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Fairmont Hotels

Beverage relevancy

It's a no-brainer. You expect a fine cocktail, glass of wine, local beer just about wherever you go in Seattle. We don't even think about it. Our local burst of enthusiasm for these finer things in life has created a lot of competition. And for hotel chains like Fairmont Hotels & Resorts, FRHI, that are global (Fairmont, Raffles, Swissôtel), it can be a big jump not only to catch up, but go beyond.

As Nigel Moore, Director of Food & Beverage Asia Pacific, FRHI Hotels & Resorts, says "There was a time you got the best cocktail in a hotel. We haven't maintained that level, and we had to decide how we were going to get back on top. As we looked around, we realized we have some of the best bartenders in the world. So we brought five of them to Seattle to create Fairmont's global cocktail program. We want to ensure that no matter where in the world you travel, you know you can get these cocktails and they'll be done right. The further out you go, the harder it is to maintain consistency. The cocktails created for the program have to be able to be reproduced by every bartender at every hotel around the world. Consistent quality is essential."

Tequila cocktail--a finalist?

The five bartenders, Nader Chabaane, Tom Hogan, Erik Lorincz, John Paul Romeo and Grant Sceney (click here to see bios), were tasked with maintaining Fairmont core values, connecting the community to the history of the hotels and cocktails, creating the next evolution of classic to modern cocktails, creating 10 core cocktails for global locations, and creating regional cocktails that reflect their individual locations. No pressure at all. It's the first time Fairmont has pulled bartending resources together in this way and that the bartenders have had such a hands-on role. As serious as all this sounds (and it is), it was also a lot of fun. As Nader says, "We call and email, but this is the first time we've been together. There are no egos, we're not competing. There's a lot of excitement and energy about working together."

Besides videotaping the process and taking still shots , Fairmont invited five journalists in to shadow the bartenders. It was an eye-opener. The cocktail ideation took place at Kathy Casey's Liquid Kitchen in Ballard which is a story in itself. An amazing array of spirits, juices, whole fruit, mixers, liqueurs, eggs, etc., were supplied and they went to work. "It's difficult to create something brand new in cocktails," says Nader. "We went back to the early cocktails and created modern versions that are better than the originals. Sometimes that means using a different spirit or sour or sweet than you'd traditionally see." No detail was overlooked; for instance, they salt half the rim of a glass. An interesting presentation, and it allows the consumer to enjoy the cocktail with or without salt, or maybe both.

Recipe development sheets are used for each cocktail-everything that goes into the making of a drink is written down. Then the tasting begins. Each bartender tries other bartenders' drinks, then makes suggestions. 'It needs to sparkle-try a champagne float, or try ginger beer.' 'Too much berry flavor, take the raspberries out or reduce it from five cherries to three.' Changes are made and written down. Round two tasting begins. One cocktail went through 18-19 iterations before they gave up. "We couldn't make it better," says Erik. "We moved on."

Much of what they did was typical bartender behavior, but for those of us stepping temporarily into their world, it was amazing. Taking a swath of grapefruit peel and squeezing it while waving it over the glass a few times looks like nothing's happening. Yet the same thing done over your hand coats it with a mini shower of oil. It gives the drink an essence of citrus without adding juice. One of the most interesting discoveries was that a tiny, tiny change in ingredients could take the cocktail to a whole new level. You could see it their eyes - 'that's it!'

Back at the Fairmont Olympic Hotel, Seattle, the bartenders took turns behind the bar and demoed three of the drinks that may make it onto the global menu. "These are still preliminary-we may tweak again and we haven't named them yet," explained Nigel. Watching them shake cocktails and snap off the last drop was true entertainment. There's so much more going on than just creating a tasty beverage.

Erik and Grant shaking--every bartender has their own stance and grasp

 "Naming should be fun. Cocktails are fun," says Grant. "Names should make people laugh or question what it means so they want to find out." Bartending itself is more complex than you may think, too. "It's the one job where someone does everything in terms of hospitality," says Erik. "You greet the customer, you find out about their likes and dislikes. You find out where in their day they are-are they going on to dinner? Are they ending their day? Are they starting with you and going out for more drinks? All of this information helps you give them the perfect drink for that moment. Then you make the cocktail, you serve them, and follow up with them. You try to make their experience so good they want to stay for more drinks and hopefully dinner. You have the opportunity to be their last connection. It's the whole thing."

Liquid Kitchen's storage--a former stairwell to a now non-existent second floor

As always, there is a whole world that surrounds the beverage. Fairmont is creating partnerships for spirits, uniforms, and has even contracted for glasses that will be used worldwide at their locations only. If you see it, you're at a Fairmont (although individuals may purchase them). It's all about consistency of the experience. When someone asks you "would you like a drink," be very appreciative. It's not as simple as it sounds.

Click here to see bartender backgrounds (l-r Nader Chabaane, Grant Sceney, Tom Hogan, Erik Lorincz, and John Paul Romeo: forever serious)


Connie Adams/June 2015

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