While bars and lounges have featured cocktail flights for some time, a number of venues are now applying the latest mixology trends to sampling programs. This spring, Quattro restaurant at the Four Seasons Hotel Silicon Valley in East Palo Alto, California, launched its first cocktail flight program, which highlights four of the concept’s house-made barrel-aged cocktails. Priced at $34, the flight comprises four ¾-ounce pours for a total of 3 ounces. “I wanted to showcase the unique flavor profiles of each cocktail, and now guests can compare them side by side,” explains lead mixologist Adam Chick.
The drinks—served on a wooden board—include the Last Word, a blend of Distillery 209 gin, Luxardo Maraschino liqueur and Green Chartreuse liqueur; the Boulevardier, made with Bulleit rye, Campari aperitif and Martini & Rossi sweet vermouth; the Vieux Carré, comprising St. George gin, Courvoisier VSOP Cognac, Bénédictine liqueur and Carpano Antica vermouth; and the Sherry Experiment, mixing Dry Sack Sherry, Sandeman Ruby Port, Aperol aperitif, Cynar amaro and Yellow Chartreuse liqueur. The cocktails are aged in oak barrels for 10 to 120 days, and each drink is served with a different garnish, such as a lime peel, a grapefruit peel or an orange peel. Chick notes that guests are also intrigued by the aging process.
Dancing Marlin in Frankfort, Illinois, has been serving up a flight of its handcrafted draft cocktails for over a year. Under the “Marlin Dance” program, patrons select three samples from the eight draft cocktails available ($8.50 for three 3-ounce pours). “Guests can customize their own flight,” says co-owner Ed Nemec. The cocktail flight, which is served on a wooden panel, complete with appropriate garnishes, is particularly popular with female guests, and Nemec notes that the venue sells between 20 and 75 flights a night. Similar to Quattro’s barrel-aged cocktails, Dancing Marlin’s draft drinks ($8.50)—which change seasonally—shorten prep time for bartenders. The summer menu included the Bikini Bottom, made with Bacardi Pineapple Fusion rum, Stirrings Ginger liqueur and fresh-squeezed lemon juice.
In Portland, Oregon, Gracie’s restaurant and Driftwood Room lounge—both located in Downtown’s Hotel deLuxe—looked to capitalize on the popularity of the television show “Mad Men” with a “Three Martini Lunch” promotion. The initiative, which ran from February through June, paired a choice of entrée with a flight of three 1¼-ounce Martinis made with locally distilled spirits for $25. According to general manager Kaitlin Dover, the restaurant sold about five Martini lunches a day, and offerings included a Gibson-style Martini, featuring House Spirits Distillery’s Volstead vodka and an onion garnish. Dover notes that the promotion got its inspiration from the Driftwood Room’s spirits sampler program ($14 for four ½-ounce pours of vodka, gin, whiskey or liqueur), as well as the venue’s popular Manhattan sampler package ($12 for four ½-ounce pours).
New York City’s Flatiron Lounge has long offered cocktail flights, including the bar’s themed “Flight of the Day” ($24), which comprises three half-sized cocktails. According to general manager Ezekiel Miller, the daily flight is typically based on a particular spirit type, such as Tequila and mezcal in the Flight to Mexico or Cognac and Armagnac in the Flight to France. The drinks are poured into miniature Martini glasses or tumblers and served on wooden boards. Miller says the number sold can vary widely, ranging from one to 30 each evening. “Some people come in because they know about the flights and want to see what’s available that night,” he adds.
Meanwhile, the seven-unit Wildfire restaurant chain in Illinois, Minnesota and Virginia has been featuring a signature Martini flight for about 15 years, says wine and spirits manager Brad Wermager. The flight ($12.95) includes four 2-ounce Martinis.
Cocktail flights help generate trial. “Customers will often order a full-size version on a return visit,” Wermager explains. At Dancing Marlin, Nemec says that while guests often move on to full-size favorites, “sometimes they’ll ask for another paddle with three different drinks.”