CHRISTMAS party season is here, and Scotland’s bars and pubs can expect to see a mixture of regular and occasional customers in the coming weeks.
The combination of different visitors can create challenges when it comes to presenting the right drinks offer, but bartenders told SLTN they are confident they can rise to the occasion.
This year’s SLTN Mixologist of the Year, Sian Ferguson of Heads & Tales in Edinburgh, said she expects cocktails to play a larger role at this time of year.
“When people are on their Christmas nights out they like to treat themselves,” she said.
Ferguson highlighted sparkling wine-based cocktails as one popular choice which will be incorporated over the festive period, while the team at Heads & Tales will also continue to adapt the cocktail menu to match the seasons.
“We try and focus on more seasonal flavours, and we change our menu every three months,” said Ferguson.
Winter cocktails at Heads & Tales incorporate more dark spirits, Ferguson said, with the bar staff designing serves which bring out the toffee and caramel notes of rum, Cognac and bourbon.
Dark spirits don’t take over entirely at Heads & Tales, however. As a gin-focused venue, Ferguson said the bar’s cocktail menu brings gin into the season by mixing it with grenadine, pomegranate and seasonal fruits.
With the Christmas party season bringing less frequent visitors to the trade back out, some handholding may be necessary.
“We get a lot of people in that say they don’t like gin but actually they don’t like tonic,” said Ferguson.
With this in mind, staff at Heads & Tales ease customers into the category with gin cocktails, making sure to produce a serve that suits the customer. For this, communication is key.
“We just always ask questions,” said Ferguson. “What do they normally drink?”
Ben Louthean of the Tiki Bar and Kitsch Inn, Glasgow, agreed it’s important to help customers navigate the cocktail menu – particularly those who aren’t regular visitors to the trade.
But it’s not just customers who are navigating unfamiliar waters.
This year marks Louthean’s first Christmas in the Scottish on-trade, and the Australian bartender is preparing to make the most of his new environment.
“I am really excited [about] being in Scotland at this time of year, being able to utilise seasonal ingredients such as fresh cranberries, redcurrants and apple,” he said.
The seasonal ingredients may make for an ideal Christmas cocktail, but it’s not all about winter serves at Tiki Bar, where the venue’s theme can help customers escape the Scottish weather for a while.
“As a bartender who has worked in Tiki-themed bars for quite some time tropical drinks are still very popular,” said Louthean.
“Due to the escapist nature of Tiki culture people flock to Polynesian bars to escape the winter as it resembles a summer holiday.”
It’s not just Louthean who will be experiencing his first Scottish Christmas in the trade this year.
Edinburgh venue Clouds & Soil is also set to welcome its first festive crowds after opening this summer.
Bartender Paul Donegan said he expects the venue to be “pretty darned busy” this Christmas with “loads of parties in the bar and a restaurant bursting at the seams”.
It may be the first Christmas for Clouds & Soil, but with over half a decade of festive trading at sister bar Bond No.9 in Leith, the team behind the newer Old Town venue are experienced enough to get their winter offer right.
“We’ll be running a ‘12 Drinks of Christmas’ menu all month,” said Donegan.
“Every day we’ll feature a drink with a Christmas twist or a Christmas drink with an insane twist.”
Ingredients being utilised at Clouds & Soil this Christmas include port, darker rums and pickled cayenne pepper bitters, which Donegan said “really work during the long dark nights”.
And Clouds & Soil is also reviving some popular flavours from the cocktails of Christmas past.
“There are loads of kitsch ingredients to use – like advocaat for example – you just have to be inventive with them,” said Donegan.