Staying Competitive

It would take a looooong while to visit each of Oklahoma’s bars, breweries and distilleries. After all, Marshall Brewing Company founder Eric Marshall watched his sector go from roughly 1,500 breweries nationwide to 10,000 in just a few years. 

So how do entrepreneurs keep their establishments relevant? Lindsey Hogan, brand manager for OKC’s Stonecloud Brewing Company, says she and her colleagues keep their eyes on the trend forecasts.

“Beer trends continue for barrel-aged stouts and big IPAs, and people are gravitating to easy-drinking lagers with lower ABVs,” she says. “And we predict a sour beers resurgence.”

Along with looking ahead, another way to remain relevant in a crowded market is looking back, says Noah Bush, owner of Tulsa’s Hodges Bend. 

“What’s old will always become new again; classics get rediscovered,” he says. “But trends will always change, so the key is to makes sure the drink you make is made with care and quality ingredients.”

Some watering holes remain popular by their service and long-standing reputations. 

Ashley Sutton, the food and beverage manager at Summit Club, says this long-time Tulsa favorite thrives through “providing the utmost service to our guests. Our staff know members by name and can usually have their drink ready as soon as they walk in the door.”

Edna’s, an OKC bar that offers the famous Lunchbox, existed long before anyone checked social media for cool quotients. Tammy Lucas, owner and daughter of the eponymous founder, says trends don’t impact this longtime favorite unfettered by fads. But in today’s digital world, social media is a must for most. 

“We use social media to provide a glimpse of what your experience will be like at our location, and [it] lets our customers know what we have available on draft and in cans to-go,” says Hogan.

But even excellent service and mouthwatering drinks didn’t stand a chance against the pandemic.

“It has been devastating to the industry as a whole,” says Lucas. “It breaks my heart. Being shut down was awful, but on the positive side, it gave us the opportunity to focus on our expansion project, which is nearing completion.”  

Stonecloud re-opened in January, and Hogan says the pandemic forced the crew to think outside the box. This resulted in the release of new one-off beers and a collaboration with designer Kenzie McFeely to create unique artwork for each can.

Despite a tough 2020, Oklahomans pulled through for small businesses in many respects.

“We are so grateful for the support we have received during these tough times and hope people will continue to support other local small businesses as we move forward and try to recover,” says Marshall. “I am hopeful that people will spend the extra dollar or so to support local knowing how much that means to their community and the people struggling to survive the aftermath of this unprecedented situation.”

Life Behind Bars

Sunrise and sunset bookend a bartender’s life. They’re awake to see both, after all, with some midday sleep time before 10-12 hours of, oftentimes, pure chaos and a lot of multi-tasking, says Christopher Andrukaitis, bartender at Tulsa’s Hodges Bend. 

“I always liked playing bartender in college,” he says. “I knew I wanted to work in the craft cocktail movement, in high-end hospitality service at the best venues.” 

The key to a happy life as a bartender includes cherishing regular customers, being open to meeting new people and forging strong friendships with “other comrades also working until 5 a.m.,” he says. “To make it as a bartender, you have to keep a lot going and you have to love it; no sane person would do it otherwise. I’ve been a bartender for seven years and learned to make it priority to take care and eat healthy, or your body will fail you.”

Hard Seltzer
Obsession

Fruity, fizzy, too much will make you dizzy – hard seltzers are the ‘it’ drink of the moment … and have been for quite awhile. 
Many Oklahoma brands, seeing the world’s enthusiasm for this libation, decided to get in on the fun. 
“With so many brands hitting the market last year, we knew we wanted to do something different, so we use real fruit in our recipes,” says Hogan, who helped with the release of Stonecloud’s Selzer Solo Spritz and upcoming Neon Sunshine and Stonecloud Lite. “With a culture so heavily focused on fitness and personal health, I think the hard seltzers are a no-brainer for the current market,” she says. “We have enjoyed perfecting the brewing process for our hard seltzers. They allow us a chance to learn and explore another avenue of flavors and technique. Beer is still our most popular offering, but we are happy to have a few delicious hard seltzers available.”
And while one might assume knowledgeable bartenders turn up their noses at such a simple concoction, that’s not the case.
“They’re popular because they’re ridiculously delicious and refreshing,” says Bush. “I think that people live this duality in their minds that for something to be good it has to be complicated … which in no way is true. Some of the greatest, most classic drinks have the least ingredients.”

Wine ABCs

If you’re in the wine aisle, things can get confusing pretty quick. From merlot to sauvignon blanc to riesling and pinot noir – what can you expect with each variety? 

Reds:

Cabernet sauvignon: Bold, acidic and dry, this red wine variety pairs best with hearty, salt-laden meals like steak. The cab is popular with established wine drinkers and packs quite a punch.

Merlot: Fruity and smooth, the merlot pairs best with light, veggie-based meals. Think of it like the cab’s opposite in the red wine world. It’s a great introductory wine for new drinkers.

Pinot noir: Somewhere between a cab and a merlot, the pinot noir is a solid choice for the intermediate wine drinker. With few tannins, it’s lighter than a cab and fruity like a merlot, but with a more rounded taste. Pair it with salmon or chicken.

Whites:

Chardonnay: The go-to white wine, chardonnay is fruity, full-bodied and smooth, but different countries have their own take on this blend. Pair it with creamy dishes.

Sauvignon blanc: This variety is dry, tart and slightly fruity, for those looking to avoid the sickly sweet. Pair this with a variety of cheeses or seafood.

Riesling: Perhaps the world’s most popular dessert wine, riesling is sweet and light. Pair is with – you guessed it – desserts, or something with spice.

Looking Ahead

Echoed by several pros in the business, the ongoing trend in cocktails and alcohols in general is a craving for quality, higher-end options. 
“Eclectic bourbons are catching on,” says Andrukaitis. “People are splurging and expanding their palates on high end whiskey, scotch and gin. Japanese gin is making a comeback because their whiskey is nuanced, using peppercorns, flowers – not just juniper.”
Bush seconds: “According to my friends in the liquor stores, the trend has been for higher ticket items. People are spending for higher ticket items … so palates are a bit more educated and discerning. And there are so many wine-based products on the market right now. Cap Corse Mattei has been my favorite thing this last year. It’s versatile in a cocktail, and I’ll pour myself some on the rocks while I’m cooking and before I get into some wine
at dinner.”

Home cocktail supplies

Having the right essentials makes home-mixed libations a treat. 
“Vodka mixes well with pretty much anything,” says Lucas. “Ratios can be crucial to certain cocktails, so having a jigger is a vital addition. If you’re going to get fancy, you might want to keep bitters and fresh fruit handy.
Sutton adds that along with a jigger, an at-home bar should include “a shaker, strainer, bottle opener, corkscrew and ice bucket with tongs.” What she dubs the “essential boozes,” along with vodka, are dry gin, white rum, reposado tequila and whiskey, with “extra-credit boozes” being dry and sweet vermouth, St. Germain, Campari and Cointreau. Along with mixers like juices, tonics and sodas, Sutton advises: “Never forget your garnishes and simple syrups. You can infuse fruit, herbs, nearly anything into a syrup to really add the extra wow factor to any cocktail. And always have a cold bottle of bubbles ready.”

RecipeCorner

Bartenders at Tulsa’s illustrious Summit Club share three tantalizing cocktail recipes.

Ashley Sutton’s twist on an Aviation:
1 ounce Empress gin
1 ounce Fresh lemon juice
.75 ounces Tempus Fugit Liqueur de Violettes
.75 ounces Vergnano Marashino liqueur

Noah Eagan-Rowe’s variation on a Pimm’s Cup, Shimmering Pimm’s:
1.5 ounces Pimm’s No 1
1.5 ounces Cucumber-infused vodka
.75 ounces Simple syrup
.5 ounces Fresh lemon juice
Top with Prosecco

Shaye McNamara’s Tequila Mockingbird:
2 ounces Blanco tequila
1 ounce Lemon juice
1 Egg white
.75 ounces House made pecan syrup
.5 ounces Townshend’s Spiced Tea liqueur

Alcohol
Dependency in 2020 

As a controlled substance, alcohol can lead to binge drinking and dependence – also known as alcoholism. During pandemic isolation, some have slid into dependency, characterized by drinking despite health risks, developing a tolerance, feeling strong cravings and experiencing symptoms of withdrawal after not drinking, like nausea, anxiety, hallucinations and even seizures.

In some cases, dependency can mean needing to drink to stop tremors or combat hangovers. To drink less and avoid peer pressure, try a mocktail to blend in and avoid temptation. For more serious issues, seek out a healthcare provider to oversee safe withdrawal, and utilize support groups such as Alcoholics Anonymous. If necessary, many clinics offer in-patient care.
Learn more at niaaa.nih.gov.