By LeNell Smothers and Demián Camacho Santa Ana
More than ever, drinks mixers are traveling and learning about trends and spirits in other markets, then returning to their home base with inspired ideas for their own beverage programs.
Casa Cóctel (www.casacoctel.com) may offer guests a menu reflecting our global interest, but it’s hard for a massive whiskey selection, amazing absinthe stash, and fancy cocktail menu to compete with Mexico’s number one beverage of choice—beer.
No one can argue that beer is Mexico’s preferred beverage with most of the market controlled by two corporate giants—FEMSA and Grupo Modelo. Corona is the leading Mexican beer brand in the US and in the Mexican market, as well. Tecate is the leading imported canned beer in the US with Tecate Light the leading light brand here in Mexico. With the overwhelming number of beverage sales here attributed to the beer category, it’s no wonder that cervezas preparadas such as Micheledas are on practically every menu in some form. Mixed drinks prepared with beer might include Clamato juice, soy sauce, lime juice, salt, pepper, or Worcestershire.
Like most of the cocktail drinkers in the US, most of our customers here in Baja California Sur feel more comfortable with a sweet or fruity concoction than a spirity, strong mixed drink. The typical customer knows the same drinks folks feel familiar with in the US: Vodka mixed with an energy drink, tonic, juice or soda, Sex on the Beach, Long Island Iced Tea, and the Margarita. Cocktail menus aren’t so common here, and if you do find them, you aren’t typically seeing a lot of creativity.
No one’s apologizing for ordering a Piña Colada here, and who should have to these days with the resurgence of frozen and fruity drinks even in the US. (Take a look at Katie Loeb’s new cocktail menu made with gelati and sorbetti at Capogiro’s UPenn location in Philly (citypaper.net/blogs/mealticket/2010/10/04/katie-loebs-new-cocktail-list-at-capogiro-upenn)
Renewed interest in tiki has gone hand in hand with the return of blender fun even in big city bars like New York’s Painkiller (www.painkillernyc.com). Frozen drinks never went out of fashion here. Mexican bartenders don’t feel the need to lie that the “blender is broken” out of annoyance with the frozen drink order. They are happy to have the business.
Ordering a glass of wine in even a dive bar in the US is not considered that out of the ordinary. However, the wine industry is in an infant stage in the Mexican market. The average Mexican may consume about two glasses of wine a year. Wine in Mexico is mostly consumed by tourists. Blame the Spanish who banned wine production when controlling Mexico years ago, causing the country to lag way behind in wine appreciation even today.
While you may think that tequila is the Mexican drink of choice, you might be shocked to learn that Mexico is one of the world’s biggest consumers of brandy. Brandy’s not the only popular spirit, however. Mention whisky here and you mean Buchanan’s blended Scotch. Mexicans are fiercely brand loyal, and this label is THE whisky, often mentioned in narco corridos (think Mexican version of gangsta rap) and even witnessed going down with salt and lime in younger circles.
Our eyes light up when we get the rare guest that has heard of a Sazerac or that asks us what vintages of Barolo we stock. This is usually a well traveled, well educated guest whether Mexican or Gringo, hailing from a larger city. Our typical local customer is at first a bit intimidated by our overwhelming spirits selection and enthusiasm for cocktails and wine. They may try one fancy cocktail, but then go back to their comfort level of drinking beer.
We remind ourselves regularly that our business is really no different than others in any smaller or larger city anywhere in the world. It wouldn’t be much different if set in Fort Payne, Alabama or Zitacuaro, Michoacan, our respective hometowns. Most customers don’t stop in to drone on about the cocktail bitters collection. No matter where in the world, customers stop by to socialize, feel like someone cares about how their day went, and to eat and drink something they enjoy. In the end, they should walk out our door with a bigger smile than when they walked in, no matter what they choose to drink.