Seasonal Drinks Testing: It’s a tough job, but someone has to do it.

August 3rd, 2014

I love my job. Not many people can say that and actually mean it. But, a couple of times a year, I REALLY love my job ….it’s about the time that seasonal drinks menu development chatter starts. And, then it happens. I get an email invite with a subject line that reads something to the effect of:

“Invite: happy hour / drinks testing”

We are professionals and there is a A LOT that goes into this process, so I certainly don’t want to minimize the “Research and Strategy” end of things. Our guys work hard on this. The planning begins months in advance, starting informally, the guys start digging into the research; reviewing bar trends, restaurant news, as well as our own sales trends. Honestly though, all the feedback we get from our Star-tenders is probably the most important data out there. After all, we learned from them that Fireball whiskey was literally “on fire” a few years back and that Pappy Van Winkle is the stuff dreams are made of. We try hard to learn from everyone.


When we put our seasonal drinks menu together the process goes something like this-


Step 1: Settle on a theme, which usually revolves around the season we’re planning for (ie. vodkas are fashionable and mixable, fresh made is vitally important, simple ingredients the staple)

Step 2: Partner with 4-5 vendors who are charged with bringing their best, newest ideas to the table


Step 4: Narrow down the drinks and decide on the names.


You may surprised to learn that execution or glassware is never a deterrent for us as it relates to drink selections. Of course every bartender loathes the frozen cocktail, but if it was our THING, you’d see it on our drink menu too. Consider Irish coffee. Ever see how many steps are involved in that sucker? Imagine how awkward the glass for that concoction is to stack. Now think about how many of those we make every day.  How do they all fit behind the bar? “The glass matters” is a thing for us, so we found a way. Because, Irish coffees are absolutely what we do and there isn’t a time of day that you won’t see one going across the bar.

Warm, comforting, delicious, perfection….
Bushmills Irish Whiskey and brown sugar in hot coffee, topped with fresh cream and cinnamon swirls.

Irish coffee

OK, so back to the PROCESS. Obviously there is one step in there that is just too much fun. The Testing. It really is an afternoon of work that could make an accountant cry. I told you how it starts- with the email invite- but in the background a bit of work has gone into making this afternoon of sampling go smoothly- people running around to find ingredients that may not yet be in season, carrying bottle after bottle of stuff no one’s seen before. Setting up scoring sheets, inviting VIP’s – the logistics are a little daunting.


Luckily, my services are only needed for basically the fun stuff (the sampling) so when I show up I just see a buffet of ingredients; such as glasses, waters, liquor, various jiggers and other mixing essentials as well as straws, dish towels (its a messy affair to be sure) and a lively bunch chattering away, more than happy to be called up for their services.

 Drinks Sampling


Happy Hour Testing goes down like this:


a Host

– ie one of our fabulous industry friends who’s worked up some drink ideas based on previous needs and wants from the menu theme (see planning steps above). Usually they’ve consulted with the nation’s hottest mixologists to see what people are drinking in New York, London, Tokyo and Los Angeles. Sometimes it matters. Sometimes it doesn’t.  Trends can start anywhere. Funny thing is, sometimes the oldest recipes are the hippest -for example bitters are all the rage right now. These guys are fantastic and, trust me, they know what the are doing.


Recipe books

– so we know what goes into each of the 8-10 drinks we are sampling. It’s always amazing how things change when they are blended.  Sometimes the best sounding things don’t work and the wackiest combinations are the most sublime.


Score sheets and pencils

– this is where you give your opinion of whatcha like, don’t like and why. Each drink, including the potential name is documentented. My handwriting skills may diminish somewhat as the task progresses, but fortunately, that’s someone else’s problem.


The Testers

We usually have a variety of people from work as well as friends of people from work. We always want to have a good mix of guys AND gals. This is important.  Men and women drink differently, though that is changing. It makes sense.  Men and women process alcohol differently. It’s basic physiology-not politics.  What’s interesting though is that the sexes are starting to come together. For example, more women are drinking whiskey and more men are drinking fruity.  Which brings us to…

Straws- lots of Straws.

And, we get down to business …. We use straws to taste. The idea is to dip the straw into the cocktail and hold the liquid in with the suction from your finger covering the top end -just like you did with your milk when you were a kid. If we like it, then we usually take a healthy swig (just to be sure). Then, we score and describe. Too tart? Not enough lime? Need more sparkle? All goes down on the ratings cards.  Sometimes we tweak recipes on the spot and try again. Everyone has an opinion. But, it is always interesting because with spirits being of such high quality these days, you usually know from a first taste if there is something to work with.  Less is always more.  Still, everyone has an opinion and feedback is encouraged.


So that’s it. Not bad, eh? And, the best part …that is just one vendor! One drink! Yep, we get to do this over the course of a couple of weeks for up to 6 cocktails. AND, we also test beer! Oh joy!


And, here is a drink from the 2014 summer drinks menu that came about from exactly this process:

beery good

The Berry Good
American Harvest Organic Vodka, agave syrup, freshly muddled strawberries, sparkling wine


As a side note, you’ll also find Crabbie’s Spiced Orange Alcoholic Ginger Beer on our summer drinks menu. This is a dangerously tasty drink, served over ice with a slice of orange.  During testing though, folks got creative and, in the end, we found that there are a variety of spirits that mix well with Crabbie’s, notably peach schnapps (hello!).and, you can’t go wrong with a nice Kentucky bourbon.

Crabbie's Orange

Not a bad day at the office, right? So, what do you think about joining us next go-round? We’d sure love to have you so be on the look out. We will have more details soon about how you can be on the team for the next go around this Fall!


INSTAGRAM CONTEST: In the meantime, follow us on Instagram @fadoirishpub and let us know what cocktails you are loving this summer (one of our signatures or your own seasonal faves –just gotta be at the pub).

Be sure to tag #fadogram  **We’ll be rewarding winners each Monday with Pub gift cards through the end of August.

 The Berry Good