Measuring a world-leading drinks programme
Words by The Pinnacle Guide founders
The Pinnacle Guide is being designed to take into account all the glorious intricacies that come with creating, owning and operating the best bars in the world. So there's probably no singular element that's more important than the drinks themselves. Knowing this was such a huge topic, we invited three of the most awarded and eloquent folk in our world to weigh in on this contentious conversation.
The Round Table split itself quite naturally into two sections - with a focus first on the menu as a whole, followed by the importance of reviewing a specific drink.
One of the privileges of creating The Pinnacle Guide, is the ability to award and reward all styles of venues. We want to include beach bars and dive bars, rooftops and basements - and judge them squarely alongside five-star hotel bars, who are the usual suspects for 'best bar' awards. Where menus are concerned, we discussed the necessity to actually assess and reward "suitability" - to ensure our anonymous local reviewers are never swayed by big-budget menus. The word suitability or fit for purpose was replaced during this session by "thoughtfulness" which fits the ethos of The Pinnacle Guide perfectly. As venues will be asked to self-submit their initial application to receive a PIN, this led to a further conversation - should we be asking people to submit their concept alongside their current menu, to see at a glance if they have executed their original brief in a thoughtful way. While this would mean more work for the bar team when applying for a PIN, it seems only right that a reviewer should have the full picture in front of them, as the bar would like to be seen - before they've even stepped foot inside the bar.
What was clear from everyone on the panel, and in the audience, was that whatever way a menu is presented, be that handwritten or as a hologram via an app - it had to be appropriate. Lauren Mote was more of an advocate for using tech and the hospitality industry keeping up with trends, Jeff and Tristan less so. Old dogs. New tricks. Just saying.
The conversation moved on to the drinks themselves... Should a reviewer order off-menu? Should they be requesting a classic? What if classics aren't listed? Should they be ordering a drink they wouldn't usually order? And what if there's nothing non-alcoholic available? Should that immediately become one of the Red Flags we keep discussing that rules a venue out immediately? Before the Round Table, we had an in-depth conversation with Laura Willoughby from Club Soda, who staunchly believes that a bar can not be a truly inclusive space if the N/A menu is an afterthought - and reminded us that a bar experience is still there to be experienced, regardless of whether you're drinking alcohol. We definitely don't need convincing on that one - but should a bar be penalised if there isn't a full list of N/A cocktails? Would we be prepared to review a completely N/A bar (in which case - surely we need to make the same allowances for a completely "A" bar - yep - it's a minefield). She also asked us to veto the word Mocktails - again something we don't need convincing of - it's a horrible term - so from here on in that word is no more.
When discussing reviewing the mixed drinks themselves - the idea of our anonymous reviews judging drinks numerically based on a number of elements (aroma, garnish, taste, etc) as per the majority of cocktail competitions seemed to be a tried and tested method, though Tristan made the very fair point that without descriptors alongside the numbers - the scoring immediately becomes arbitrary. Cocktail comp organisers across the globe take note...
All in - a very balanced conversation with the overarching theme being "concept versus execution" which will mean The Pinnacle Guide can thoughtfully review the thoughtfulness of the bar. How nice.
As always - we're here to put your opinions on record as we shape and formulate The Pinnacle Guide. If you have any feedback to this conversation, please email hello@thepinnacleguide and we'll come straight back to you.
This sessions panellists
Lauren is the Global On-Trade Manager of Excellence Programming for Patron Tequila, as well as a founding partner of Bittered Sling Bitters and newly formed Nightcap Media. Many of you will also know her from her outstanding work and contribution to the World Class programme. She's also the co-founder of Women Celebrate – a social media initiative to highlight those who identify as women in the drinks industry and their achievements.
Tristan Stephenson is an award winning bar operator, bartender, chef, some-time journalist, and bestselling author of the Curious Bartender series of drinks books. He is the co-founder of London-based Fluid Movement, who have operated a number of bars here in London, and also Curious Laboratories beverage consultancy. He also co-owns Whisky-Me, an innovative subscription service that delivers pouches of single malt through members' letterboxes.
Jeffrey Morgenthaler is an award-winning bartender and author from Portland, Oregon. He has worked behind the bar full-time since 1996 - most recently at the seven-time James Beard Award-nominated bar program - Clyde Common, and the highly celebrated Pepe Le Moko. He is the head judge of the San Francisco World Spirits Competition, was called out by Playboy as one of the top ten bartenders in the United States and hands down has the best eggnog recipe in the world.