The lone bead of water slides down the belly of the glass, squeezing its way to the surface of the palm. The heavy July heat wraps everything like a weighted blanket as the ice cubes clink together and mingle with the sound of wailing cicadas. The first sip goes down smooth and the taste of citrus and pine cools the senses — cocktail season is upon us.
While North Carolina bars may still be closed due to the pandemic, area businesses are finding creative ways to bring the mixed-drink experience directly to consumers.
“It’s been a hard time for everyone so we’re trying to stay relevant, stay involved in the community,” says Gia beverage director Dan Lis. “We sensed a need and a desire for our interactions with our guests so we’re trying to do everything we can to fulfill that.”
Since about mid-May, Lis has been creating to-go cocktail kits so customers can enjoy crafted cocktails without leaving their homes. While Gia is currently open for indoor dining, Lis and others at the Greensboro restaurant understood that many would not be comfortable coming inside.
Lis, who seamlessly concocts a Japanese Mint Tea cocktail behind the bar, says offering take-home cocktail kits was something the restaurant started after several regular customers began asking for it.
“We were also ready to get back to work,” he says. “It’s also about grabbing all of the revenue streams that you can.”
Gia currently offers five take-home kits that include everything needed to make the drink, minus the alcohol, Lis says.
Though other states have passed bills allowing bars and restaurants to sell cocktails with alcohol included, attempts in North Carolina to pass similar legislature have failed in the last several months.
So instead, Lis says, they are making batch mixes in bottles that will yield anywhere from four to six drinks. Each bottle comes with a recipe and a recommendation for a kind of alcohol, but at the end of the day, Lis says, it’s user’s choice.
Among the five offered currently are some of Gia most popular drinks including their Manhattan. They also offer a Black Rickey, a take on a Gin Rickey, which includes house-made blackberry mint syrup and lime and comes with a bottle of ginger beer.
To ensure quality, everything down to water content has been accounted for.
“Everything is done by weight,” Lis says. “Any cocktail you have anywhere from 12 to 30 percent of water by volume. So, when I make a single cocktail, I look at how many ounces of liquid I put into the beaker, the shaker and how many comes out when I’m done. And then I apply that same ratio to the batch.”
But for ease of use for consumers, all of the hard work of ratios and shaking is already done by Lis. All customers have to do is follow the recipe to put together the drink and then stir.
“It’s great to be able to provide that enjoyment for people,” Lis says. “We can’t necessarily seat 16 to 20 people at my bar anymore, but I’m able to still provide that same quality of beverage that they would get here inside the restaurant, but they can do it from the comfort and safety of their homes.”
Beau Tate of Tate’s Craft Cocktails in Winston-Salem added another layer of ease to customers’ experiences by including straws and garnishes in their cocktail kits.
The bar, which has physically been closed to the public since mid-March, has struggled like many other establishments, to remain relevant during the pandemic.
In late April, the bar started offering take-home cocktail mixes to continue its mission of creating well-crafted drinks.
“We do what we do because we love putting tasty beverages in people’s hands,” Tate says.
For weeks, the business offered three mixes every week, with their Blackbird Julep — a vodka-based drink with lemon, sugar and raspberry cordial — being the most consistent seller. However, they stopped making them at the beginning of June because they thought they’d be able to reopen the bar. With that no longer an option because of the business’s small interior, Tate says they’ll start making the mixes again by the end of this month.
“The bar industry is really going through it,” he says. “We’re all just trying to figure out how to get through it and survive. We are taking it one day at a time.”
Before, when they were offering the kits, Tate says made sure that customers had everything they needed for a full experience, even the ice.
“We noticed that ice was one of the biggest hiccups that people run into because ice introduces a lot of gases into the drink and then it turns to liquid too quick,” he says. “So, we started including enough ice to shake and serve with. We would vacuum seal the ice and put it in a cooler for them.”
Customers also got two pages of instructions, including the how and why behind the drinks.
“It was so people could think like a bartender,” he says. “The hope is that they go out and then they’re thinking of their own cocktails to make at home and they develop the skills to do that…. One of our missions is to get people to drink more thoughtfully.”
Even after the pandemic is over, Tate says he’ll likely keep doing the cocktail mixes because of the convenience for customers.
“There are a lot of people that want to have a special drink experience but don’t want to be at a crowded bar on a Saturday night,” he says.
Andrew Norman, the co-owner and head distiller at Fainting Goat Spirits in Greensboro, says they just started making and selling cocktail mixes and they have the added advantage of being able to sell the liquor to customers at the same time.
For the past few months, the distillery has been focused on creating hand-sanitizer but Norman says he’s excited to get back to what they love to do: creating high-quality beverages.
“Making the hand sanitizer is something that we had to do; we saw a need for,” Norman says. “But this is more pleasurable.”
Unlike Tate’s and Gia, Norman’s take-home drinks are a bit more tropical and tiki-inspired. All three of the current offerings include fresh pineapple juice and some sort of citrus.
“All three are tropical,” he says. “These are cocktails that do really well in the heat right now…. I’m pretty sure people are pretty sick of their gin and tonics and vodka sodas.”
The Good Vibes Only includes lime juice, pineapple juice, lemongrass syrup and a housemade bittersweet mix and pairs with Fainting Goat’s Tiny Cat Vodka. But consumers can mix and match their alcohol to any of the mixers.
“We can’t serve right now so we thought, Let ’em do it at home,” he says.
The menu gets posted on Facebook and Instagram every week and then people can pick up during the week.
Thea Deloreto stops by to pick up a bottle of vodka and gin as well as a few take-home kits that she says she’s going to take with her to the beach. It’s her first time buying pre-made cocktail mixes.
“Since we’re going to the beach and we can’t go anywhere or do anything, we thought this is a good alternative to have some fun,” she says.
And that’s the joy of these kits, according to Gia Dan Lis.
“We’re making it as painless as possible so they can just sit back and relax,” Lis says. “You don’t need any tools. Just some ice and a glass.”