Thursday, August 07, 2008

Aspiring Bartenders II

Here's another great e-mail I got that covers some good questions:


Q: My name is Tasha, I LOVE your podcast, its' my all time favorite. I wait frantically for a new one to be updated (and watch the rest of them over and over). I have wanted to be a bartender for a matter of years (i am 19), my fascination started with my love of glassware and stemware, I like to collect unique and different sets i find.

I plan to attend a bartending school later on so that i can learn the basics of what i need to know. I have noticed from watching your podcast (and some others too) that many good bartenders not only know how to mix a drink, but the history, and fun facts behind it. I know that a 40 hour class will not cover a lot of information like that (but it does cover some). I was wondering how did you acquire your general knowledge. Was it just from being in the business for a long time or did you read a lot? I was also wondering did you have any suggestions of any good books that i could read to not only learn different recipes for cocktails, but other information too, such as history of cocktails, information on the different spirits and mixers, etc. or any other good books i should have on hand.

Another question i had was how did you get your start in bartending? What made you choose it as a career? Why do you love it so much? (sorry, it's just, when somebody is really good at something and you can tell that it's their passion, i get interested as to why).

As i dream to pursue a career in bartending I'm a little concerned that i wont be able to remember all the different recipes for everything. How do you do it? What helped you? Do you have any tips, words of wisdom, or advice in that area for an aspiring bartender?

P.S. i love the episodes when you visit the makers mark distillery, it gave me the idea to visit distilleries and wineries around my area to educate myself in a more hands on way.


A: Hi, Tasha! First off, thanks so much for writing -- I love hearing from people that are enjoying the series! A couple of your questions are answered on my blog, particularly those about how to get started in the business and bartending schools. As for my bartending education, I can point to three main sources of knowledge: 1) books, 2) other bartenders -- you can learn from them all though sometimes it's what not to do, and 3) lots and lots of hours behind the bar. There are a ton of good books out there, and the History Channel has some great specials as well. I tend to lean toward the books that offer more than just recipes, like Dale Degroff's classic "The Craft of the Cocktail," Anthony Dias Blue's "The Complete Book of Spirits," or anything by Gary Regan, and I also find that books which specialize in just one spirit tend to have more in-depth content (check out "Tequila" by Valenzuela-Zapata and Nabhan for example).

I got my start right out of college as a server working at Darryl's Restaurant in Durham, NC, and have been in the business ever since -- despite having degrees in Mechanical Engineering and Materials Science. Actually, I'm a little nuts and regularly apply my education to bartending, so when the methods I teach for building drinks differ from traditional approaches the reason can usually be found in fluid dynamics, thermodynamics, or chemistry. I know that sounds geeky, but you'd be surprised how much traditional bartending lore flies in the face of science.

As for recipes, don't let them freak you out. This is what spooks most new bartenders, and the key to success is threefold: first, really try to understand why a drink is made a certain way. You'll find that there's often a method to seemingly maddening drink recipes, and many times the name will give you valuable clues to the ingredients (the classic example of this is the seemingly inscrutable Sloe Comfortable Screw Up Against The Wall, which actually breaks down very simply into Sloe Gin, Southern Comfort, Vodka and OJ for the Screw[driver], and Galliano for the Wall[banger, Harvey]. Second, get as much high-volume time behind the bar as you can to drive those recipes home -- working a busy service bar is my favorite way to keep sharp. Finally, never, ever be afraid to look up a recipe, especially if the alternative is making the drink incorrectly. Always keep a good recipe book behind the bar and read it during dead times (after you've cleaned and stocked everything).

Hope this is helpful, and keep me posted on your career. Thanks again, and if a visit to the Maker's Mark distillery is on your agenda tell them I said hello!

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