Monday, December 10, 2018

:: the need for a mentor ::

First published on the USBG National blog in July 2018; slightly adapted version here.

Throughout my bartending career I have frequently felt the need for a mentor. Usually this feeling is when I am approaching a crossroads or perhaps merely sensing the need for change and improvement, and a mentor seems like the easy out where someone will swoop down and tell me which direction to go. I have had many mentors throughout my bartending career, but none of them actually told me what path to take. Most of them were rather good at one or a few aspects of the trade and were willing to correct what they saw wrong, give advice when asked, or listen to my complaints and suggest ways of handling the problems. Countless times, these mentors did not even realize that they were teaching for I was observing their methods. Indeed, I have had mentors in how to welcome guests, how to patch up a bad moment and turn it into a good experience, how to deal with difficult coworkers and not be a dick; how to cut people off and kick people out with grace, etc. Many of the ones that I learned from excelled in only one or two things in my eyes, but they did that aspect of the job exceptionally well. Some I worked with (or for), but many that I learned from were my bartender and I their guest.

I recently watched an episode of Erick Castro's Bartender at Large series where he interviewed Giuseppe Gonzalez that hit on this topic. It was not even mentioned in the teaser description of the video, and I tuned into this one for I had met Giuseppe at my first Tales of the Cocktail in 2009 and bonded over the fact that we were both biology majors at the same university only a few years apart. I reconnected with him years later on Facebook after reading one of his long, opinionated rants and felt that I ought not miss more of what this man had to say.

As their banter drifted from bartenders who cannot think on their own for how to reinterpret drinks from the written recipe to taste better (or perhaps they shift the character of the drink too far to still be called the same thing), and Giuseppe got on the topic of mentoring. To wrap things up, Erick asked him for advice on how bartenders should create their own drink specs and riffs. In the last four minutes of the episode, Giuseppe griped that his workers complain to him after six months that they are not being mentored, and he explained that it is the [expletive] job. Giuseppe explained that Dale Degroff did not have a mentor – he just did it. True, Audrey Saunders was mentored by Dale, but she was independent and did both the research and the work herself as well. Giuseppe commands us to stop looking for mentorship. He suggests things: pick up a book, talk to peers, do the research, and grab bottles and experiment. Things come through work, repetition, and time. A bartender does not get that good from reading a book alone, but by holding down the job for years. Learn to listen and observe so as to do the job better over time.

At this point in my career, I am less looking for guidance in how to do the basics of the job, and more in which direction to take. While some bartenders have the advantage of well-connected bosses who set them up with the next leg of their career, most of us do not, and must rely on associates who relate needs and job openings, or perhaps utilize job boards for what is available. No one can answer the questions of what is the right next step for a person, but sometimes asking and looking around can show the opportunities and directions that exist. All too often, young bartenders hop from job to job without figuring out how to make themselves fit in better at the current spot. The continual hopping every few months inhibits the learning and growth that would likely make them better bartenders in the end. As Giuseppe proffers, hunker down and do the job and learn to do it better by repetition and adaptation.

This is not to say that one should not be on the look out for teachers, but it will often not be as formal as school (save for the first job, the first nights at a new position, or perhaps Barsmarts and similar classes). More likely, it will be from tinkering and figuring out things first hand or from observing someone doing something better and learning second hand and perhaps following up with asking questions or advice. Moreover, when the time comes, the favor should be repaid whether by offering sagacity or being willing to provide it. Becoming the bartender, bar manager, or owner with humility that people will seek out for guidance is definitely a solid end point in one's development.

Bartending in the 19th century was taught solely by apprenticeship. The 1860s saw the first bar books to come out, but it was not until Harry Johnson's 1888 bar manual that there were well laid out written instructions on how to do one's job better. These days, there are lots more books, articles, seminars, and videos to supplement the career growth that is earned the old fashioned way: on the job. One ought to utilize every avenue available; however, only some of the bartender's wisdom can be taught by a formal mentor. Determining the career path and when and where to move to still have to come from within to make sure that they are the right steps. The best that one can do is to try to take in as much knowledge from as many sources as possible and integrate them into how to improve at one's trade.

ninety-nine roses

1 1/2 oz London Dry Gin (Tanqueray)
3/4 oz Lemon Juice
1/2 oz Apricot Liqueur (Combier)
1/2 oz Ginger Syrup

Shake with ice, strain into a cocktail coupe, and garnish with 5 drops of rose water (Mustapha's).
For the cocktail hour two Mondays before, I delved into the Brooklyn Bartender book and spotted the Ninety-Nine Roses. The recipe was created by Jonathan Kobritz at the Hotel Delmano, and the combination of apricot and ginger reminded me of the Queen Anne's Revenge. In the glass, the rose water in the Ninety-Nine Roses dominated the nose. Next, lemon and hints of orchard fruit on the sip preceded the gin, apricot, and ginger swallow along with a perfume-y rose finish.

Sunday, December 9, 2018


2/3 Rye Whiskey (1 3/4 oz Old Overholt)
1 dash Apricot Brandy (1/2 oz Combier)
1/3 Grapefruit (3/4 oz)
1 dash Orange Bitters (Regan's)

Shake with ice and strain into a cocktail glass; I added a grapefruit twist.
Two Sundays ago, I ventured into Pioneers of Mixing at Elite Bars: 1903-1933 for a glossed over gem. There, I spotted the Quebec that reminded me of the Polly's Special and the perhaps the Blinker given the whisk(e)y, grapefruit, and sweetener combination. Once shaken and strained, the Quebec proffered an apricot and grapefruit nose that came across as both floral and tropical. Next, grapefruit and malt with a hint of orchard fruit on the sip gave way to rye and apricot on the swallow with a touch of tartness from the grapefruit.

Saturday, December 8, 2018


1 oz Pierre Ferrand 1840 Cognac (Courvoisier VS)
1 oz Old Overholt Rye
1/2 oz Giffard Banane du Bresil
1/2 tsp Demerara Syrup

Stir with ice, strain into an old fashioned glass pre-rinsed with Pernod Absinthe, and garnish with lemon oil from a twist.

For a nightcap two Saturdays ago, I opened up the Cocktail Codex book and spotted the Bananarac on my list of drinks to make. This 2014 recipe from Natasha David reminded me of the pineapple rum Stigginserac I had last year, but here the tropical notes stemmed from crème de banana as the sweetener instead of from the spirit. All of the Sazerac components were there save for bitters (other than the absinthe), and the spirits were in the "New York Sazerac" style of equal parts cognac and rye whiskey. One recipe that I found online via did include a dash of aromatic bitters as well as Armagnac as the brandy.
The Bananarac donated lemon, banana, and anise notes to the nose in a tropical way. Next, malt and a vague fruit flavor on the sip transitioned to rye, Cognac, and banana on the swallow with a light anise finish.

Friday, December 7, 2018


2 oz Añejo Tequila (Cimarron Reposado)
3/4 oz Blanc Vermouth (Dolin)
1/2 oz Cynar
2 dash Mole Bitters (Bittermens)

Stir with ice, strain into a double old fashioned glass with ice, and garnish with a grapefruit twist.
Two Fridays ago, I uncovered the Mexicano in the Shakestir archives that was crafted by Gina Kent at the Soho House in West Holywood in 2014. I met Gina back in 2015 when I attended the same Camp Runamok session, so I was curious to give one of her recipes a try. With tequila and Cynar in the mix, it was seemed like a win akin to the Augie March and Luna de Cosecha. Once stirred and strained, the Mexicano gave forth a grapefruit and agave aroma with a darker note from either the Cynar or molé bitters. Next, a white wine sip with a hint of caramel gave way to tequila flavors blending into the funky Cynar ones on the swallow along with a chocolate finish.

Thursday, December 6, 2018

affaire de familia

1 oz Byrrh Grand Quinquina
1 oz Hayman's London Dry Gin (Beefeater)
1 oz Cocchi Americano
2 dash Maraschino (1/4 oz Luxardo)
2 dash Orange Bitters (Regan's)

Stir with ice, strain into a cocktail coupe, and garnish with a lemon twist.

Two Thursdays ago, I was perusing the Haus Alpenz site for drink ideas and spotted the Affaire de Familia that was an unattributed recipe; given the name and the fact that the three main ingredients are from their portfolio, it might be a Haus Alpenz original. With the gin and fortified wine accented with dashes of Maraschino and bitters, it has the makings of a Martinez especially the wine-heavy 1:2 Jerry Thomas era recipe. However, the quinquina in the mix made me recall the Marliave's Cocktail from Louis Mixed Drinks that I surmise was created at the Marliave in Boston a little over a decade before it turned into a speakeasy during Prohibition.
Once prepared, the Affaire de Familia shared a lemon, nutty, and red grape nose. Next, the red grape continued on into the sip where it was joined by a hint of cherry from the Maraschino, and this was followed by gin, nutty, and herbal notes on the swallow. Perhaps, a barspoon of Maraschino would work better here for most palates, but alas, I am a fan of the liqueur.

Wednesday, December 5, 2018


1 1/2 oz Banks 7 Island Rum (Denizen Merchant's Reserve)
1 oz Meletti Amaro
1 oz Lustau Oloroso Sherry

Stir with ice, strain into an old fashioned glass with a large ice cube, and garnish with an orange twist.
Two Wednesdays ago, I was flipping through Frank Caiafa's The Waldorf Astoria Bar Book and spotted the Globetrotter that appeared like a rum Negroni-like number akin to the Blood of My Enemies. Here, the alternative amaro and fortified wine elements were Meletti and sherry, and that combination seemed like it would hit the spot. Once prepared, the Globetrotter greeted the nose with caramel, grape, and orange aromas. Next, caramel and grape mingled on the sip, and the swallow offered rum, nutty sherry, and herbal complexity. No great surprises here, but the Globetrotter definitely made for a solid nightcap.

Tuesday, December 4, 2018

lush interlude

1 oz Amaro Sfumato
1 oz Aged Rum (Diplomatico Añejo)
3/4 oz Lime
1/2 oz Cognac Orange Liqueur (Pierre Ferrand Dry Curaçao)
1/4 oz 2:1 Demerara Syrup (1/2 oz 1:1)

Shake with ice, strain into a cocktail glass, and garnish with an orange twist.
Two Tuesdays ago, I delved back into the Haus Alpenz site and pulled out a Sfumato-laden Daiquiri/Rum Sidecar of sorts called the Lush Interlude. The recipe was crafted by Braden LaGrone when he was at The Cure in New Orleans; my research suggests that his tenure there ranged from 2014-2016, and I had a chance to try his Like Cockatoos when I visited the bar in 2015. Once prepared, the Lush Interlude welcomed the senses with orange, dark herbal, and smoke aromas. Next, lime, orange, and a woody note on the sip gave way to smoky herbal rum, and orange flavors on the swallow. Overall, Sfumato paired well with orange liqueur as the similar rabarbaro Zucca did in the Take on Me and the The 47%.

Monday, December 3, 2018


1 1/2 oz Añejo Tequila (Cimarron Reposado)
1/2 oz Aged Rum (Privateer Navy Yard)
3/4 oz Sweet Vermouth (Cocchi)
1/4 oz Apricot Liqueur (Combier)
2 dash Angostura Bitters

Stir with ice and strain into a rocks glass with a large ice cube.
Two Mondays ago, I decided to make a recipe that I had spotted in Imbibe Magazine online called the Damasco created by Blaise Faber of Tratto in Phoenix. Overall, it came across as an aged tequila and rum Manhattan of sorts, so I was definitely interested in giving it a go. Once prepared, the Damasco proffered a vegetal agave and allspice bouquet. Next, grape and a hint of orchard fruit on the sip transitioned to vegetal tequila, molasses-based rum, and allspice flavors on the swallow with a clove and apricot finish. On my Instagram post, I discussed with a follower how the rum got a bit lost here and perhaps an aged rhum agricole would complement the tequila (as well as the apricot) better. Moreover, the apricot was a little too much in the background at a quarter ounce, but I felt like a Tequila Manhattan was still a decent sipper.

Sunday, December 2, 2018

innsmouth fogcutter no. 2

1 1/2 oz Lemon Juice
1 oz Orange Juice
1/2 oz Orgeat
1 oz Crème de Cassis (Massenez)
1/2 oz Gin (Tanqueray)
1 1/2 oz Rumfire Overproof White Rum

Whip shake, pour into a Tiki mug, and fill with crushed ice. "Float" a chilled 1/2 oz Cherry Heering + 1/4 oz Maraschino (Luxardo), and garnish with mint.

On the BG Reynold's Tiki Bar group on Facebook, there was a discussion of what to put into a large Tiki mug, namely the Innsmouth Fog Cutter mug at 24 oz. I replied that a standard 14-16 oz mug is perfect for a 4-5 oz build before shaking and filling with crushed ice, so a 24 oz one would work well with a 6-7 oz build. One of the replies was to put the namesake Innsmouth Fogcutter in there which is a 7 oz build plus a 1 1/4 oz float (see below) that was created by the mug designer Jonathan Chaffin of Horrors in Clay. I was curious about that one for it utilized blackberry brandy that had appeared in a few classic Tiki drinks like the Don's Own Grog, the Kamehameha Rum Punch, and the Rum Runner. Later in the thread, someone posted a variation that was originally attributed to Jason Alexander, but alas Jason claimed it was not his creation after I had already posted it on Instagram. The second variation seemed guided by a professional bartender for most bars do not contain blackberry brandy but often do have crème de cassis (although I have a 12 year old bottle of Marie Brizard blackberry brandy in the back recesses of my collection).
Innsmouth is a fictional town in Massachusetts that was invented by horror writer H.P. Lovecraft for a 1936 story. Lovecraft considered his town "a considerably twisted version of Newburyport, [ Massachusetts]." I generally associate Lovecraft with Providence, Rhode Island, which is where his tomb is located, so a connection to Massachusetts albeit fictionally made me intrigued by the recipe. Once prepared, the riff on the Innsmouth Fogcutter shared a mint, cherry, and nutty Maraschino nose. Next, a dark berry note was countered by the crisp lemon on the sip, and the swallow began with funky rum, black currant, and nutty flavors that later gained a medicinal cherry element as the "float" cascaded down to the bottom where the straw end was. The "float" here was much more intense of a flavor shift than the cream sherry one in the classic Fog Cutter. Moreover, the citrus-alcohol heat to sugar ratio was closer to balanced before the liqueurs cascaded down here whereas the classic Fog Cutter is still lemon crisp even after the sweet sherry hits the straw.
Innsmouth Fogcutter #1
• 2 oz Light Rum
• 1/2 oz Plymouth Gin
• 1 oz Blackberry Brandy
• 1 oz Orange Juice
• 2 oz Lemon Juice
• 1/2 oz Orgeat
Whip shake, pour into a Tiki mug, and fill with crushed ice. Float of "Broken Heart": a chilled 1 oz Cherry Heering + 1/4 oz Maraschino mix.

Saturday, December 1, 2018

to the sun

1 1/2 oz Smith & Cross Rum
1/2 oz Apricot Liqueur (Combier)
1/2 oz Velvet Falernum
3/4 oz Lime Juice
1 dash Angostura Bitters

Shake with ice, strain into a cocktail coupe, and garnish with a lime wheel.

A second cocktail that I had spotted on the Haus Alpenz's webpage in the Smith & Cross Rum section was yet another up drink garnished with a lime wheel called the To the Sun. The recipe was posted unattributed, but it seemed like an interesting apricot for orange liqueur Royal Bermuda Yacht Club or Test Pilot. Moreover, the apricot, falernum, and rum trio made me think of the Blackbeard's Ghost and the Mount Pelee.
In the glass, the To the Sun welcomed the senses with rum funk, lime and apricot aromas. Next, lime and orchard fruit on the sip slid into funky rum, clove, and apricot on the swallow. No suprises here, but it was quite enjoyable in a Periodista sort of way.