Wednesday, August 3, 2016

:: united libations ::

The final talk I attended on Thursday at Tales of the Cocktail was entitled United Libations that explored cross-cultural differences and similarities between three bartending worlds: United States, Latin America (Cuban), and Japan. Representing the three were Charles Joley, Julio Cabrera, and Shuichi Nagatono, respectively; I also had the honor of sitting at moderator Mark Schettler's bar a few nights later at Bar Tonique to see how bartending on a street level craft cocktail dive bar in New Orleans works.

The American school of bartending began with Jerry Thomas and Harry Johnson in terms of style. Even early on, there were differences between corner taverns and craft bartenders. Unlike the Latin American and Japanese styles, the American system was interrupted during Prohibition. Later after the dark years, the American bartenders were the ones that led the cocktail renaissance over the last 15 years originating in the speakeasy culture in New York City. The American school is full of different styles all making great drinks, but it is a profession that does not require any apprenticeship. Unlike the other two systems, American bartending is faster to provide the same good drink.
The cantinero or Latin American style comes from the word cantina and originates at the end of the 19th century. Aspects of the style came from Spain especially in how they serve people, the pride in the profession, and the life-long commitment to the trade. The cantinero is a professional craft, and the job is linked to culture, music, and precise ways to dress, act, and talk to customers. Although many bartenders in the United States scoff at bartending school, the cantinero in Cuba needs to go to school for one to two years to acquire a diploma. The one year certificate is for basic work and the two year diploma is for working in higher end places. Grooming is essential including shaving before every shift, and that level of pride is taught in school down to spending a month on how to properly carry a tray, classiness in fashion via jackets and bowties, and not touching garnish or straws with the hand. The style overlaps with the IBA system, but it is not the same. The bartenders are the entertainers behind the bar, and often music and bartending are combined including the bartenders singing and playing instruments behind the bar. Where the American bartender wonders how to be faster and more efficient, the cantinero wonders how they can be a better performer.

Nagatono described how he has been bartending for 25 years and still considers himself an apprentice, and this helps to preserve the lineage and style. The Japanese bartender's entire career is training and one never stops learning. "Whenever we start a student in Japan, [we tell them] when you are working, you are learning." Since there are many types of bars in Japan, there are many different sets of rules. Many of the Japanese cocktail bars are small with 7-12 seats; while they might not be financially lucrative, they are run with heart and passion by the owner/bartender and perhaps one other staff member. In Japan, the bartender makes one drink at a time for one guest at a time with great concern for technique and ice choice.

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