Posted on | May 29, 2013
Written by | Alia Akkam
Between Miami hotspots Yardbird Southern Table & Bar, Khong River House and Swine Southern Table & Bar, Allegra Angelo, who oversees the wine & spirits programs for all three, is one busy gal. Here, she discusses bartenders setting customers’ drink agendas, the rise of rye and a shifting, spirited city.
THE BEVERAGE NETWORK: What’s your current take on Miami’s bar scene?
ALLEGRA ANGELO: Miami’s bar scene has grown up in the last five years due to a small group of mavericks who have consistently been stirring and shaking damn good drinks here. There is still, though, a need for more options: more freestanding bars not constrained within a hotel nor to the parameters of Miami Beach. Neighborhoods like Coconut Grove, Coral Gables, the upper Biscayne Corridor, South Miami and Little Havana are ready—and thirsty—for local bars with small spirit-forward cocktail lists.
TBN: What’s the goal of Swine’s beverage program?
AA: Swine’s beverage philosophy is to play a touch off the mainstream. Give people comfort options like a clean and refreshing vodka drink with local strawberries and oranges [Homestead Bound], but at the same time allow them to experiment and be adventurous with the marriage of rye whiskey and rum in an interpretation of a classic Sidecar [South by South Sidecar].
TBN: What are some of the cocktails on your menu that are particularly big hits?
AA: Guests love Rob Ferrara’s barrel-aged Pisco cocktail. He combines Kappa Pisco, Dolin Blanc vermouth and Mandarine Napoléon liqueur, and rests it for eight weeks in a bourbon barrel, shipped directly from the Buffalo Trace distillery. Although the cocktail is spirit forward, it is soft and detailed. You taste the floral notes from the Kappa and the bright citrus from the liqueur, rounded out by the sweetness of the vermouth and the oxidation from time in barrel.
TBN: When we think of Miami, rum is the first spirit that comes to mind. What is your process for encouraging customers to try the rye that plays such a prevalent role at Swine?
AA: We play with rum and rye cocktails, which is a sneaky but kind way to get people to drink it. The sweet personality of rum marries well with the spicy attitude of rye. For example, we have one called the Good Ritten Sour. This consists of Rittenhouse 100-proof rye and Santa Teresa añejo rum with lemon, basil, egg white and a Rioja drizzle, garnished with a Filthy Cherry and orange twist. This is one of our bestselling cocktails, and one of the few that women and men equally enjoy.
TBN: What are the challenges of having a thoughtful cocktail program in place while working in a city where so much of going out revolves around volume orders of vodka sodas and mojitos?
AA: The consumers don’t drive the market, we do. They drink vodka because they don’t have options when they “go out.” If you create a cocktail menu that is user-friendly and fun—every detail, even the type and size of the font, matters—then people will drink beyond vodka. And of course, you need a skilled bartender who understands flavor and balance, like a great chef or a great sommelier.
Memorable cocktails have detail. I realized this when I was drinking an Old Cuban. Most bars make this classic cocktail with Prosecco or Cava, but the best Old Cuban is made with Champagne; it is cleaner and brighter. There is a difference between adding one ounce of Prosecco or one ounce of Champagne. There is a difference between adding a half-ounce of lemon juice or just a quarter-ounce. There is a difference between using a gin that is citrus-forward or juniper-forward when shaking it with an apricot liqueur. The guest might not realize these differences, but it is the summation of all these little unsung details that makes that guest come back again and again.