Take Flight with Mini Cocktails
Cocktail flights are a playful drink format that can be enticing for bars that are looking to offer new tasting experiences for their guests.
Flights can feature a selection of mini versions of individual cocktails from your full menu; they can serve as a great format for educating guests on similar classics (e.g. tasting a Gibson Martini, compared to a Fitty-Fitty, and so on); or they can simply be a lineup of the same cocktail with flavor variances (a classic, spicy mango, and a strawberry Don Julio Margarita, anyone?). During a time when consumers are being mindful about their consumption habits, a flight of mini cocktails is a creative way to give imbibers a comprehensive taste of what you’re all about without them having to commit to full-size cocktails.
(Pro tip: It’s important to keep in mind that even if flights are a range of low-ABV cocktails, that they may include more than the standard serving of alcohol. Always ensure that your guests are hydrated and pacing themselves over the course of the drinking session.)
Deciding the best way to feature cocktail flights at your bar
Before introducing cocktail flights into your beverage program, it’s important to consider what sells at your bar, which drink styles fit your brand, and what would resonate best with your clientele. A flight at a classic cocktail bar should look different from a flight at a fine dining restaurant. Both might be similar conceptually (e.g. the same cocktail served with a focus on varying flavors), but the execution will likely vary to fit their unique brand.
If you aren’t sure how your guests will react, consider running a weekly, or monthly special, trialing different concepts until you find one that sticks. Try offering flights of mini cocktails that feature on your main drinks list, a set of low-ABV variations on high-ABV classics (e.g. a set of Reverse Manhattan twists), or even testing a weekly cocktail omakase of sorts where, on a specific night, guests pay a set fee to experience a bespoke cocktail tasting menu over the course of a couple hours.
Regardless of which concept you move forward with, the promotion of it will be key to success. This means effectively sharing this new drink offering on your social channels with hi-res imagery, getting guest feedback on the ideas your team is bouncing around via social listening and engagement, and ensuring that your menu design caters to highlighting the cocktail flights. On premise, drive awareness of the flights via a separate pop-out menu, on a chalkboard behind the bar, or listed in their own section on the main menu.
Once you figure out how you’d like to add flights to your standard drink offerings, then it’s time to sort out the role that they play at your bar.
Preparing with ease
An important consideration when creating miniature cocktails is that you are able to prepare them with ease. Just because flights call for scaled-down versions of cocktails, doesn’t mean that they take less time to make compared to the full-sized ones; this is because, while you may be measuring less, you still have to go through the process of pouring, shaking (or stirring), and serving each cocktail. For a flight of three cocktails, this means that you would be preparing three separate drinks — a task which can prove to be timely, and inefficient.
There are a few ways to save yourself, and your bar, both time and money, if you decide to make flights a part of your everyday menu. If you can in your bar it’s best to pre-batch whichever ingredients or cocktails you can in order to save time.For example, for stirred cocktails, such as a Manhattan, you can batch and pre-dilute the drink, storing it in the freezer during service so that it just takes one pour to serve the drink as opposed to building, stirring, and straining. Another idea is to put your top selling cocktails on draft to make it a one-touch drink that you only need to garnish before serving. This may be more difficult to do for shaken cocktails or recipes with unstable ingredients (e.g. citrus juice or cream), but any sort of preparation helps, so be sure to keep these details in mind when planning your flights.
With that, here are a couple simple thought-starters for ways to build flights into your everyday beverage offerings:
- The Tanqueray & Tonic Experience - with the wide array of tonic waters available on the market, a flight of gin and tonics using different flavored tonic waters is a great way to demonstrate how the base spirit changes based on the mixer that it’s augmented with. In Barcelona, gins are mindfully paired with tonics based on the botanicals included in the base spirit. This is a great way to embrace that concept, having each garnish pair with both the mixer and gin.
- Exploring Scotch Classic Cocktails with Johnnie Walker - for whisky drinkers keen to broaden their knowledge of classics, a lineup of Scotch whisky-based classic cocktails is a great way to showcase your bar’s ability to execute these popular serves, and educate your curious guests. Try serving a flight that offers three cocktail styles (e.g. a highball; a sour, such as a Penicillin; and a stirred cocktail, such as an Old Fashioned).
- Flights & Bites - this general concept can take so many different shapes and forms depending on the drinks you’d like to serve, but the key component of this offering is the food paired with the cocktail. Low-ABV cocktails are a great format for food pairings, as the lower alcohol content complements the subtle flavors of each bite. Aside from being clever conceptually, this offering also gives your bar an opportunity to upcharge appropriately for the flight, optimizing revenue.
- Example: “Starter, Main, Dessert” - for this flight, one bite includes a starter and a cocktail to pair (e.g. a Seedlip No-Groni with Castelvetrano olives in olive oil infused with rosemary and orange peel-infused); for the main, a mini burger slider paired with a savory twist on a Johnnie Walker Rob Roy; and for dessert, a brownie paired with Baileys-a variation on a Black Russian.
Using cocktail flights as drink specials
Using flights as drink specials can be executed in a couple of different ways, depending on what works best for your bar. One way is to offer themed drink flights for special drinking occasions (e.g. Labor Day, Cinco de Mayo, 4th of July, etc.); another option is to offer weekly, or daily, flight specials that keep things interesting and Instagrammable at your bar.
A fun thematic example is serving a daily flight that highlights spirits from different regions in a selection of cocktails (e.g. “Flight to Mexico” featuring three tequila cocktails using Don Julio; or “Flight to Kentucky” featuring three bourbon cocktails using Bulleit bourbon). Specials such as these can keep guests engaged with your bar by always offering something new for them to experience at your establishment.
If this approach fits the bill for your bar, then here are a few examples of different flight offerings for both occasion-based specials, and weekly offerings:
- Cinco de Mayo Margarita Flights - Whether you want to develop your own flight of classic Don Julio Margarita riffs (e.g. Strawberry, Mango, and Blackberry), or create three food color-dyed Margaritas to match the colors of the Mexican flag, offering a simple set of festive Mexican cocktails on this occasion is a great way to get locals excited to celebrate the day at your bar.
- 4th of July Flights - Similar to the flight mentioned above that imitates the colors of the Mexican flag in the cocktails, a “red, white, and blue” cocktail flight would certainly fit the bill for this occasion. Aside from that, though, there’s no spirit more American than bourbon, so a flight of bourbon cocktails would be the perfect fit for this occasion. Consider a range of bourbon-based drinks, such as a highball, whiskey sour, and Old Fashioned; or get creative and offer bespoke serves that your guests can only experience on the day — sometimes that novelty is enough to pull a crowd.
Tips for Execution
We’ve covered a variety of different ways to get creative with cocktail flights, but the most important thing is that they’re executed properly. Here are a few tips to ensure that the mini cocktails you serve are consistent with the quality of your full menu:
- Monitor the temperature and dilution of the cocktails served over the course of the drinking session. Be sure to test how long it takes to drink the flight, and how the cocktails taste at the end. The temperature and water content of a cocktail can significantly impact how the flavor, body, and mouthfeel are perceived. A Martini is delightful when it’s served near freezing so that you still get the aromatic profile, while sipping on a lush, chilled spirit-forward cocktail; but after 15 minutes, that now-warm Martini won’t be nearly as delightful. For this reason, it’s important to serve the flights as soon as all of the cocktails are made— or serve in a sidecar on ice. They should never be "dying” on the pass —to ensure that they’re served to guests at the ideal temperature and dilution level (if over ice).
- Ensure bartenders are trained to execute every cocktail perfectly. This may seem obvious, but unless your bar has a thorough training program, the chances of every bartender creating consistent cocktails is unlikely. As mentioned earlier in the article, batching cocktails for flights before service is a great way to not only make the bartender’s job more efficient during service, but to also create consistency among the team serving drinks as well.
- Stock the appropriate glassware and get creative with serving tools. For the best perceived value, mini cocktails should have their own vessels and not be served in standard glassware. The liquid volume should fit the glass and be served in a creative way to entice other guests who see the flight to order one too.