‘Mr. Potato Head’ – A Cocktail For Everyone!
(Guest blog– Icely Done Sales Manager & Bartender Zane Chiswell-Rivas)
“Make me your best cocktail”.
It’s a simple question and yet one that has probably made more bartenders scratch their head and grumble in confusion than any other. The simple truth is there is no correct answer to the question, as a bartender you have two options;
- Make them what you believe to be the best cocktail on your menu (your own personal favourite)
2) Unpack their statement by firing back at the guest with another round of questions such as:
- Long or Short?
- Sweet or Sour?
- Fruity or Creamy?
- Vodka or Gin?
- Midori or Blue Curacao?
The list goes on and on and you walk the fine line of delivering great service by narrowing down that customers palate to the best on menu / classic cocktail you can think of or coming across stronger than the Spanish inquisition.
This has always led me to thinking about how to make cocktail menus less daunting to the average customer. After all, the majority of the general public may not yet know or realise the difference between Amaro and Amaretto or a beautifully crafted Americano and well… an Americano, milk no sugar.
I have also been fascinated with ‘on-trend’ drinking across cocktail bars in the industry.
Customers, who a few years ago would have turned their noses up at Gin as ‘mothers ruin’ (their words, not mine) and linked tequila back to a hazy university night out with sticky floors; are now becoming much more educated on their drinking and flocking to new categories of spirits. However, there is still always a percentage of people who would not pick a cocktail simply because they would never drink its base spirit or a modifier within it (Campari – I’m looking at you…).
This has brought me on to think about a drinks concept that I first stumbled across in one of my favourite cocktail books of all time – Death & Co: Modern Classic Cocktails 2014
The book itself is a must read, for any new and aspiring bartender). In this book the first head bartender at Death & Co, Phil Ward, has outlined his principle of ‘Mr.Potato Head: Plug and Play’ Cocktails (get the giggle out of the way now).
In essence the theory is, in Phil’s own words, “Every great drink is a blueprint for many other drinks”. Essentially if you view the base of a great drink as it’s ‘body’ (the metaphorical potato in this case) then you can view other elements of it interchangeable (the arms, the legs, the nose) subbing these out both in measurement and also for different spirits and modifiers. Phil’s first example for this was taking the famous, elegant and delicious Pink Lady Cocktail (traditionally Gin, Lemon, Grenadine and Egg white – although the Death & Co book, pg 636 includes Applejack & honey) and subbing out Gin for a smooth, blended scotch whisky as the primary spirit. The genius here is that by subbing out only the main spirit the balance of the cocktail is left untouched (sweet & sour) whilst the subbed in main spirit is now the star of the show – adding its characteristics to the cocktail and it’s over all taste.
In this instance the juniper and citrus botanicals or gin are subbed out for a subtle malt flavour for the scotch along with some caramel & vanilla notes – creating a drink that is recognisable of the original but certainly different on the palate whilst still being balanced. The key to Mr.Potato head, however, is that you have now opened this drink up to an entire new audience of people! And after all – they might be more open to trying one with Gin next time…
For me I saw a direct Venn diagram of inspiration between Phil Ward’s ‘Mr Potato Head’ drinks and our very own cocktail base blends.
As business owner, Icely Done Founder and cocktail bartender of 15yrs, Lefti will always rush to remind me, the inspiration for our base blends is that of looking through the history books that many cocktails are based on the ‘sour’ family of drinks (Citrus matched with a sweetener to give a balanced base for the drink to be built around). In this way, I thought we could use our cocktail base blends as the body of Mr.Potato head whilst subbing in and out other elements around our bases’ to open them up to a wider audience.
I wanted to use a drink that was simple to create, yet tasty and iconic – so I looked no further than the Spritz. I also decided to use our summer’s best selling blend – Rhubarb & Strawberry
(Rhubarb Juice, Strawberries, Lemon Juice & Sugar).
Here I’ll outline the original spritz spec I used:
- 50ml Rhubarb & Strawberry Blend
- 25ml Gin
- 75ml Prosecco
- 25ml Soda
I then decided to apply Mr.Potato head principle to this and exchanged the Gin for Blanco Tequila (25ml) – this created a similar clean and balanced drink with subtle peppery notes complementing the rest of the drink.
I then also tried substituting out the Prosecco for a fruit forward white wine (New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc) which created a much less carbonated drink but with a more acidic and refreshing profile (I also essentially turned the drink into a ‘cooler’ in the process’).
All of this led me to think – why not create a menu which allows customers to choose the flavour profile of their base and then sub in/out their favourite spirits, surely the best of both world’s whilst also giving people the feeling of having created their own refreshing & drinkable cocktail! (or mocktail if they so choose).
Here is a little example of how I thought this could work using a couple of our blends:
- 50ml Rhubarb & Strawberry Blend
- 25ml Your choice – Vodka / Gin / Blanco Tequila
- 75ml Prosecco or White Wine
- 25ml Soda
- 50ml Tangled Roots Blend (Fresh Ginger Juice. Lemon & Sugar)
- 50ml Your Choice – Vodka / Gin / Rum / Tequila / Whisk(e)y
- 75ml Soda Water
- 2 Dashes of Angostura
- 50ml Pomegranate & Spiced Pear
- 35ml Your Choice – Golden Rum / Gin / Vodka
- 15ml Fruit Liqueur / Sloe Gin
- 75ml Red Wine
- 2 Orange Slices
- 2 Seasonal Berries
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