Coronavirus changing Cayman's drinking trends

Without visitors coming to the Cayman Islands for most of this year, those working in the hospitality industry have predominantly served residents. As a result, they've learned more about the tastes of Grand Cayman's residents.

Adam Slobodian, a bartender at Seven restaurant at The Ritz-Carlton, Grand Cayman says he notices a big difference between what tourists normally order and what residents are ordering.

"The local clientele has a different flavour profile," he says. "There are some whiskeys that we used to go through six bottles a week, but now that we're serving only locals, we don't go through one. And there are other things that moved very slowly that we now have to reorder every week."

It's not just with whiskey that Slobodian is seeing a difference. Because Americans make up the large majority of stay-over visitors to the Cayman Islands — and by extension, overnight guests at The Ritz-Carlton, Grand Cayman — the menus are slanted toward American preferences, which include American wines and cocktails on the sweet side. The local customers, however, order fewer American wines and they like their cocktails less sweet, he says.

Although this trend is artificial because it's caused by the special circumstances of COVID-19, it could have some lasting effects.

"Our trends are indicative of who travels," Slobodian says, noting as an example that if Cayman were to open up to European visitors before it opened to American tourists, the menus would have to change to suit the tastes of those guests.

"The longer this goes on, we're going to notice more differences in taste profiles and what moves off the shelf."

In addition to learning more about the beverage tastes of residents, Slobodian was able to use the time during the lockdown period to further his knowledge about spirits.

Employees of The Ritz-Carlton Hotel Company are encouraged to continue their education and training in their various fields and it's no different for those in the food and beverage sector. When the hotels closed and Cayman Islands residents were instructed by the government to shelter in place, Slobodian took a virtual training course through the Society of Wine Educators. Upon the successful completion of the course and passing the exam, he became a “Certified Specialist of Spirits."

Although he had already completed a mid-level spirits course offered in the Cayman Islands, the Certified Specialist of Spirits encompassed more material.

"It touched on all spirits really," Slobodian says. "Everything from vodka to cachaça, to Korean spirits like soju and vermouth — basically anything that touches the distillation process."

Whiskeys and Whiskies

The Seven restaurant bar where Slobodian works is known for its bourbon whiskey selection, which includes a Woodford Reserve single barrel "Private Selection" that is unique for The Ritz-Carlton, Grand Cayman. Its label even reads, “Seven at The Ritz-Carlton."

Although it still offers a strong selection of bourbon whiskeys, Seven carries more Scotch whisky and rye whisky now. The cocktail list for its happy hour — which takes place at the Seven bar from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. Mondays through Saturdays and offers craft cocktails for CI$7 each — reflects this change. For example, Johnny Walker Black is used in the Candied Popcorn Old Fashioned and the Driftwood cocktails at Seven.

"Scotch is a fun ingredient to work with," says Slobodian. "A blended Scotch like Johnny Walker Black is easy to incorporate because of its balanced flavours, and with a smoky Scotch, you can almost use that like you would a mescal."

The Driftwood cocktail is Slobodian's creation and in addition to Johnny Walker Black, it uses Mount Gay Black Barrel rum, banana liqueur and falernum syrup.
"It's a like a Caribbean version of a Manhattan," he says.

Getting Caribbean flavours into the cocktails is a goal of all the bartenders at The Ritz-Carlton, Grand Cayman, partially because of its long history in the region and partially because that's what people who live and visit the Cayman Islands want. Because of that, Slobodian believes that two of the coming trends will include more use of rum in cocktails, and not just for the sweet traditional cocktails like piña coladas, but also for sipping cocktails as well.

In addition, Slobodian sees highballs becoming popular again, but with premium and super-premium spirits. There is one customer at Seven who likes to order Johnny Walker Blue — a super premium blended Scotch that typically retails for more than US$200 a bottle — with Coca-Cola. Although purists might scoff at using such a high-quality spirit with Coke, Slobodian doesn't have an issue with it.

"Chefs use the best ingredients to make the best dishes," he says. "There's something to be said for using the best spirits to make the best cocktails. If you don't start with good ingredients, you can't get a superior product."

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This article appears in print in the November 2020 edition of Camana Bay Times.

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