Last November, Yoann Lazareth, Assistant Bar Manager under Anthony Boschat at the Beau-Rivage Palace in Lausanne, welcomed me at the BAR for a tasting of their Autumn-Winter 2016 cocktail menu. While enjoying their impressive drinks, I seized the opportunity to learn a little about the creation process of a palace cocktail menu.
When one thinks of palace hotels, what comes to mind is luxury and elegance. While the quality of hospitality remains high and, let’s be frank, the room prices unattainable for most people, part of the services have become more affordable; a change that has had an impact on hotel bars Yoann observes : “The palace universe has become more accessible in the last few years. It’s brought more guests in, which has had an effect on the drinks. We used to serve a lot of great champagnes. It was difficult, say 13 years ago, to bring other products in. Now bartenders can offer different cocktails, classic cocktails, with luxury products.”
Each staff member participates in one way or another in the creation of the BAR’s cocktail menu, Yoann explains. “We all work together on each cocktail, brainstorming on questions such as ‘How will it be served? What will the drink be called? What’s its story? Is the name reflective of the taste?'”
The BAR is frequented by two types of clientele: the locals who visit the BAR for early and/or late night tipples and, of course, the international guests staying at the hotel. Both have to be taken into account when establishing the BAR’s menu.
“We target our local clientele to break from the stuffy hotel vibe. People should recognize themselves in the cocktails. We want to play on the way Swiss people consume food and alcohol by using local ingredients and using Swiss references in our cocktail names. To attract them, we show we know their world while bringing our universe as well. For instance, one of our previous cocktails was called Le Général Guisan after a famous General of the Swiss Armed Forces.”
An example of an Autumn-Winter 2016 cocktail inspired by the local culture is the Dent de Lys, a variation of the Chocolate Martini. It’s named after a mountain in the Swiss Prealps and made with chocolate, Switzerland’s national specialty, sloe gin infused with rosemary (breaking the winter pattern by introducing a summer note), fig jam and almond milk with some tonka bean grated on top and served with a rosemary spring. The cocktail somehow reminisced me of my childhood, of the cold chocolate drinks I enjoyed back then (100% alcohol free, let me reassure you!)
Conscious of the fact that most Swiss references will be lost on foreign guests, the BAR stays careful to have an eclectic offer to satisfy all its customers and not favor just one guest category, Yoann explains.
A BAR’s signature creation, the Nookie in New York will appeal to an international audience easily. It gets its name from two world famous TV series. Nookie in New York is indeed the name of The Simpsons’ spoof of Sex and the City. The drink itself is a delicious twist on the Cosmopolitan drunk by Carrie & co. It is made of Aperol, Beefeater gin, cardamom, date tea, topped with a basil and lime foam and edible Swiss cornflowers as garnish. The Lilibet is a cocktail that would call to British people as Lilibet is Queen Elizabeth’s nickname. The cocktail is made of sloe gin, celery shrub, homemade beetroot syrup, lime juice, mint and ginger ale.
The Nookie in New York‘s naughty name takes guests who usually expect conventional, uptight names in a palace bar by surprise. “It’s difficult, Yoann says, to describe tastes, as we all associate different things with them. Therefore we have to play on what the drink will evoke to people. One has to catch the client by their imagination. Our cocktail names have guests smiling; it’s a drink’s first selling point.”
When it comes to ingredients, the BAR follows the same pattern as the Beau-Rivage’s restaurant whose menu is inspired by the seasons. Therefore cocktail recipes will use seasonal products. On the Autumn-Winter 2016 menu, guests will retrieve winter notes through the use of vermouth, nuts, cinnamon, clove, fir, sesame, and even tea, an ingredient used “for its wellness, revitalizing qualities”, Yoann shares.
The Lapsong Ice Tea is a smokey cocktail made with Black Label whiskey infused with lapsang souchong tea, peach liqueur and Drambuie infused with clove and sage. You probably know by now how much I like smokey drinks. This one got me moaning with pleasure.
In a concern for the environment and to develop bartenders’ green thumb, the BAR’s team uses many natural products coming straight from the Beau-Rivage’s garden. Even some of the honey used in the BAR’s cocktails comes from the hotel’s beehive.
Sometimes guests will ask for bespoke creations that are not on the original menu. For such requests, the BAR’s team has a stock of housemade ingredients, some using Swiss produces, such as fir, marjoram or lemon balm. They have a little red book with recipes but try not to make more than 10-15 bespoke cocktails per evening.
The team also likes to introduce unusual ingredients as an element of surprise. There is a fine line to follow though, Yoann says. “We want to surprise our guests but not too much. Our cocktails have to be surprising, yet easy to understand.
Our goal is for people to say ‘It was good’ and not ‘It was interesting.’ We don’t want to lose our guests because our drinks are too elitist. We’re not making cocktails for bartenders.” The Kami, a cocktail from the Spring-Summer 2016 menu, brought sake back into fashion and introduced guests to yuzu, a citrus fruit from Asia, and pandan, a tropical plant from Asia as well, mixing them with Sensha Ariake green tea, Tanqueray Ten gin and grapefruit for a delicious exotic drink.
The BAR’s menu is also constructed around some brands and their products. A twist on the White Russian named after the main character of the movie “The Big Lebowski”, The New Dude, a cocktail of the Autumn-Winter 2016 menu, uses pastis from Swiss brand Larusée, as well as Absolut Elyx Vodka, Galliano, Gruyère double cream (a heavy 50% fat cream from La Gruyère region in Switzerland), vanilla powder and crushed meringue pieces as garnish.
“Larusée is very dynamic in terms of image and has understood the power bartenders have over consumption. They approached us a year ago to promote their products.” The collaboration with brands extends to the use of branded glassware as well.
Talking about glassware, except for a few exceptions (when one client requested a bespoke 50 Shades of Grey cocktail and another Star Wars cocktail), the BAR stays fairly classic in its use of glassware. “We look for honesty. We don’t want to deceive the client with some showy glassware and, in the end, it’s only fruit juice. We want people to see a glamorous, simple glass arrive but, once they taste the drink, it’s good.”
The BAR is well aware of the current trend for mocktails and low ABV drinks and dedicates a whole page of its menu, “The Sober Club” to these drinks. “Low ABV drinks also make cocktails more accessible to people and change guests’ consuming habits by giving them access to something unique with barely any alcohol in it”, Yoann shares. Mocktails are a huge success at the BAR. They are the 4th best selling drinks after bellinis, mojitos (including house creation) and classic cocktails.
Another Fine Mess is a low ABV drink based on the classic Bobby Burns (named for the Scottish poet Robert Burns) and named after a movie starring Laurel and Hardy and an actor called…Bobby Burns. It is made with ground sesame and nut-infused cognac. A winter drink to be enjoyed in a laid-back atmosphere, comfortably sitting on a Chesterfield sofa, preferably by a fireplace.
Attuned to people’s concern about their sugar intake, the BAR tries to reduce the use of sugar in their cocktails. They’ve put soda drinks aside and use vanilla which people psychologically consider sweet as, in their mind, they associate it with sugar. They also use stevia, a much appreciated sugar substitute.
As said previously, the BAR’s menu evolves with the seasons. However, the team tries not to make too many changes and keeps some signature cocktails menu after menu. Yoann shares: “We try not to change our menu too much so that guests still find what they’re looking for. It’s important that they get what they want, what they expect.”
While familiarity brings guests a sense of comfort that will make them come back time and time again, it also serves as a ground for exploration. Bartenders can build on it to slowly and gently steer their guests in new directions, to push them into trying new drinks, thus developing cocktail culture.
“If we understand the client and what he or she likes, we’ll be able to offer what we would like to see democratized in Lausanne. We try to adapt to the client’s wishes to move forward from their tastes.”
So what can we expect in future menus? “Probably something vegetable.”