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Picture this: it’s a bright, sunny, Caribbean day and you’ve ambled up to the bar aboard your favorite cruise ship for a refreshing drink. But have you ever considered what goes into making that drink?
The food and beverage department is a significant revenue generator both at sea and in land-based hotels, which is why plenty of thought and effort goes into crafting a drink menu that not only satisfies patrons, but also represents the brand at the same time. For example, drinks designed for Carnival are likely to be fun, vibrant and accessible while drinks for upscale lines like Silversea are likely to be based around the use of fine spirits and subdued colors.
I had the good fortune to sit down with Charlotte Voisey and Xavier Padovani, both cocktail experts extraordinaire and brand ambassadors for Hendricks Gin to find out just what goes into crafting the drinks in your favorite watering holes at sea and on land during the stunning Tales of the Cocktail event held here in Vancouver in conjunction with the Rosewood Hotel Georgia. Here’s the embarrassing part: it was held back in February, and I have been meaning to write about it ever since.
Now, perhaps that’s a testament to the amazing array of cocktail drinks I was fortunate to sample that evening, but the truth is that I just didn’t know how to write something and come off sounding reasonably smart. Voisey and Padovani are pioneering an industry that is bigger and more influential than I could have ever imagined. And it was a revealing look at how beverages are handcrafted for the hospitality industry – cruises included.
Both agree the biggest component is ingredients and local tastes. A drink that works for an upscale San Francisco hotel won’t work for a trendy, hip property in Manhattan. Travellers in London have certain expectations about what makes a good drink, while guests in Lisbon are likely to have different ideas. Some of this is based on traditional drinking habits, like heavier drinks for northern regions, with lighter, fruit-based fare for hotter destinations, but much of it is harder to gauge.
“When you say ‘Fairmont’ [referring to the upscale hotel brand], there’s a certain expectation in terms of service quality, quality of ingredients, and skills that the bartenders have, that can help to structure what the cocktail is to look like, and how far you can go creatively,” says Voisey. “It has to fit expectations in terms of garnish, glassware, taste etc. But within that, seasonality is very important. You can have fun with current affairs in that city and that country, or local ingredients that they have made a name for and are proud of.”
Before they craft a drink, both set out to actually visit the place they’re designing it for. They hit the ground running to discover what makes each place unique and diverse, then craft a drink around those elements.
While wandering around the gorgeous Rosewood Hotel Georgia on one rainy, cold Vancouver night, I sampled eleven different drinks. I know what you’re thinking: bring a designated driver (I did!). I already enjoyed spirit-based beverages, so it didn’t take any arm-twisting for me to don a suit and tie for this rather upscale gala event. But I discovered I’d never had anything like these drinks before.
Take my favorite concoction of the evening: a rum-and-coke based drink, topped with buttered popcorn. The straw made a squeaking noise as it was inserted between the kernels, but the flavour this drink exuded was stunning: sweet, strong, and almost like salted caramel.
I also learned I like gin, which I normally avoid like the plague. I used to tell people that I “can’t stand the stuff.” Incorrect – I dislike certain kinds of gin. Hendrick’s Gin, with its cucumber-infused taste, suited me just fine.
For Padovani, his personal goal is about changing the way customers perceive certain drinks, as well as opening the cocktail up to new, non-traditional markets.
“There’s a certain misconception sometimes about the country you are visiting,” he says. “Most of these countries actually use the brand before we come in. I was in Japan before we introduced it [Hendrick’s Gin] officially. And [at the hotel], they got the bartender at this bar to bring it in from the duty-free [at the airport.] We started like that in many countries where we were not going to launch the brand, but then got calls that they were already getting it from the duty-free.”
Another surprise for Padovani was the enormous demand for Hendrick’s Gin in Bogota, Columbia. “We went in straight away, introduced it to a few top chefs [who loved it]. And I do feel privileged when I introduce it [Hendricks] to someone who doesn’t know about it. It does happen more than you would think, but less than it used to, which shows that the brand is growing, and awareness is growing.”
As for the gin?
“Ninety-five percent of people will tell me they don’t like gin. Then they try our brand. And they say, ‘okay, I don’t like gin, but I like that!’” he says with a smile.
Voisey and Padovani both light up when I suggest cocktails will eventually become as popular as wine, with cruises and land-based vacations designed entirely around them and their rich history. It turns out they couldn’t agree more – and both couldn’t be happier to be at the forefront of the resurgence of the cocktail.
“Hotels are always looking for something that their guests, who are international travelers, will pick up on, and say, ‘wow – when I was in Rio, that’s how they made my Caipirinha. So it’s not just a Caipirinha with Brazilian rum that anyone could make; it has to have that authentic twist,” said Voisey.
Something to consider the next time you order your favorite martini onboard a cruise ship, or attend a mixology class: there’s more that goes into your drink than meets the eye!
From the Deck Chair will return on Monday, September 25 with a special, pre-Live Voyage Report edition of our Cruise Photos of the Week!
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