Saturday, November 13

Finding GOOD Bartenders

Maybe its just me, or the places I go, but I find it increasingly hard to find a GOOD bartender. One that I might label a bar chef, one that has a handle on the classics and the flavor profiles from which beget some good Specialty Cocktails.

For a while now, I've been asking bartenders the question, "So where did you learn to be a bartender?" The normal answer I get has the person starting in a lower end position and working their way up. I then ask if they went to bartending school. I get about an 80/20 split to this, 80 percent say no, and 20 percent say yes. Of the 20 percent that confirmed they went to bartender school, I'd say about 95 percent are NOT what I would classify as a GOOD bartender. Sad but true, at least from my experience.

The 80 percent left  learned from a seasoned veteran in the form of OTJ (On The Job) training. This group, from my experience, seems to have a better chance for learning the art the right way. Learning that bitters really do go in a Manhattan, that sour mix is a bad shortcut, or that the glass is called a cocktail glass NOT a martini glass these are all little things that seem to be lost on those that were taught the wrong way and never really bothered to confirm the truth about their profession.

I know what your thinking, our host to this little blog is getting on his soap box again, maybe so. So again, the problem I face is that I have such a hard time finding that GOOD bartender. One that has a passion for their profession, one that enjoys serving up small glasses of satisfaction to everyone of their patrons. But I digress...

Geography also seems to have something to do with finding GOOD bartenders. When I lived in New Orleans it was fairly easy, when I travel to New York City its easy, and when I seek out known bar chefs I have no problem however, here in Memphis, TN I've only found one (more on that later). I travel a good bit in the US, more so with my last job, but from my experience there are some hot spots: New York, New Orleans, San Francisco, Seattle, Chicago. I'm sure there are more smaller pockets of bar passion out there, but its clear the concentration is in certain areas.

So, if you are looking to get into bartending and your serious about it I would recommend finding a tavern where the bartender knows his/her stuff and try to get them to mentor you. We have to make sure the old school knowledge that's in the world doesn't die off with age.

Good Luck.

Wednesday, November 10

The savvy drinker-Spirits and taste

Spirits drinkers can be fussy drinkers, I should know. Particularly if they know how to mix good drinks themselves. Good quality spirits and excellent taste are the basis of what a real spirits drinker wants. Whether you drink vodka, Scotch, rum, bourbon or the incredible Japanese rice whiskey, it's all a matter of taste and quality. Knowing where to drink has a lot to do with it as well, whether you drink in local pubs or the absolute swankiest nightclubs.

Knowing your drinks
It's an interesting fact that spirits, which are supposed to be the same drinks, never actually are. All good spirits are quite different and have their own unique texture and flavor. For example, there are any number of different types of rum, and none of them are the same. No two types of Scotch are alike. Bourbon is always unique.
That's extremely important, when mixing drinks. The fact is that each type of spirit affects the flavour of any type of drink mix. Alcohol does play a part in the chemistry of the mix, but there are other factors involved, and that includes the chemistry of the spirits themselves and the way they're produced.
It's a good idea to spend some time checking out the very best spirits and educate your palate properly. The best spirits are considered the best not because they’re expensive, because they’re the product of very high quality production techniques. A brand like Johnnie Walker Black label, for example, is the result of excellent production technique, a well-established method of distillation, and very strict quality controls. Maker’s Mark is another example of a famous brand with very high quality standards.
That’s also why they’re excellent mixers. You'll find that the best bartenders far prefer these extremely reliable drinks as their mixing base, and it's very useful to know which are the best spirits for mixing drinks. 

A matter of good taste
The fact is that low quality spirits can sabotage any drink. Imagine a Black Russian with poor quality coffee liqueur. That's bad enough, but add third rate vodka, and you've got the disaster on your hands. It's not so much drinkable as forgettable.
Drink mixes are basically recipes, and you must remember that the ingredients themselves must be very high standards, as well as the basic drinks. Fresh is always better, and it is one of the reasons the best drink mixers insist on fresh herbs and fruits and other materials. These drinks are better prepared immediately before serving, although really high quality spirits and ingredients will keep very well.
The classic drinks like martinis, daiquiris, Black Russians, and gin and tonic are a good way of sharpening your skills and getting the necessary understanding of how drinks and ingredients mix together. Taking the time to learn how to mix your own drinks will drastically improve your drinking experience, and it's also a lot of fun. Savvy drinkers enjoy their drinks and that's the way it should be.