Coffee Press Drives Beverage Innovation at Hard Rock
"Plunge to your liking."
It's not the typical verbal directions guests receive when ordering a cocktail, but these guidelines indicate Hard Rock Cafe isn't innovating its beverage program in a typical way.
The global full serve debuted a beverage this summer that hinges on the use of a French press—typically reserved for coffee—to create a cold, lemonade-based drink that can be either alcoholic or non-alcoholic, shared or sipped alone, and flavored by the customer to her liking by pressing on the plunger.
"Throughout 2013, we wanted to completely revitalize our beverage program, so we started thinking about ways to serve cocktails, and we did a lot of consumer insights," says Cindy Busi, Hard Rock's director of beverage. "What we found was, [consumers] definitely like shared cocktails, things like flights and craft are very important to them, and that the serving vessel is just as important as the cocktail that was in it."
Armed with this knowledge, Busi and her team set to work brainstorming a beverage with an over-the-top presentation, something that incorporated fresh fruit and muddling, key components of Hard Rock beverages. Sitting in a coffee shop, they saw a French press in use, "And we said, Wow! Could we do it?" she recalls. "We thought, instead of coffee at the bottom, we could do fresh fruit. We went after all kinds of berries and citrus, and we wanted to launch this around the summer time period, but also have it be something that resonated year round and is globally friendly."
Mixing equal parts of innovation, seasonal fruits, and the insatiable desire for handcrafted cocktails, Hard Rock debuted the Red Berry Press in April, after three months of international testing at about 15 of its units. It is a sweet cocktail that situates fruits, from berries to grapes, below the filter and fills the rest of the French press with Hard Rock's scratch lemonade recipe. While the beverage was originally conceived as a vodka cocktail, Busi says it's easily adaptable to be sans alcohol, and also works with every spirit from rum to bourbon.
This is Hard Rock's first foray into a coffee press beverage. The brand purchased the presses for each location specifically for this drink, and while it's been used all spring and summer for a cold cocktail, warm innovations are coming up this winter.
In September and October, Hard Rock is also hosting Pinktober, a campaign that supports research and raises funds for breast cancer charities worldwide (October is National Breast Cancer Awareness Month in the U.S.). For a limited time, Hard Rock will donate portions of sales of the original Red Berry Press to the cause.
"It's a way for us to give back, and we thought, what better way to continue to drive the focus on this really awesome drink and be able to support a charity that's near and dear to not only Hard Rock, but myself," Busi says.
Trending Up: Interactive, Sharable Drinks
The tendency toward interactive dining experiences and sharable plates is omnipresent, but sharable beverages have yet to reach the same point of ubiquity. It’s not out of the questing, though; Technomic reports that beverages play a “very important role” for 21 percent of consumers in deciding where they eat, and that restaurants with strong beverage programs can double down by marketing both the variety and the healthfulness of their sips.
Hard Rock’s Red Berry Press, as a fruity, unusual beverage, hits the mark. The fact that it’s shareable gives it another edge.
“That’s how we originally designed it, that two people could have this drink,” Busi says. The press is filled with enough for two and a half servings, and she explains that Hard Rock follows proper alcohol guidelines, making sure if one person chooses to have the drink, she won't be over-served alcohol. "But ideally, it is a shared drink; that's how we pushed it."
A big part of the Red Berry Press is consumer interaction. Bartenders place fresh fruit into the bottom of the press, add the rest of the ingredients, and then press slightly before the pot goes to the table. From there, guests interact with the beverage, which continues to evolve as it sits or as the guest presses the plunger. Bartenders explain that a fruit-forward flavor requires more pressing, while a drink that retains the lemonade taste requires less pressing.
"What's really fun is, the first sip is completely different from the last one," Busi says. "Because the drink starts out kind of opaque, but as the raspberries and strawberries and watermelon—we've done all kinds of flavors—continue to combine and integrate into the drink, it changes its flavor."
Berries, citrus, and water fruits work best, Busi says, and even grapes have proven successful. Dense fruits such as cantaloupe and melon are discouraged, because they don't press well and effuse into the drink.
Busi originally envisioned the Red Berry Press as a nostalgic vodka cocktail, "going back to old-time lemonades," she says. She went after that flavor with orange vodka, specifically Svedka Clementine, so it had a citrus pop to it. As Hard Rock continued its line extension of the beverage, Busi realized her goal was to have this drink adaptable for a spirit of every category.
All summer, Hard Rock tested the Red Berry Press with rum. Bacardi Dragon Berry Rum was a hit, particularly if the press had watermelon and strawberries at the bottom. The scratch lemonade base remained the same, and bartenders took to adding a splash of lemon-lime soda for effervescence.
With alcohol, the Red Berry Press retails for $12-14. The press itself holds about two and a half servings and is served with a 9-ounce glass of ice on the side. Busi says bartenders make the drink without ice so it does not dilute after it is brought to consumers.
Expanding Non-Alcoholic Offerings
"Alcohol-free is our next evolution of this particular press," Busi says. The non-alcoholic version will retail under the $10 mark.
Hard Rock is placing an increased emphasis on its alcohol-free, or Alternative Rock, beverage selections. The push really began about eight years ago, when Busi says Hard Rock wanted to put itself on the map for its beverage program that exists outside of its boozy libations.
One drink to come out of that was the Wildberry Smoothie, which rode the wave of standalone smoothie bars and chains popping up in big metropolises. Taking note of which fruits were on trend, Hard Rock combined its made-from-scratch piña colada mix—thus incorporating coconut and pineapple flavors—with a whole banana, wild berry flavoring, and orange juice.
The Wildberry Smoothie is served in a 16-ounce glass, versus the typical 12-ounce one for most Hard Rock cocktails; nonalcoholic servings at Hard Rock are typically slightly larger than the libations, Busi says.
This winter, Hard Rock will recreate the press cocktail as a bourbon hot cocoa drink. Instead of fresh fruit in the press, bartenders will toss in marshmallows, and as the hot cocoa and bourbon mix with the marshmallows, they’ll continue to melt. The drink will be topped with—of course—even more marshmallows.
To create an alcohol-free version, Busi says bartenders can simply disregard the bourbon. The goal, she says, is for the drink to represent everyone’s flavor profile from the spirit side and the non-alcoholic side.
“I’ve continued on the momentum, and we can’t just stop with one drink,” Busi says. “I’m saying, let’s own this category and do some great things with it that put Hard Rock on the map and says that we’ve listened to our consumer and we’re giving them what they want in terms of a shared cocktail.”
By Sonya Chudgar