Practical Exercises One

When last we spoke my bartender career had pretty much fizzled out.

Two shifts at, uh, “Flower” and that was pretty much it.  Since then I’ve continued to advocate for the hiring of middle-aged ex-line cooks, but the only gigs I’ve managed to get were catering and special events.  Those are kind of fun, in their own way, (and even sometimes pay,) but they’re not exactly “behind the bar” experience.

While writing a blog on the Internet is an interesting and somewhat effective way to disseminate ideas and concepts, it often falls flat when it comes to actual experience.

I try to capture as much knowledge and ideas about each cocktail with the words and pictures as I can.  Especially, with the pictures I do try to capture something about cocktails which you might not have seen before.

Hopefully if a cocktail looks good or sounds interesting, one or two of the readers of the blog might try to make it or track down one of the ingredients.

But ultimately, the best way to share a cocktail is to make it for someone.

So how could I get into a position where I can actually make cocktails for people?  Share some of this knowledge with actual flesh and blood human beings?

Some typical paths to drink making: Bartending School;  Barback;  Pester bartenders and managers until you wear them down;  Just hang out in a bar, act nice, and observe;  Hold big parties and make drinks for all your friends and friends’ friends, &c.

What have I done?

Decide to drink my way alphabetically through a cocktail book from the 1930s and document it on the Internet.  Post frequently, knowledgeably, and without shame on drink related Internet forums.

Really?  That works?

Apparently, yes, as last Sunday I had a chance to make cocktails at Alembic Bar.

Well, they didn’t talk about a “job”, but it did go well enough that we’re talking about doing Savoy Cocktail Book Nights on a monthly basis.

As Jeff Morgenthaler said to me in an email, “you’ve been in some situations that most “real” bartenders would kill to be involved with.”

And again, at Alembic, I’ve been incredibly lucky and had a chance to meet and work with another group of incredibly talented and passionate individuals.

It’s funny, a lot of bartenders I’ve met trace their interest in cocktails back to the bar program at Absinthe.  Several have said it was the place that first blew the doors off of what they thought a cocktail could taste like.  I remember one of the first times we went there.  We were blown away by the Ginger Rogers.  We asked the bartender what was in it, and he said, “Oh here, I’ll print it out.”  He went back to the POS system, printed out the recipe, and gave it to us.  What!?  None of us had ever experienced anything like that before.

That’s one of the cooler things about San Francisco Bartenders.  Their openness with their ideas and interest in the ideas of others in the industry and outside it.

It’s a situation which feeds itself.

Sure, bars and bartenders need to make money.  But if they’re interested in cocktails and bar culture at all, they also want to make interesting drinks for people who are interested and appreciate what they are trying to do.  Whether it is other bartenders or us crazy Internet Cocktail Geeks.

If the only way for me to get a good cocktail is to make it myself, that is what I’ll do.  I’ll order beer or wine when I’m out, not cocktails.  Well, sometimes, I do just feel like wine or beer, but if the bartender is interested and engaged, I’m more likely to chance a drink.  And if it’s good I’m likely to come back another time.

And that’s the other side of what I enjoy about cooking, and what I enjoy about making drinks, whether at home or at a bar.  Not to get all new agey, but it’s an energy exchange.  It’s simple.  I make something I care about and give it to you.  You like it, maybe more than you thought you would, and give back.  That smile and that, “Wow!  That’s really good!  What is in that?”