Umbrella Hospitality Group's Nick Meyer Batched 9,000 Cocktails in a Barrel

By Lizzie Takimoto | Will Blunt

By

Lizzie Takimoto
Will Blunt
Umbrella Hospitality Group's Hibiscus Negroni
Umbrella Hospitality Group's Hibiscus Negroni

Over the past year, cocktail bars have become particularly adept at the pivot. Bar professionals once focused on highly specialized cocktails and ingredients served with specific dilution, temperature, and presentation. Those same drinks now require stability and shelf life, not to mention packaging, labeling, marketing, and means of delivery. Umbrella Hospitality Group managed to stay ahead of this game by starting takeaway services as soon as lockdowns began.

When Director of Operations Nick Meyer was contacted by a local luxury subscription service with a call to provide 9,000 drinks, he and his team were ready. The order gave him the opportunity to give jobs to 20 out-of-work industry members, and they knocked out the order in a matter of days from LONO Hollywood, a bar that had mainly turned into a prep space during the pandemic closure.

“It was more like operating an assembly line in a factory than running a bar, but I put my operations hat on and knocked it out,” Meyer says. He teamed up with Zwissle, a company specializing in at-home cocktail delivery, that provided glass bottles sized for individual cocktails and darkly tinted to extend shelf-life, along with custom-branded labels. Meyer’s team handled bottling and packaging, working from an extra-large cocktail batch he made in 55-gallon, plastic barrels. “It was a humbling experience going back to juicing limes,” Meyer says, “but I’ll never shy away from doing prep, as it taught me a lot about culinary technique.” 

For the cocktail itself, Meyer turned to a flavor that taco trucks and taquerias made into an L.A. classic. “I wanted to use hibiscus because it’s underused and often not used correctly,” he says. “It’s got acidity and tannin and latches onto other flavors well.” Meyer brewed a hibiscus tea from dried flowers with clove, star anise, and cinnamon to be made into a negroni variation (full recipe here). Combined with gin, sweet vermouth, and Campari, the tea gives the cocktail depth with delicate floral aromatics and warm spice. The high proofage and lack of fresh juice were a good fit for bottling. “Since COVID hit, the to-go cocktail business has seen the purest form of competition and innovation,” Meyer says. “People are making investments to step up their game. It's a beautiful thing; I know how hard people are working in order to survive and make sure their establishments can weather this storm.”

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