“Sorcerer of Shaken and Stirred”
What is this, Dungeons & Dragons? What ever happened to just “Bartender” and why isn’t the simple, truthful, self explanatory title enough?
There has been a global shift in the attitude towards the craft of Bartending. Charlotte Voisey and Tony Abou-Ganim on Iron Chef was a big “Fuck Yes” for the industry. Cocktails are finally beginning to be recognized as a culinary expression. Quality distillates and well made drinks are becoming the standard in bars and restaurants all over the world. Chefs need us now more than ever to ensure the front of house is balanced with the back. The more demand is generated, the more the role of the bartender is essential, and the further we can stretch our personas in the direction of creators, educators, artists and entertainers, be it small scale or global. But lets not forget, humility is at the very crux of Bartending, and seemingly meaningless titles, that may or may not have been made up by clueless PR people or the USBG Accreditation Program, are shaping us into victims of our own hubris.
So what is a Master Mixologist anyway?
Julian Cox is described by Fox news as “celebrity” mixologist.
Elayne Duke is described by Delta Airlines as “head” mixologist for Diageo.
Some could say a Master Mixologist is reached by commitment to training, years of experience, understanding operations, a wealth of knowledge based in spirits and history and time taken to educate others.
Or perhaps it is recognition based, i.e. publications and regional, national and international reach, or becoming a beverage director for multiple venues, like a hotel chain.
Maybe its working closely with a chef, like Julian Cox and John Sedlar or representing a portfolio as brand Ambassador, like Elayne Duke, which naturally every brand wants their guy or girl to be recognized as a Master for marketing purposes, wether or not they have the chops, like Elayne, to back it up.
Whatever the catalyst may be, bartenders are becoming like bottles, where marketing and packaging are the most important details, never mind if what’s under the label is of any quality.
In turn, no one really knows what a Master Mixologist is supposed to be. Chef like? Celebrity? Demi God? Occultist who requires the ritualistic sacrifice of Barbacks for the growth of their empire?
A YouTube search for Master Mixologist yields someone like Charlotte Voisey making spiked lemonade for the chain Carrabba’s Italian Grill, (incidentally for a charity event, I’m not talking shit) and at the other end of the spectrum is a bevy of bumbling buffoons wearing chef coats, who hold absolutely no merit in the industry whatsoever, talking ad nauseam in an uneducated manor about “adequate mixation.” Ummm, whatever you say, Master Mixologist.
While wading through all this rigmarole I found a little video by Dan Dunn taken at Tales of the Cocktail 2009. This is the only video I would accept with the title “Master Mixologists”, featuring the likes of Dave Wondrich, Dale Degroff and Jeffrey Morgenthaler, to name a few, casually making cocktails. They are all comfortable, having a good time, smiling and the words coming out of their mouths are simple “I’m a bartender from Portland”, “gin, sherry, orange bitters, done”, “I’m here in New Orleans making the Strawberry Nirvana, baby”, and my favorite by Morgenthaler “it’s nothing fancy, it’s not like, you know, a foam or you don’t inject it into your eyeballs, you just drink it”.
The greats will still be greats, even if they are not fighting to be ahead of the curve.
We all remember when Alex Ott dug himself a grave within the bartender community via a New York Times interview where he deemed bartenders “entertainers…that should never be people who come up with cocktails because they have no education.” But wait, I forgot, Ott’s cool because the cast of gossip girl hangs out at his apartment.
And if you really want to freak yourself out, take a look at Junior Merino aka The Liquid Chef’s promotional video “Introduction to Master Mixologist Junior Merino”. Nearly 7 minutes in length, with narration by a dude that sounds like “Coming-this-Summer” Don LaFontaine and music that must have been taken from The Neverending Story, this piece is riddled with looped sound bytes; “Mixology…OLOGY…OLOGY…the official Mixologist of the authentic Mexican flavors of Mexico…drink with all…drink with ALL…drink with ALL YOUR SENSES…Merino…Mixology…Merino…oh…oh…oh…”
I also suspect he is secretly Optimus Prime in the form of the mobile Bartending School truck Alchemix.
I’m Lindsay Nader and I’m a BARTENDER who makes delicious drinks and my Sprezzatura when I’m three deep is a shot of Rittenhouse. Cheers.