While most people may be familiar with classic cocktails like a Manhattan, martini or old fashioned, these spirited drinks have taken on a life all their own where mixes and flavor profiles are really only limited by a bartender’s creativity.
This chance to be wildly creative is what drew mixologist Derek Reno to start The Reno Reserve. The cocktail consultancy focuses on branded drink design along with menu development and small-scale event work.
“I provide exclusive, custom cocktails made with a classic basis and a personalized flourish,” Reno says.
He cut his chops in the Cameron Mitchell restaurant group starting as an administrator at Cap City. He was then promoted to dining room manager.
“It really, really spoke to me being on that side,” Reno says.
The hustle wasn’t just about tips, but about genuinely taking care of guests. That’s also the time his fascination with craft beer began. Over the next few years he would revamp the beverage program at the eatery, eventually being tapped to help co-develop the cocktail menu at another Mitchell venture, The Pearl.
“That was the turning point for me,” he says.
It was during that time that he found himself immersed and completely enamored with learning about craft cocktails and how they could be used to connect with guests. He had the opportunity to dabble in some consulting work being part of a very visible bar program, but he felt as though he’d more or less hit the ceiling. He wanted a way to control the creative output.
“The Reno Reserve is certainly about a desire for a setting that allows for uninhibited creativity limited only by my imagination and knowledge,” Reno says. “I was ready to stop settling for the pedestrian median and see where I could go.”
Elaborate cocktails and creating memorable experience are hallmarks of The Reno Reserve. One of Reno’s specialties is mixing custom cocktails for events.
“It’s there to help them elevate whatever particular guest experience they are trying to have that night,” he says.
He’s tinkered with drinks for events at places like Elm & Iron and Kit & Ace, also dabbling in weddings and corporate events. Whatever the event is, he can guarantee it’s not going to be just your standard gin & tonic. The events allow him the personalized, interaction he’s looking for, all while getting to express his creativity.
Menu development is another service of the consultancy. He recently worked with local simple syrup producer Root 23 on a cocktail menu that will be both on their website and used as a marketing tool and source of inspiration as the syrup makers approach customers. Emerging bars and restaurants and local spirit-maker Watershed Distillery are also on his client list. This spring, he was the mastermind behind Watershed’s cocktail menu.
Reno’s creations include cocktails like The Botanist, mixing Watershed’s bourbon barrel gin (his favorite gin in the country) with Creme de Violette and sage. Another creation mixes flavors of watermelon, rosemary and rhubarb with port wine and Compari.
Cocktail enthusiasts can find Reno slinging drinks and Denmark in Short North and adding a special touch to pop-up dinner events. In the future, he’d also like to work on batching drinks and bottling them for special events and parties.
Reno says one of the biggest challenges he faced was being brave enough to start his own venture.
“That initial feeling probably took place about a year before I actually took the step and did it,” he says. But since the February 2015 leap, he says the reception has really been nothing but positive.
Along the way he’s had some help from The Wonder Jam. The creative counselors, as he calls them, have played a hand in designing the logo and offered advice on promotion and website design.