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Bar Talk: Midwest Knows Best

Posted on  | April 24, 2014   Bookmark and Share
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Nick Kosevich, Bittercube, Minneapolis

In 2009, Nick Kosevich was tending bar at the Town Talk Diner in Minneapolis; Ira Koplowitz was in Chicago, behind the stick at the famed Violet Hour. A chance meeting brought the two together, leading to the formation of the cocktail consultancy Bittercube. Here, Minneapolis-based Kosevich (Koplowitz now calls Milwaukee home) talks about the duo’s range of craft bitters, the rise of the small city and adjusting to your demographic accordingly.

THE BEVERAGE NETWORK: You and Ira met in the thick of an evolving cocktail scene. What was that era like?

NICK KOSEVICH: The first time I visited the Violet Hour I left with my tail between my legs because I realized just how little I knew about the bar. My cocktails at Town Talk always had a culinary background. I used lots of liqueurs and vermouth. But Ira had all of the classic methodology down. That was his area of expertise. We both left our jobs, moved to Milwaukee and launched Bittercube by working on our first project there, the restaurant Bacchus. We grew our clients and worked on developing menus and holding cocktail classes. Eventually we started training bartenders all over the country.

TBN: And you are partners in Eat Street Social, in Minneapolis, where you created a cocktail program around drinks like the New York Sour (rye, Zinfandel, egg white, cherry bark vanilla bitters) and the Polar Vortex (rosemary-infused tequila, amaro, pineapple, grapefruit, seltzer).

NK: Eat Street Social is our magnum opus. Being partners allows us great freedom. But we are also working on the drinks at Blue Jacket in Milwaukee; Scratch Kitchen + Cocktails in Norman, OK; Mortar & Pestle in San Mateo, CA, which is opening another location in San Jose; and Red Bone Alley in Florence, SC.

TBN: It’s great to see you working in cities beyond the oft-buzzed ones like New York and San Francisco.

NK: Of course we would work in these cities but there’s no reason to seek them out when all these smaller markets are realizing the importance of cocktail programs now. This is our demographic.

TBN: The rise of quality cocktails in the Midwest is particularly exciting, and you and Ira have certainly helped spike that regional development.

NK: Minneapolis has been growing incredibly, and Milwaukee isn’t far behind. But it’s not about us picking places or making drinks we want. It’s about having relationships with each of our clients and determining what they need for their customers. The drinks we offer in South Carolina, for a city of just over 30,000 people, may require different price points and ingredients than what we do in Minneapolis.

TBN: How do you ensure that your programs maintain consistency?

NK: We can’t always be there, so we’ve trained about 150 different bartenders to create solid cocktail programs based on what people want. Even making a simple margarita makes a difference, because we teach them that sour mix isn’t the way to go and fresh citrus is. It’s not that they need to know how to make 100 different cocktails. Instead we show them about six or seven formulas and give them the tools to adjust them to customers’ needs.

TBN: Another big part of your business is your collection of artisanal bitters, which includes the spicy Jamaican #1 and the Blackstrap made with molasses. Are you expanding those products?

NK: We debuted our bitters back in 2010. We are getting a lot of commissioned bitter work, in which we are creating blends—our ‘trinity’ encompasses our cherry bark vanilla, orange and Bolivar bitters—for house brands. We’re also working on a dried spice rum syrup and a line of bottled cocktails.


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