Asheville Wine & Food Festival cocktail competition finalist Noah Hermanson has his own title for what he does behind the bar at the Sunny Point Café: “I’m not the bar manager,” Hermanson says. “I am the creativity behind the whole drink program. My title that I updated for myself is ‘libation engineer.’”
Sunny Point Café in West Asheville is known for its breakfast and brunch menu, but thanks to Hermanson and his staff, customers have more than comfort food to look forward to.
“My love for the cocktail comes from my passion for food,” Hermanson says about running the café’s bar. “And for me, the way I set the bar up is more like a chef than most traditional bartenders. I start with fresh ingredients, and I make everything from scratch.”
An Asheville resident for 15 years, Hermanson has been with Sunny Point Café for a little over a year. Since his arrival, he has created the new bar program, obtained a liquor license for the restaurant and helped with remodeling that allows room for his and his staff’s creative style of mixing drinks.
Hermanson says that before the new bar launched in January, the café had no liquor, but he was still experimenting with wine and sake cocktails. ” I first worked on the wine list and got the megamosas (extra-large mimosas) straight. And then in January — after our addition to the bar here — we brought in liquor, so that enabled us to do bloody Marys, of course, not sake bloody Marys, and then the rest of the drink program [came] with that. [And] since then we’ve been revamping all parts of our bar program.”
The café crew is working on developing the outside waiting area, installing lighting and working on more comfortable seating for customers, he adds.
Hermanson says the café also has been developing an “enticing incentive” that allows people to come and have a drink between 3 and 6 p.m. with “free nibbles” when they buy an alcoholic beverage. “This is the traditional way tapas are served in Spain,” Hermanson says. “We think people will fall in love with this concept.”
The 2015 Asheville Wine & Food Festival was Hermanson’s third time competing in the event. His winning drinks included two of Sunny Point’s Café’s specialty drinks — the spicy bloody Mary and the Moscow mule — and three of his new concoctions: Red Rhu-str (Rooster), Mountain Medley and Hot Chihuahua (which was called the Odd Couple at the competition).
This year, instead of a panel of judges, drinks were voted on by the audience. Hermanson says he enjoyed this approach. “When there are judges involved, there is a lot of impressing the judges that’s needed. So drinks have to be weird. They have to have those ‘cool’ ingredients, or there has to be something about the drink that’s different to impress them. It’s almost like a competition to be different, and it takes away from what we’re really trying to do, which is to make a good-tasting cocktail.”
In August, Hermanson will be competing in ELIXIR, the festival’s competition finals. The public will again be judging the entries.
He mentions an upcoming event: Sunny Point Café will partner with Wedge Brewing Co. on Thursday, May 28, for an Asheville Beer Week dinner. Hermanson invites everyone to join them. Tickets are $60 per person with seatings at 6 and 8 p.m.