Best Restaurant Beverage Programs Awarded | Food Newsfeed
Brewster's has more than 100 types of beer.

Sips Awards Winners!

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Expert judges pick the best bartender, wine list, cocktails, and beer selections in the country.
By Amanda Baltazar October 2011 Beer

Following an impressive bevy of entries for Rmgt’s first ever Sips Awards, we are thrilled to announce the winning restaurants, all of which offer outstanding beverage programs.

Entries came from restaurants of all types across the U.S., and were judged by experts in the field.

So, with no further ado, we’d like to present our winners:

Best Wine List
Molyvos Restaurant, New York City
Judges
Tim Hanni, a Master of Wine and certified wine educator, accredited by the Society of Wine Educators
Wayne Gotts, vice president of the International Sommelier Guild

What sets Molyvos’ wine list apart is its focus on pleasing the restaurant’s clientele, Hanni says.

“I was looking for a focus on the clientele. Not the size of list, not the awards the restaurant has won or the collection of ‘trophy wines’ that are only affordable to a select few patrons.”

The restaurant, Hanni points out, clearly has a passion for sharing experiences of wine versus just accumulating a huge number of names.

Molyvos is a Greek restaurant in New York’s theater district and features the most extensive selection of Greek wines in the United States. It has more than 400 bottles listed, 60 wines available by the glass (20 whites, 20 reds, 10 desserts, five rosés and five sparkling wines), and 60 grape varietals, representing more than 50 wineries.

The wine program also includes daily wine specials, winery and region monthly profiles, quarterly winemaker dinners, and themed tastings.

“The wine list at Molyvos displays of commitment to regional wine and food selections that we feel is increasingly desired and respected by adventurous diners,” Gotts says. “Highly focused on Greek wines, many of which enjoy only limited consumer recognition, it is the kind of list that can yield surprise and delight.”

The only challenge with this wine list has been educating the restaurant’s staff about it, says wine director Kamal Kouiri. 

“For me, the biggest challenge is to recruit, interview, hire, develop, and especially train a staff to learn about Greek cuisine, Greek wines, and Greek terms for indigenous varieties. Trying to say Assyrtiko, Moschofilero, Agiorgitiko, or Xinomavro can be challenging.”

Overall, says Hanni, there’s a “sense of team spirit and cooperation amongst the entire restaurant team: wine director, culinary, training and staff engagement with a focus on the diner, not the team.”

Also worth mentioning is the wine list at The Forge in Miami Beach, Florida.

“An impressive wine selection may act as a restaurant’s calling card and the wine list at The Forge is such a list,” points out Gotts. “Impressive in both breadth and depth, it remains a fine example of what is sometimes described as an “encyclopedic” wine list.

The Forge has an eight-room, underground wine cellar that houses more than 100,000 bottles of the restaurant’s wine (with hundreds of thousands more in another cellar). The collection includes more than 100 bottles of the world’s finest selections such as the Château Lafite Rothschild 1822. The collection, currently valued at $6.5 million, is considered by wine connoisseurs to be one of the finest in the world.

“Such lists are increasingly difficult to maintain in economically challenging times (given the capital required), and we remain impressed by the commitment shown by The Forge to its wine program,” Gotts adds.

Best Regional
Beer Selection
Brewster’s at the Four Points by Sheraton,
Los Angeles International Airport
Judges
Matt Simpson, owner of The Beer Sommelier, LLC
Dave Witzel, beverage blogger at feistyfoodie.com and a certified beer judge

Launched in January 2000, Brewster’s was immediately named one of Los Angeles’ five top tap houses.

Today the bar has 16 tap beers and more than 100 bottles of beer. The six poolside taps are 100 percent dedicated to small local breweries such as Strand Brewing, Torrance, California; Cismontane Brewing, Rancho Santa Margarita, California; and Tustin Brewing, Tustin, California.

The hotel bar describes the local beverages as “Beer So Fresh You Have To Slap It.”

The beer program, which was designed by the hotel’s general manager, Phil Baxter, is a primary driver of the hotel’s Comfort Restaurant business and is also a significant driver of the hotel’s business for overnight stays.

And Brewster’s itself features tapas that were created to pair with specific beers. One example is smoked salmon paired with Stone Smoked Porter; another is Schneider Aventinus and lamb.

Brewster’s showcases its beer through monthly beer appreciation nights and a beer sommelier, which helped the hotel become known as the "Beer Hotel.” One slogan was "Come for the Beer; we have Rooms Upstairs.”

“Brewster’s captures the essence of a great regional beer selection,” Witzel points out.

While having several drafts lines dedicated to beer from the area is key, Brewster’s also hosts beer appreciation nights once a month, which allows customers to try a wider variety of a guest (regional) breweries’ beers in one place. The brewer or a representative of the brewery is also on-hand to discuss his beer and brewing process.

“In addition, Brewster’s makes the effort to create dishes at the restaurant that pair well with regional beers in-house” Witzel says. “I like that they marry the craft beer side of the restaurant to the dining aspect, which can open up the world of craft beer to more people who might not otherwise see it. And Brewster’s doesn’t alienate the serious beer geeks either; the hotel sponsors the largest beer festival in the United States, the GABF, which, since they don’t brew, is a serious nod to the appreciation of the craft in my view.”

Simpson agrees. “I like the fact that Brewster’s is not only run by a company and people with a history of focusing on craft beer, but food pairing and chef involvement as well,” he says.

“[Its] beer selection seems robust, but they apparently also bring this level of passion and diversity to their menu and beer pairing selections. [The bar] also seemingly cultivates relationships with craft brewers, such that they’re able to secure some truly hard-to-get beers, just for their patrons.”

Most Innovative Cocktail List
PS 7's, Washington, D.C.
Judges
Jacques Bezuidenhout, a bartender ambassador with Partida Tequila
Geoffrey Kleinman, editor of DrinkSpirits.com and a judge at the San Francisco World Spirits Competition

The celebrated cocktails crafted by ‘mixtress’ Gina Chersevani at PS 7's are anything but traditional. Her adventurous use of unconventional ingredients and flavorings has set the beverage program at PS 7's apart.

She leans toward fresh—often homegrown—produce in her concoctions, from peppery nasturtiums to the figs produced on PS 7’s own baby fig trees.

The cocktail list at this modern American restaurant is seasonal. Summer 2011 drinks included Pete’s Pickled Martini with vodka or gin and house-made pickled asparagus; Pimpin’ Pimms with Pimm’s, Oxley gin, strawberries, tarragon and rhubarb; and Tidal Basin with Plymouth Gin, Gran Classico, Dolin Vermouth and salted ice.

It also includes a selection of 100-calorie cocktails such as Tighten the Beltway with Bluecoat Gin, grapefruit and ginger, and The Chile Flip with Stoli Pomagranik, lemon and Kashmiri chilies.

“Restaurants can no longer stand out by just using fresh squeezed juice and fresh ingredients, it’s now the base standard that customers expect,” says Kleinman.

“I also have to give PS 7's an immense amount of credit for their 100-calorie cocktail list. Lower calorie cocktails are an extremely relevant category and very few bars and restaurants are addressing it this well.”

Chersevani works closely with chef Peter Smith to create a food and cocktail pairings menu. In addition to the seven-course cocktail pairing menu, Smith regularly creates syrups for the cocktails in flavors that vary from prune juice to blue cheese.

“Next level programs now must incorporate a collaboration between the front and back of the house. The chef and mixologist can’t just have a good working relationship, they now have to be true collaborators,” says Kleinman.

“Also, the drinks which work in a bar setting without food aren’t necessarily the ones you want to present to customers to lead into or accompany food. Chersevani pulls in flavors for her cocktails, which you wouldn’t necessarily see if the cocktails were standing on their own.”

Chersevani has also created an original series of cocktail classes at PS 7's with themes such as “Happy Hour at Home” and “Farm Fresh.” Due to her innovation, she enjoys a loyal following at the bar, of the sort more often associated with top chefs.

“Next level thinking, deep collaboration, bringing cocktails into the meal and being in touch with what people are looking for, it’s an absolute recipe for success,” points out Kleinman.

Also of note is Sepia, a Chicago restaurant that has an ever-changing cocktail menu. Created by mixologist Josh Pearson, it bows to the tradition and technique of the classics, but with a modern, international sensibility. At a given time, guests can enjoy 10 of Pearson’s handcrafted creations, which incorporate small-batch artisan spirits and a number of house-made components, from tea-infused liqueurs to cocoa bitters, just to name two examples.

“Sepia [has] a well thought out cocktail list using specialty spirits, fresh and local ingredients,” says Bezuidenhout. “The cocktails look innovative, interesting, yet approachable and not intimidating to the regular drinker. They also give a bow to some classics and give their variations to them.”

Best Bartender
Corinne Caparoon, Fireside Lounge at
The Inverness Hotel and Conference Center, Englewood, Colorado
Judges
Robert Yonskie, head instructor at the New York Bartending School and VP of marketing, sales and mixology and the resident mixologist for www.dailyfoodandwine.com
David Nepove, president, The United States Bartenders Guild

“Corinne Caparoon is one of the best bartenders I have ever come across in my 25 years in the food and beverage industry. She is knowledgeable, friendly and efficient,” says Liza England, Fireside Lounge’s manager.

“Corinne can be counted on to remember returning guests’ names on the spur of the moment. She has a warm, inviting smile and greets absolutely every guest that walks into the bar. Corinne has extensive wine and food knowledge that make her recommendations to guests impeccable.”

The No. 1 goal of a bartender is not to sling drinks, but rather to be a personality,” says Yonskie of this winner. “It’s how you gain regulars and make new business bring in other new business.”

Business has flourished with Caparoon at the helm, adds England.

“Guests return to the bar and the hotel in general because of her. Corinne makes them feel at home when they are away from theirs.”

Her warm attitude and team playing are more important than her skills as a mixologist, points out Yonskie.

“That isn’t to say that the actual craft of the job isn’t important, but I imagine after many years doing this, she is highly skilled,” he adds.

And she’s not just skilled in cocktails, England points out, but can manage any aspect of the bar business.

“Corinne has a special knack for pairing wines with our food based on questions she asks the guests about their palette likes and dislikes. I receive comments regularly from guests about Corinne’s talent to describe our food and pair the perfect wine and/or beer.”

Another favorite in this category was Josh Pearson of Sepia in Chicago.

“While taking his drinks seriously and with an understanding of the history of cocktails, Josh does not loose sight that bartending should be fun,” points out Nepove.

He is responsible for Sepia’s cocktail menu and he focuses on seasonal ingredients and hand crafted products. The focus is on service and quality where cocktails and food are both regarded as important.”