Friday, January 27, 2023

lupe velez

2 oz Convite Mezcal
3/4 oz Honey-Hibiscus Syrup (*)
3/4 oz Lime Juice
1/4 oz Honey Syrup
2 dash Dr. Sours Manganero Bitters (sub other spicy bitters or a little hot sauce)

Shake with ice, strain into a glass, and garnish with a sprinkling of chili powder.
(*) A strong 4 minute steep of hibiscus flowers in boiling water. Strain into an equal volume of raw honey, and stir until integrated.
For my two shifts at the Convite Mezcal bar, I needed to proffer two recipes to serve that utilized more market ingredients than liqueurs. I took that as a challenge to not use any liqueurs (although I opted for them in on-the-fly requests the second night). For one of them, I selected the mezcal version of the Gilded Paloma; this was a recipe that I crafted on the fly at Drink as a Paloma variation that was a mashup with Death & Co.'s Gilda (tequila, pineapple, lime, and cinnamon). For the other, I was inspired by two Milk & Honey family recipes: the Red Grasshopper at the Everleigh with tequila, lime, honey, and garnish cayenne powder, and the Dahlia's Revenge at the Varnish with mezcal, lemon, honey, and garnish cayenne powder (via a podcast and not the Unvarnished book). I figured that I could opt for mezcal and lime which had not been tried in those drinks and split the honey with another ingredient that I spotted at the market akin to the honey-ginger of the Penicillin. That ingredient was hibiscus flower that they call Jamaica that would add an elegant berry-floral note and a beautiful red hue. Its slightly drying nature required me to add an additional bit of regular honey syrup for balance (see above for syrup instructions). The mix seemed a bit flat, so I opted for something spicy – namely a semi-local (Mexico City) bitters company's mango, habañero, and tamarind bitters – as inspired by the spice element in the similar in structure Mexican Razor Blade. I was in a bind for a name, I decided to recycle the Lupe Velez from the 1934 edition of Boothby; that drink is better know as the Kingston Heights anyways.

Wednesday, January 25, 2023

:: as a beginner bartender, how can i be less nervous? ::

When Dr. Jorge Vera of Convite Mezcal asked the audience if there were any questions following my talk, one person spoke up and asked, “I am just a beginner in the world of bartending, so how can I control the nervousness?” To which I replied the following:

There are many ways. One is to learn to own the space – this is your bar. When you are a server, the guests rent the table in a way, and you are approaching their domain. If they choose to sit at the bar, it’s your bar. You own this bar, and you take pride in it. When there is a problem in a restaurant, servers will often run away, and bartenders often will not. I can act fifty pounds heavier and confront the problem.

Other things you can do are go out and experience a bar – another bar – and see how every interaction makes you feel. Like when the lights are too bright, the music is too soft or too loud, the bartender doesn’t give you water, the bartender doesn’t get you a drink fast and instead talks to their friends. How does that make you feel because that is the way your guests may feel. Now you know. You’re going to make a lot of mistakes, but seeing other people make mistakes and learning from it will aid you.

It’s not about being perfect but being aware, being mindful of what you’re not doing right. And asking a mentor, an older bartender “What do I do?” I remember I had one coworker who was a great mentor. When you say that you have a problem or a bad shift, some bartenders will just say, “That sucks.” Instead, this bartender explained what I ought to do in those situations and these are things that have worked for them.
When I first started bartending, all of the guests knew I was new, I was vulnerable, I was fresh meat in the water for the sharks. Some made it a game of making fun of you, and being mean, and eventually you learn tricks. You’ll learn your own tricks. One is to have more energy than them – be animated, have a smile, seem like you want to be there, that you care about them, and very few people will give you a hard time for they do not want to lose that energy. Also being able to conjure that angry parent voice… You control the candy. They will be like, “I don’t want to hear that voice from him again.” Learn to conjure it and then bring it back to normal to see how they react. If they continue pushing you, then just say, “No más!”

There are other ways if a person is giving you a hard time or you just don’t like that type of person. Sometimes you are working with another bartender who can deal with people that make you uncomfortable or angry and they will handle it, and there are people where I love that challenge and I’ll switch with them to the other side of the bar and I’ll make their life easier.

This is a career and you’ll get better if you want to get better. Find books, find podcasts, find teachers – they’re here. They will teach you. You either have to come to them or observe [them working]. When you see bartenders doing something right, steal from them. I remember I used to say “Hey guys, welcome to my bar” and ‘guys’ has a gender. And then I had guests that were transitioning and I became self-conscious about how that phrasing seemed very disrespectful. They’re not coming here to be judged or have any linguistic slight. So I stole from a bartender named Sother Teague. When you sit at his bar at Amor y Amargo in New York City, he says “Welcome friends!” So, “Amigos!” — well that has gender… oh crap! Amigxs with an ‘x’? Perhaps “Mi gente” since it doesn’t have a masculine or feminine aspect. So I stole that from – borrowed it, stole it without shame since I attribute that to him.
Know when you are lacking something, seek out the answer whether you ask or observe, you will find ways. Not all of the ways will work for you. And some will work better depending where you are working, who you are working with, and who is the guest. It will vary if you are working at a dive bar, a fancy cocktail bar, a casual restaurant, or a fine dining restaurant. You will acquire different tools, and the more diversified the tool kit, the better.

To reiterate, you’re going to spend hundreds of hours behind your bar, sometimes thousands. I actually did the math of how many hours I worked at different places. It’s your spot. You get there before the guests, you can wage a war of attrition and you’ll be there at the end. Take pride. Take ownership. And realize what you’re doing wrong. You don’t have to be perfect now. You only have to get better. Wonder what went wrong that night. I always beat myself up over it and get overthoughtful about what I did wrong.

You may be a bartender for a couple more months, and you may be a bartender for decades. Even if it’s not long term, getting better at the craft is applicable elsewhere. Once you become a good bartender, you become a good businessperson. You can then move on. The skill set is how to deal with people. True, you make drinks – it’s arts & crafts and it’s fun. Does it matter? Yes and no. I make great drinks – I hope, but people come back to me because I try to make them feel good, try to make them feel special, try to give them what I think they want. There are two concepts, the Golden Rule and the Platinum Rule. The former is “Do unto others as you would want to be done to yourself,” and the latter is “Do unto others as you think they would want to be treated.” What you want is not necessarily their need, but if you can figure out what their need is, you can do better for them.

Monday, January 23, 2023

:: mindful bartending, my master class at casa convite:

Below is the master class that I gave at Casa Convite for bartenders in Oaxaca on January 12th. It was on "Mindful Bartending" and bartender Jorge Vallejo from Chicago followed with "Mindful Menu Design" (and he translated my words and thoughts into Spanish).

Greetings, I am Fred Yarm and I was last at a bar called Drink in Boston where I was the general manager, bar manager, and bartender, and our bar was rather unique in that we were a cocktail bar without a drink menu. This required a lot of connection with the guest – we needed to start a conversation to get them the best drink possible, and I often made use of a concept called mindful bartending.

My interest in mindful bartending came from reading Gary Regan’s thoughts on the matter in his 2011 Annual Manual for Bartenders, which led me to attend his Cocktails in the Country retreat in 2015. Many of these thoughts either stemmed from his teachings or from what I learned through experience or through other resources afterwards.

In This Must be the Place: Memoirs of Jimmie the Barman, Jimmie who worked in the Mountparnasse section of Paris in the 1920s said, “Almost anyone can learn to mix drinks accurately and fast. That is the least of it. I have always believed success behind the bar comes from an ability to understand the man or woman I am serving, to enter into his joys or woes, make him feel the need of me as a person rather than a servant.”

Mindfulness is often associated with Buddhism, but one need not be a Buddhist to practice mindfulness. And it’s not a one size fits all, but is a way that is tailored to the individual and establishment and can change over time.

In a bartending sense, mindfulness means that you are aware of everything that is going on around you and focusing on all of your guests’ needs. It is not something that needs to be 100% perfect but it is worth striving for that.

Mindfulness of a bartender begins by leaving one’s personal problems at the door so that they can focus on the guests and set their intentions to be of service to them. Once that happens, it’s easier to be aware of what the guests want, what else is going on with their coworkers and what is happening in the whole restaurant.

Part of that preparation for the shift can come from some sort of meditation. Silence, loud music, or actual meditation can separate one from thoughts of life’s troubles. I have never personally taken it as far as proper meditation, but it was something Gary did. Lately, for me it was listening to podcasts while walking to the bar. Whatever can block out the conversations in your mind will work.

Intuition is an essential tool for the bartender that takes a lot of practice to hone in on. A bartender can sense when guests need something, when a guest should not be served any more, or when there is tension between two guests. Tricks to accomplish this include scanning the entire bar on a regular basis if not the entire restaurant. Observe the body language and vibes of the guests. Try to figure out why the guests are there, how much they want to be interrupted and by whom. An example of this was when I was first bartending at night, a senior bartender asked what I observed at the corner of the bar. I replied “An older man with a middle-aged woman.” He countered, “What else? … Look at their hands.” I then noticed, “He has a [wedding] ring and she does not.” My mentor explained, “Exactly. That is everything you need to know. They do not have names, do not want to be spoken to, and will be paying in cash (as opposed to a credit card that could be traceable).” He was right. Indeed, everything can be a clue.

Nobody goes to a bar for a drink. You can drink at home, but people go out to celebrate, meet other people, find romance, conduct business, or read. People will go out for a drink if they hear that the place has quality cocktails, but they will not return if that is all they get. The most important goal of a bartender's job is to make sure that every guest leaves the bar happier than when they walked in. Something Maya Angelou once said that has a lot of applicability to bartending, “I've learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” 

Communication is also important, and listening is just as important as talking. Listen intently and make sure that the person who is talking is aware that they are heard. Guests respond very well when they realize that the bartender is focusing all of their attention on them. Communication with coworkers is also important because if you are mindful of their needs, they often gladly reciprocate when you are falling behind.
Communication is also important in terms of phrasing. Telling people that they ought to think about doing something often works better than telling them what they should do. People will be more receptive if the phrasing of the request is mindful. This even worked in a supervisory role where I brought to their attention an issue and asked that they consider changing certain behaviors instead of making demands. Moreover, asking for help also works well especially in getting one of their friends to correct a behavior.

Communication without anger is key. Take a moment, breath, observe, and practice mindfulness to proceed without reactivity. Figure out what is making you angry. Same with the guests and figure out what is driving them. Anger is based in fear and embarrassment. Reducing any fear such as confusion of what the guest ought to do in a situation works well if applied early. (At our menu-less bar, teaching the other bartenders on how to anticipate fear and embarrassment in the ordering process led to happier guests and fewer bad reviews online). Being pre-emptive in addressing these issues pays dividends.

Gary Regan declared that fear and love are key, and every other emotion is based on these two. Anger is based on being afraid; if you take away fear, you can take away the anger in a situation. You can count to ten and in that time figure out what you are afraid of. And when you get angry, it is really only affecting one person – you. Finally, mindfulness can change your reality. For example, if you pretend to like the people you really do not, those people will change the way they interact with you.

Another point is that it is important to stay humble.

Regardless of any accolades and accomplishments of a bartender, each guest is a new challenge that you need to prove yourself to them. True, prior experiences offer confidence, knowledge, and a depth of tools to make the next guest’s experience better and to make that moment matter. In my mind, it is the only moment that matters. No guest will be consoled that their mediocre (or worse) night out was handled by someone who on paper should have been above average.

During the beginning of the Pandemic, one of my quarantine reads was The Book of Ichigo Ichie: The Art of Making the Most of Every Moment, the Japanese Way. Ichigo ichie is a tenet of Zen Buddhism, and it is often used as a greeting or a goodbye. It conveys that the moment is unique, special, and once in a lifetime. In martial arts usage, it means that there is no “try again” in life-or-death moments, but in casual usage, it is a means to focus on the moment at hand for it will never happen again. That guest sitting at your bar will never have a first greeting, first cocktail, or first night sitting at your bar ever again. They will be celebrating that birthday, anniversary, or promotion only once. They may return, but that special moment has fled. The book quotes the Greek philosopher Heraclitus who declared, “No man ever steps into the same river twice, for it’s not the same river and he’s not the same man.” Ichigo ichie will lead to greater satisfaction if one is not weighted down by the past or anxious about the future; if one can live fully in the present, the journey can be a unique and once-in-a-lifetime experience.

Subtle self-promotion does have its value especially in gaining the confidence in the guest, but this needs to be backed up with action eventually if not first. I am not without an ego for sure, but I try to put it on a back burner for most of my bar shifts unless the guest begins to inquire. Self-aggrandizing perhaps has its place to some extent in reassuring a guest as to why that moment is unique. Many have a curiosity as to why this interaction feels different and special, and they desire an explanation. Without prompting, that same story reveal is unnecessary and pretentious, and it could across as insecurity and seem like a way to make up for shortcomings by resting on laurels or worse – acts of fiction and delusion. Micah Solomon in The Heart of Hospitality: Great Hotel and Restaurant Leaders Share Their Secrets wrote, “The heart of hospitality, for me, is the ability to focus completely and totally on one person, even if only for a matter of seconds, yet long enough that you’ve got a clear connection, a channel between the two of you.” Working towards that connection is the goal with many ways of getting there.

In thinking about other bar mentors in the industry, I wondered what would legendary NYC barman Sasha Petraske say about all this [since he was a bit of an iconoclast]. In his Regarding Cocktails book, he instructed, “Do things not for applause or personal gain, but simply because it is the right way to do things.” Indeed, Sasha promoted the idea of hospitality over self-needs to choose the best path possible for the guest.

In returning to Gary Regan, he stressed to not underestimate your ability as a bartender or server to change the world one customer at a time. If you make one guest happy and they pass that on to other, and if you consider how many guests you see in a work shift, in a week, and in a year, it can make the world better.

Sunday, January 22, 2023

pippin flip

1 1/2 oz Applejack (Laird's Bonded)
1/2 oz Amaro CioCiaro
3/4 oz Grenadine
1 Whole Egg

Shake one round without ice and one round with ice, strain into a glass, and garnish with freshly grated cinnamon.
Two Sundays ago, I was perusing the Bartender's Choice app when I saw a dessert drink called the Pippin Flip that sounded delightful. This creation by Juyoung Kang at the Dorsey in Las Vegas circa 2018 reminded me of Misty Kalkofen's Fort Washington Flip given the structure of apple brandy, whole egg, a syrup, and a liqueur. Here, instead of maple and Benedictine, it was grenadine and Amaro CioCiaro which is a bit like Amer Picon. That combination of grenadine and bitter orange liqueur can be seen in the Basque-derived Picon Punch, and Trader Vic utilized that combination in recipes like the Jayco. Moreover, it is one that I opted for in my French variation of the Ward 8 that I dubbed the 8th Arrondissement. In the glass, the Pippin Flip conjured up cinnamon and apple aromas to the nose. Next, a creamy pomegranate sip switched into apple and bitter orange-berry flavors on the swallow.

Saturday, January 21, 2023

monte carlo

2 part Rye Whiskey (2 1/2 oz Old Overholt 86°)
1 part Benedictine (1/2 oz)
(1/8 oz Demerara Syrup)
1-2 dash Angostura Bitters (1 dash)

Stir with ice and strain into a glass. I served it in an old fashioned glass with a large ice cube and a lemon twist.

One of the many Old Fashioned riffs that I served at Drink was the Monte Carlo and variations thereof; despite having posted the tequila riff called the Monte Carlos, mashups with it such as the Call of the Wild, and a Cognac-Madeira recipe by that name, I have never posted the classic on the blog. Therefore, I turned to David Embury's 1948 The Fine Art of Mixing Drinks to review the original drink spec. Embury with a notoriously dry palate strangely proffered this sweet recipe in his tome. He agreed that it ought to be shifted from 2 parts rye whiskey to 4-5 parts and even suggested adding lemon juice to push it further. I opted for the 5:1 ratio that I did for my Monte Carlo offerings at work, and I stuck with one dash of Angostura Bitters because a heavy hand will mask the beauty of the liqueur to my palate. In addition, I felt that the combination needed some body, so I tasked a barspoon of 1:1 Demerara syrup to donate a pleasing mouthfeel. For complexity, I would split that 2 1/2 oz rye whiskey with apple brandy (1 3/4 oz rye, 3/4 oz Laird's Bonded) or with Cognac (2 oz rye, 1/2 oz Pierre Ferrand Ambre) to make it two steps removed from a classic Old Fashioned. Moreover, it taught guests that fruit flavors such as apple and grape did not have to be sweet.
Built without the brandy addition, it donated a lemon and rye bouquet to the nose. Next, caramel from the Benedictine on the sip slid into rye, herbal, minty, and clove flavors on the swallow.

Friday, January 20, 2023

prospect park sour

2 oz Rittenhouse Rye
1/2 oz Lemon Juice
1/2 oz Orange Juice
1/4 oz Maple Syrup
1/4 oz Luxardo Amaro Abano

Shake with ice, strain into a Sour glass (coupe), and garnish with an orange twist.
Two Fridays ago, I pulled my copy of Carey Jones' Brooklyn Bartender off the shelf to see if there was a glossed-over gem. There, I uncovered the Prospect Park Sour by Brian Farran at Clover Club that utilized a more recent addition to my liquor shelves, Amaro Abano, which is why I had not made it before. Overall, its structure reminded me of a Ward 8 with maple-Abano in place of the classic's grenadine moreso than Eastern Standard's similarly named Prospect Park. Once prepared, it donated an orange oil over caramel-maple aroma to the nose. Next, caramel and citrus notes on the sip gave way to rye, maple, and herbal flavors on the swallow with a lemon and pine finish.

Thursday, January 19, 2023

the cachaça drink at lullaby

1 oz Amburana-aged Cachaça (Salinas)
1/2 oz Cognac (Pierre Ferrand 1840)
3/4 oz Sweet Vermouth (Cocchi)
1/4 oz Luxardo Maraschino
1/2 tsp Benedictine
4 dash Aquavit (1/8 oz Linie)
1 dash Orinoco Bitters (Bitter Cube Jamaica #2)
3 drop Saline Solution (1 pinch Salt)

Stir with ice, strain into a Nick & Nora glass, and garnish with 3 skewered membrillo cubes (omit).
Two Thursdays ago, I came across a recipe on Spirited from the Lullaby Bar in New York City called The Cachaça Drink. The cocktail was created by co-owner Harrison Snow; I met and wrote about Harrison right before the Pandemic when he was running Wit's End in Cambridge, and it reflects the drink build style he showed in the It's a Long, Long Way. Here, he was inspired by Amburana barrel-aged cachaça which called out to him to be stirred in an up fashion. Once prepared, The Cachaça Drink proffered mostly a grassy aroma given that I omitted the quince paste cubes as garnish. Next, a caramel and grape sip flowed into funky, grassy, nutty cherry, and spice flavors on the swallow.

Wednesday, January 18, 2023

two gents

1 1/2 oz Rye Whiskey (Rittenhouse)
3/4 oz Cynar
3/4 oz Amaro CioCiaro
3 dash Bitters (Angostura)

Stir with ice, strain into a double old fashioned glass with a large ice cube, and garnish with an orange twist.
Two Wednesdays ago, my new bottle of Amaro CioCiaro caught my eye, and I sought out a recipe to use it on ShakeStir's drink database. There, I spied the Two Gents from Caitlin Pfeiffer in Los Angeles in 2014; I recognized the name for the following year, I attended Camp Runamok (a/k/a Bourbon camp for bartenders) with her in Kentucky. Since Amaro CioCiaro is in the ballpark of Amer Picon, perhaps this would be similar to Ran Duan's Rock Beats Scissors at the Baldwin Bar and possibly the Bonsoir with a different aged spirit at Craigie on Main. Here, the Two Gents welcomed the nose with orange and caramel aromas. Next, caramel with orange notes on the sip led into rye, funky vegetal, caramel, orange, and clove flavors on the swallow.

Tuesday, January 17, 2023

a gentleman in old mexico

1 oz Ransom Old Tom Gin
1 oz Mezcal (Fidencio)
1/2 oz Averna
1/2 oz Cynar
1/4 oz Benedictine
1/4 oz Campari
2 dash Orange Bitters (Angostura Orange)
2 dash Mole Bitters (Bitter Truth)

Stir with ice, strain into a cocktail coupe, and garnish with a flamed orange twist (unflamed).
For a drink two Tuesday ago, I searched in Kindred Cocktails and uncovered A Gentleman in Old Mexico created by Colton Richarson at the Stolen Glass Saloon in Strongville, Ohio, circa 2022. The combination of mezcal and gin was one I was introduced to in Beta Cocktails with Nicholas Jarrett's Black Cat. Moreover, the only other two recipes that I have experienced it in have been the Crimson & Clover and White Mezcal Negroni. Here, it was a Black Manhattan of sorts utilizing four different herbal liqueurs. Once prepared, it donated an orange, vegetal, and smoke aroma. Next, a caramel-driven sip strolled into vegetal, herbal, and smoke flavors on the swallow.