Posted on | April 24, 2013
Written by | Alia Akkam
Since arriving at San Diego’s famed US Grant Hotel four years ago, Jeff Josenhans, director of venues for the property, has rejuvenated the Grant Grill’s beverage program. The beer list is flooded with local micro-brews; half-bottles of wine from small producers are plentiful; and one of the star libations is a Centennial Manhattan, barrel-aged in oak for 100 days. Still, this talented sommelier and bartender is best known for his pioneering “Cocktails Sur Lie”, which embrace the Champagne method. Here, Josenhans reveals his flair for the bold at the hotel bar.
THE BEVERAGE NETWORK: The US Grant is a historic, luxurious property. But the meaning of luxury is shifting. How does that translate to your bar program and the type of customers who come in?
JEFF JOSENHANS: I think luxury means to exceed one’s expectations, and it is the expectations that are shifting. Our bar program aims to offer menu concepts and ideas that you simply can’t find anywhere else in terms of innovation, service and quality.
TBN: One of those concepts is Cocktails Sur Lie (Sur lie is a French term that means having been rested on its yeast.
Josenhans’s Cocktails Sur Lie are bottle-conditioned; added yeast, sugar and spirits create carbonation in accordance with the Champagne method, while the hopping process adds the brewer’s flair.) What was the inspiration?
JJ: From a combination of wanting to push the envelope in a competitive market, needing to utilize my other skills (sommelier, working on a corporate level) and wanting to build upon the progression of cocktail programs put in place previously. We currently serve the Moscow Mule-inspired Mule (vodka, ginger, Muscat, Cascade hops) and La Granade (Cognac, hibiscus tea, pomegranate juice, bay leaves, black pepper.)
TBN: What are some of the new concepts you have planned for the lounge?
JJ: The next challenge is taking on the Cosmopolitan. This worn-out classic is due for a revamp. We are also moving on to a raw cocktail menu concept where we use one whole fruit, like a Granny Smith apple, fresh-squeezed per cocktail.
TBN: You worked hand in hand with the chef to develop a rooftop garden. What are you growing up there that find its way into cocktails?
JJ: We plant all of our cocktail ingredients from seed and only use heirloom varieties. Right now we are growing Atomic Red carrots, Paquito squash, mini sunflowers, Chioggia Guardsmark beets, lavender, Buddha’s Hand citron, kumquats, Meyer lemons, chocolate mint and lemon verbena. I like to be seasonal in all aspects when it comes to cocktails. Many people will think along the lines of produce seasons, but I also like to incorporate culturally seasonal spices. Nutmeg, for example, is great around Thanksgiving and Christmas even though it can be purchased of equal quality year-round.
TBN: What trends are you noticing among your guests?
JJ: One is that they are no longer gravitating towards brand comfort, but are more interested in exploring new spirit (and beverage) brands. I think the speakeasy-driven cocktail scene has been around for over a decade now and guests are primed for new cocktail experiences. We typically dabble very little in vintage cocktails and try to have a modern approach with an equally stringent devotion to quality.
TBN: What do you deem the biggest challenge of working at a hotel bar?
JJ: The most obvious one is probably the hardest challenge: that you have guests in the hotel bar because they are hotel guests, and therefore their primary interest is the overall hotel stay. So the quality of the bed and the food they ate for breakfast all affect their evaluation of their bar experience. In many cases the bar experience is just playing a supporting role of the entire hotel experience. Beyond that, hotel bars operate with a much leaner staff than most private bars, so managing a sound budget is an elevated skill to have at a hotel.