Posted on | July 30, 2012
Written by | Alia Akkam
Max Solano, Beverage Director, Delmonico Steakhouse and Table 10, Las Vegas
Walk by Delmonico, Emeril Lagasse’s buzzing steakhouse at the Venetian Resort Hotel & Casino in Las Vegas, during happy hour, and the bar will be packed. But Beverage Director Max Solano (he also presides over the drinks list at Lagasse’s Table 10), who can be found behind the stick most evenings, isn’t plying guests with just the typical well offerings.
The Beverage Network: You work in Las Vegas, land of high rollers and tourists. What are they drinking?
Max Solano: Everything! But, sadly, it is still a vodka- and wine-dominated city. That is not to say that people are not searching for high-quality, contemporary libations or properly made classic cocktails, because they are. We are seeing more and more of this. From bitters and tinctures to syrups, foams and ice, we try to do as much as we can in-house. Barrel-aged cocktails and bitters are two things that I have been experimenting with over the past two years that are still fairly uncommon in this market, though thriving in other cities. Lastly, whiskey, as a general category, is booming. And, I am capitalizing on this more than anyone here in Las Vegas.
TBN: You have quite the affinity for Scotch in particular.
MS: It has a very dear place in my heart. There is no other category like Scotch in the world, because it offers such a huge spectrum of flavor profiles based on where and how it is made, as well as the aging process utilized. I am a student of all whiskies and cannot read enough about them. I also am a huge vintage cocktail buff.
TBN: Why do you think the Delmonico Steakhouse whiskey program has emerged as one of the country’s finest?
MS: It’s not by judging just how many selections are on the backbar, but how we utilize them, as well as the little details such as the Glencairn nosing glasses, water droppers, personal ice buckets and specialty ice. Where we excel is that each category from bourbon to rye to Scotch to Irish is stocked with quality and large selections.
TBN: And you also dream up quite a few Scotch cocktails yourself.
MS: I have over 40 that are my own special creations. I have three new ones that I am working on that utilize some level of molecular gastronomy application and really cool ingredients.
TBN: How do you turn customers, many with predisposed conceptions, on to new drinks?
MS: Educating guests is the fun part, especially if they are eager and willing. It still amazes me how many individuals live in a bubble and are perfectly happy with the same selections every time they go out. I am a consummate professional when it comes to opening people’s eyes, not pretentious. Reading the guest is very important and we let them initiate the order. An individual who asks for a vodka tonic will get just that; the only thing we will ask for is their preference of vodka. Now, if a person asks for a rum and coke and open-endedly asks if we can recommend something unique yet similar in style, then we will follow up with a little sample and even a story or information about the product. We like to build up that consumer confidence. On the cocktail side, Delmonico offers three lists consisting of nine cocktail selections each—“specialty,” “vintage” and “whiskey.” If the guest is discerning, then creating a cocktail per his or her preferences is where we really excel. I have a dedicated cooler that is all fresh fruit and herbs, as well as a monstrous liquor selection, and close to 40 different types of bitters and more than 20 syrups.
TBN: As it forges ahead to build a cocktail scene, what is Las Vegas’s biggest limitation?
MS: We certainly lack in quantity, not quality. Meaning that unlike New York, Chicago and San Francisco that have very deep selections of mixology-centric venues, we have just a few. But my hunch tells me that this will not be for too much longer, as we have some very talented individuals who reside here—whom I have the great pleasure to call friends.