On Craft Cocktails

Over the past few weeks I have been lucky enough to meet quite often a small group of people at the bar to talk, discuss, and taste cocktails from the very rudimentary basics through far fetched philosophy.  Being new to the industry myself and fairly unpracticed at teaching/regurgitating what I have learned, we have used a list of cocktails and spirits to work over the why/how of basic craft cocktail bartending.  Revisiting all of this in an orderly and systematic method is really helpful in revealing exactly what you don’t know, and has caused me to return to the books and begin pouring over everything about spirits, taste, and method again and again to fill in those gaps that seem to only grow as I realize how much there is to learn…

It has brought up some interesting questions about the depth and length of work a craft bartender has to go through to get a cocktail in front of a customer.  We encounter so often a solid look of disappointment when we pour out a carbonated cocktail that has been made in advance.  We would love to make everything in front of your eyes in a grand flourish of talented acrobatics, but alas to achieve a superior product with premium carbonation we have to bring the entire cocktail down to a very low temperature so that is better accepts the CO2, and that means making it before you get there and getting it into a freezer.  It’s hard to get across the equal love and care that went into a drink made out of sight of the guest, even if it signifies that it was even more involved and complicated to make, and so much more that we wouldn’t have time to do it in the moment.   Going beyond making cocktails ahead of time and looking farther into the actual ingredients that compose your cocktail: there is 1/2 an ounce of toasted almond orgeat in that there cocktail you are sippin’ on… and that isn’t something that magically springs from the ground out the magic fountain of orgeat.  It takes a bartender coming in early morning (1 PM) to find organic almonds were ordered that need to first be toasted batch by batch, then blended vita-prep pitcher by vita-prep pitcher at a time, then spun in the centrifuge to separate the oils, fats, milks, water, and solids, then take the milk/fats/oils and reconstitute them back in the vita prep, hydrate and add ticaloid to keep suspension, create syrup out of it, distribute to bottles, cork, label, and store… then quickly add it half an ounce at a time to each order of that single cocktail that uses it on the menu.  Sometimes I want to scream out to everyone about how much these craft cocktail bartenders in every bar out there really know!  They don’t just measure your drinks out spirit by spirit, but are crafting amazing ingredients from scratch with the precision and adeptness of educated cooks, who then take off their aprons, jump behind the bar, kindly direct you to the right drink, educate you about it, create it in expertly a manner as not to do injustice to the hard work they put in that afternoon, keep you company, and then bus the dirty glass when you are done, later on they are going to sweep and mop the floors.  So much happens behind the scenes to get that cocktail to the bar.  What’s more, these guys all care enough to make the ingredients themselves, but also to seek out the best and healthiest ingredients for them, stopping by the farmers market to pick up farm fresh eggs (which are actually the right size for a cocktail and from happy chickens) and organic local arugula for a infusions, etc,  every day.

I get really jazzed up about all of this when I enter the bar at 2 in the afternoon to find 5 bartenders brainstorming over giant bags of produce they just scooped up at the farmers market.  Blender is cranking away, centrifuge is spinning some ungodly concoction, and someone chewing on who knows what spice trying to figure out where it belongs in the spectrum of cocktail ingredients.  ‘Did you know that carbonated Fernet is terrible,’ asks a barback, ’cause if you didn’t I can tell you now for certain it is.’ Constant growth and exploration yielding good results or terrible ones, is inspiring.  I can only hope that all of this enthusiasm, care, and sweat translates to the customers in the silent form of a cocktail.