Franz Zauner has come a long way since his beginnings as a food runner at Le Méridien Vienna in Austria. Now the Global Master Barista and bartender for the hotel brand, Zauner knows a thing or two about mixing drinks.
Zauner grew up around good food and drink. His family owned a restaurant in Austria, and from a young age he found himself behind the bar drafting beers and crafting cocktails for patrons. He says it was his father who instilled in him a passion for beers and creating a unique customer experience.
After a series of promotions at Le Méridien Vienna, Zauner took his talents to London, where he served as the assistant bar manager at Le Méridien Piccadilly.
“Working in a cosmopolitan city like London, which you can easily compare to New York here in the States, there is no limit to creativity in the food and beverage space,” Zauner told Marriott TRAVELER. “I got very into spirits, wine and beer.”
Zauner’s latest assignment has been creating cocktails for Le Méridien’s Sparkling menu. Marriott TRAVELER sat down with him to learn more about his cocktail crusade and uncover the inspiration behind some of the drinks you can now order from Le Méridien bartenders all over the world. We also get some quick tips to better your cocktail experience at home.
[Note: This interview has been edited for clarity and brevity.]
You’ve lived and worked in three different countries. How does beer and cocktail culture differ between them?
The cocktail culture in New York and London are very exciting. You always look to those cities for the newest and trendiest things. Take the beer industry, for example. The craft beer industry is booming all over the world, but it’s been huge in the U.S. for years. It’s just now slowly making its way to Austria. It takes a little bit of time [for] everywhere else to catch up. New York and London are really the pacemakers for these types of trends.
How do you take those trends to create cocktails that you can impart to Le Méridien bartenders everywhere?
First, I look at the different seasons. You always want to have something seasonally relevant. So I have to look at what’s in season, but also what’s locally available, because I create these drinks so that every single Le Méridien around the world can fashion them, as well.
Then I obviously look at certain trends, methods in creating cocktails or products to use. Though I am still very passionate about classic cocktails. I think there is a reason why classic cocktails, still today, are the most popular ones.
(Photo: Courtesy of Le Méridien)
Does Le Méridien have a take on creating sparkling classic cocktails, as well?
Yes. I like to use the teaching of these as a training opportunity for our bartenders in our hotels that may be just starting out in their role. I’ll have them take a look at the classic cocktails and give them a slight sparkling twist. I tell them to always think about Le Méridien and our European heritage as a French-born hotel [for inspiration]. There’s always an opportunity to infuse those flavors to come up with a series of very different cocktails. An example of this is a drink called the Negroni Sbagliato. “Sbagliato” means “messed up,” or “mistake” in Italian. It is famously the result of a busy bartender mistakenly using sparkling wine instead of gin. This modern classic is one of my favorite aperitif cocktails and was originally created at the Bar Basso in Milan!
Are there some spirits that lend themselves more toward some seasons versus others?
Sometimes. If you really want to talk about seasons, whiskey tends to lend itself to colder months. But generally, when it comes to spirits, it’s really a mood thing. What are you in the mood for? Gin, vodka, run, tequila, mezcal … those are great ingredients to use in any season.
Zauner mixes up drinks for Le Méridien’s Sparkling YouTube series. (Photo: Courtesy of Le Méridien)
Do you have a favorite drink you’ve created for Le Méridien?
That’s hard! At Le Méridien, we always try to unlock the destination for our customers. Even if you don’t get to see the city, you still get a taste for it within the property. So for Vienna, within my home country of Austria, I created a coffee cocktail called Vienna Symphony. I like the idea of our coffee cocktails because coffee is a very distinctive ingredient to use. You need to be very careful because you always want to enhance each flavor that you put into a drink, and coffee is a challenge. The drink is called Vienna Symphony because Austria, and Vienna specifically, is very famous for classical music.
How did you come up with the Vienna Symphony?
In Austria we’re very famous for our apple strudel. It’s not the Germans; it’s the Austrians. From a very young age I can remember my grandmother making apple strudel at home for my father’s restaurant. I will never forget, she always said it needed to have a little bit of rum in it, otherwise it wasn’t a true apple strudel. So I kept her recipe in mind when creating the Vienna Symphony. I infused rum with apples, created a homemade vanilla syrup, added crushed almonds, used double cream and used double sugar of Illy espresso. I created it for a media event in a martini glass, and it was a nice story because it was relevant to the brand, relevant to our European heritage and something that was classically relevant to Austria. It was also, for me, a great story I could tell.
Are there two or three tools everyone should have at home to start creating their own spins on Le Meridien’s sparkling menu?
When you do cocktails at home, my number-one recommendation would be to look at your favorite cocktail and then buy the tools and ingredients for that. For example, if your favorite cocktail is an Old-Fashioned, you should buy a bottle of your favorite bourbon or rye whiskey, the sugar cubes, bitters, mixing glass, a bar spoon and a strainer. If your spouse’s favorite drink is a cosmopolitan, you should get a shaker, vodka, cranberry juice and fresh lime or lemon juice. Never use a sour mix or anything you can’t buy that’s not fresh. That’s what I would say; look up your favorite drink, check out the ingredients, get the tools you need and start building around that.
To watch Franz behind the bar (and the camera) creating the latest Le Méridien drinks, check out the full sparkling playlist here.