional boxing match or a Triple Crown horse race.
The cigar bar is another trendy addition to the beverage scene--and a profitable one, too. Men and an increasing number of women are enjoying high-priced cigars, and restaurateurs have seized the opportunity to recommend premium spirits, wines, beers, and after-dinner drinks to accompany them. The cigar boom is not legal in all venues, since smoking is prohibited in many public places by local ordinance. But the places that install heavy-duty fans and humidors and offer extensive cigar selections--plus single-malt Scotches, small-batch Bourbons, Cognacs and Ports--are filling an interesting, upscale niche. Sometimes, they are private clubs that charge membership fees.
The most common form of beverage operation is one that is linked with some kind of food service. One type is the restaurant/bar, where drinks and wine are part of the meal service, served by the same wait staff that serves the meal. The bar is often used as the waiting area for the restaurant during busy times. Drinks may be poured at a service bar out of public view or at a pickup station in a bar that serves customers while they are waiting for a table. The major portion of the sales comes from the food service. However, the beverage sales often turn the profit for the enterprise. The only added costs are for the wine and liquor, and the bartender and a minimum investment in equipment; the other necessities--service personnel and the facility itself--are built in to the restaurant operation.
Another type of food-beverage combination is the bar that offers light food in addition to drinks. In this case, the beverages and the bar atmosphere dominate, and the major sales volume comes from the bar. But the food is a nice sidelight that attracts customers and prolongs their stay. Typical menu items are appetizers: nachos, chips or crudités and dips, spiced chicken wings, stuffed potato skins.
A special variation of the food-beverage combination is the wine bar, which first appeared during the 1970s as Americans discovered and learned to appreciate wines. Here the customer can choose from a selection of wines by the glass or by the bottle, beginning with inexpensive house wines and going up in quality and price as far as the entrepreneur cares to go. Some wine bars offer inexpensive one-ounce "tastes" to allow guests to sample a number of wines. A full menu can be served, or fruit and cheese platters and upscale hors d'oeuvres.
There are inherent problems in running wine bars. The first is, of course, that serving only wine tends to limit the clientele to wine lovers. In some urban areas, there are enough wine enthusiasts to support a profitable enterprise; they respond to quality and expertise, and they attend and appreciate special tastings and classes and wine-centered celebrations. This enthusiasm, however, raises a second difficulty: purchasing appropriate wines requires an expertise few people have, and may require a financial investment few are willing to make.
As a result, many wine bars serve liquor and beer as well. This broadens their appeal and allows them to realize the necessary profit margin. In effect, they are simply bars that specialize in wine sales and wine knowledge. Other wine bars may broaden their offerings by serving meals, in effect becoming restaurants with an emphasis on wines. Some also sell wines at retail, offering customers discounts for volume (one case or more) purchases. This combination of on-premise service and take-home sales is not an option everywhere. Beverage laws in many areas do not allow it.
Beer aficionados also have their own version of the wine bar. At a brew-pub, beer is brewed and served right on the premises--fresh, natural beers and ales, strong in flavor and aroma, with special seasonal offerings. Developed by small individual entrepreneurs and hobbyists, the beverage sets the theme of the restaurant. At least one shiny brew kettle is likely to be a major part of the décor, and the menu typically contains hearty, casual cuisine chosen to complement the beer. As popular as they are in many areas of the United States, brewpubs are not legal everywhere, as some states still do not allow manufacture and sale of alcoholic beverages on the same premises.
A popular type of food-beverage combination links a bar and a restaurant on an equal, semi-independent basis, with a common roof, theme, management team, and services that complement each other. The bar and restaurant areas are housed in separate portions of the building, and they may be open at slightly different hours to serve both the drop-in bar customer and the mealtime patron. The food/drink sales ratio is likely to reflect an equal status of food and drink, with bar and restaurant each doing better than it would without the other. In many cases, neither side could make a go of it alone, but together the customer attraction and income are doubled, while the overhead costs are split between them.
In hotels, the beverage operation differs in many ways from the bar or the bar-restaurant combination. There may be three or four bars under one roof, each with a different purpose and a different ambience--say a lobby bar, a cocktail lounge, a restaurant bar, a nightclub with dancing. In addition, there is room service, with a food menu that includes mixed drinks, beer, wine, and Champagne. Above all, there is banquet service, catering to conference, convention, and reception needs. Typically, the client makes beverage choices in advance of the event, which are served from portable bars by extra personnel hired for the occasion.
And in individual rooms, don't forget the minibar. Many hotels have installed them for the convenience of guests, an in-room refreshment center without the room service waiter. The minibar is really nothing more than a small refrigerator with an icemaker--although many have classy mock mahogany exterior cabinets--stocked with a small inventory of snacks and drinks. There are three keys to profitable minibar use, according to Lodging magazine. The unit must be installed so that it is easy to use and its contents are clearly visible, and a reliable system must be in place for prompt restocking of cabinets and correct billing of guests. Perhaps most important, customers must be enticed to somehow overlook the high prices of minibar goods! Its in-room convenience means the hotel can charge double, or even triple, what the same goods would cost elsewhere on the same property.
Food and Beverage Directors of large hotels say the minibar has become a necessary amenity, even though it could be argued that it does siphon some business away from the hotel's other food and beverage venues, especially room service. But overall, the minibar is not a major moneymaker for most hotels; and, interestingly, the most common minibar purchase is not alcohol of any kind, but bottled water.
Perhaps the most daunting challenge of hotel beverage service is its diversity, coupled with the up-and-down nature of demand. Since a hotel's primary clientele is its overnight guests, demand for beverages rises and falls according to the occupancy rate. This, too, is unpredictable: a hotel can be completely full for a convention and yet have very little bar trade, depending on the kind of convention it is hosting. On the other hand, a very low occupancy rate may net a lot of bar business. Again, it just depends on who the hotel guests are.
Resort and luxury hotels often have several bars and restaurants, with a variety of entertainment, food, and drink, to keep the hotel guests spending money on the premises, as well as to attract an outside clientele. On the other hand, a small commercial hotel in a big city may need only one bar with several stations to serve its lobby customers, its cocktail lounge, coffee shop, dining room, and room service.
Another type of beverage service that must adapt to special conditions is that on airline flights. The restrictions of space, time, weight, and equipment are formidable. (Cruise lines and passenger trains have similar storage limitations.) Of necessity, their drink menus are limited. Liquors, beers, wines, and a few types of cocktail mixes are handed out in small individual bottles or cans. The cups are nesting, plastic disposables, except in first and business class cabins. Flight attendants push a beverage cart down the aisle and, working from both ends, can garnish glasses and fill them with ice, pour beverages or hand out the individual-sized drink components, and collect the money. The process is a marvel of organization. Tight control systems follow the little bottles everywhere, since they are extraordinarily tempting to both airline employees and customers. For higher-paying passengers, drinks are free and service typically includes real glassware, a choice or wines, Champagne for breakfast, and sometimes specialty drinks.
Grouping types of beverage service into these rather arbitrary categories does not really adequately describe the character of individual enterprises. Many establishments do not fit handily into a specific category, and those within categories can be as different as day and night.
Yet all categories have certain similarities. They all sell alcoholic beverages. They have similar staff structures, patterns of purchasing and inventory, and ways of controlling the merchandise. They all must meet certain government requirements and operate within certain government regulations. Even the prices charged for the same drinks are not wildly different from one type of place to another. Still, no two bar and beverage operations are alike, unless they are part of a chain. The successful business is one that meets the needs and desires of a certain clientele and strives to be deliberately different from others serving a similar clientele in order to stand out in the competition for customers. Other major reasons for the wide variety of bar operations are simple: the special circumstances of each operation and the personalities, desires, and budgets of their owners. But to be successful, the entrepreneur must put clientele above all else in shaping his or her enterprise.
Throughout history, alcoholic beverages have played an important role in most cultures. People drank them for many good reasons--for food and health, worship and celebration, pleasure and fellowship, wisdom and truth. As civilization developed, the inns, alehouses, and taverns were central to the growth of towns, travel, and the communication of ideas.
It was only in the past century that some began to question the propriety of alcohol use. They pointed to the problems associated with it: drunkenness and irresponsibility, illegal activity, and violent crime seemed to go hand in hand with alcohol abuse, along with decaying moral values that defied traditional religious beliefs. The pendulum of public opinion swung from acceptance to fear and disgust. First, the Temperance movement sought to shame people into giving up alcohol. Then came Prohibition, the passage of the Eighteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution that outlawed the manufacture and sale of alcohol except in certain, extremely limited circumstances. Prohibition lasted about 14 years (from 1920 to 1933) and created problems even more difficult to solve: a complex illegal network of bootleg home distillers, secret bars known as speakeasies, and organized crime's entrance into the lucrative business of selling people what they couldn't buy legally. Today's liquor laws still mirror some of the restrictions first created during Prohibition. Alcohol use is still controversial, but an attitude of moderation and responsibility has allowed the beverage industry to grow and flourish once again in the United States. Today's consumer is likely to drink less, but be interested in higher-quality products, even if they cost more. There are establishments that specialize in wine sales, brewing and selling beer, full-bar service, and a variety of food-and-drink combinations that often include some sort of entertainment. You can buy a drink on an airplane, in a hotel room, or in your favorite neighborhood restaurant.
|Ch. 1||The Beverage Industry: Past and Present||1|
|Ch. 2||Responsible Alcohol Service||25|
|Ch. 3||Creating and Maintaining a Bar Business||57|
|Ch. 4||Bar Equipment||105|
|Ch. 5||The Beverages: Spirits||147|
|Ch. 6||Wine Appreciation||195|
|Ch. 7||Wine Sales and Service||233|
|Ch. 9||Sanitation and Bar Setup||303|
|Ch. 10||Mixology One||339|
|Ch. 11||Mixology Two||371|
|Ch. 12||The Staff||409|
|Ch. 13||Purchasing, Receiving, Storage, and Inventory||465|
|Ch. 14||Planning for Profit||505|
|Ch. 15||Marketing Your Business||551|
|App. A||Responsible Beverage Alcohol Service General Audit||627|
|App. B||Cocktail Lounge Design Questionnaire||637|