Craft Fixation – A Follow Up

P.F. Chang's Asian Pear Mojito

A few weeks ago I argued craft beer – in particular, cask ale – is now the Next Big Thing for beer drinkers.  I cited a New York Times article discussing the increasingly refined palate of American eaters, who have become more sophisticated and knowledgeable about what they eat and drink.  This, I opined, specifically included beer: “microbrews are now considered commonplace and ordinary…cask ale is the current Fancy Champion for the truly elite beer snobs.”

I learned this week that this craft fixation is not limited to only food and beer.  Many national chain restaurants have recently turned a craft fixated eye to their own cocktail menus.  “Finding an excellent cocktail is easier now than at any time in the past century,” The Atlantic’s Wayne Curtis states.  Here in Washington, it’s impossible not to find any number of small, niche cocktail lounges.  Yet in many mid-sized cities, “the ‘upscale-casual’ restaurant – think Ruby Tuesday, Outback Steakhouse, Chili’s” – is a cocktail drinker’s best option.

Such restaurants have for years held stalwart against the craft fixation, content to serve low-cost, low-quality, and easily mass produced drinks – “vats of treacly, electric blue sugar syrup,” in Curtis’s words – rather than unique libations made from fresh and specialized ingredients.  However, restaurants seem to be reassessing this bottom-line-first approach: “Consumers are becoming increasingly sophisticated about what makes a balanced cocktail, and the chains don’t want to be caught flat-footed, the way the major beer labels were when regional microbreweries arose.”

These restaurants’ acceptance of consumers’ craft fixation has been slow to come, but better late than never.  Another upscale-casual restaurant, P.F. Chang’s, “has begun testing new cocktails in a few markets, among them one featuring a house-made ginger beer, fresh-squeezed lemon juice, and cane sugar.”  While I have not tried Chang’s improved cocktails, Curtis did, and was less than impressed with their Asian Pear Mojito: “while I’ve never eaten an Asian pear, I have strong doubts that one came within a time zone of my drink, which was more reminiscent of a Jolly Rancher candy than of anything grown on a tree.”

Curtis’s disappointment aside, restaurants are at least taking baby steps towards higher quality drinks.  Perhaps after they finish crafting better cocktails, they’ll next consider their ambiance; because I, for one, could do with fewer televisions, a touch quieter music, and slightly dimmer lighting.  But that’s just me.

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Published in: on May 23, 2011 at 10:25 pm  Comments (3)  
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3 Comments

  1. And maybe, just maybe, they’ll work on putting out some higher quality food. Whenever I have a choice, I’ll take a small independent restaurant over a national chain any day of the week.

    Cheers!
    G-LO

  2. Regarding the chains, while they love to hang up memorabilia from the local schools/community, they have yet to reach out to local breweries to “specialize” their bar menu. That needs to change. I also think if you’re gonna go with a lot of TVs, then put one for every booth. Otherwise I agree, cut the numbers down. Also agree on the music and lighting issues, although the upscale casual places (i.e. PF Changs and Cheesecake factory) have been better with them to be fair.

    • Wise words Christian. Greene Turtle at the Verizon Center has TVs in each booth in the restaurant section and I must admit, that is kind of cool (you are able to change the channel). But it is a sports bar after all, so I suppose it gets a pass.


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