Fear of Mixology

There has been a bit of public backlash recently against “Cocktailian” or “Mixology” bars.

As in these articles:

Complicated Cocktails“, Ali Zweben

Against Mixology“, Sarah Deming

Measure for Measure“, Karl Kozel

I’ve been biding my time up to now, but lately feel like maybe I can add a bit of zest to the debate.

First off, not every bar has to be for every person. Like restaurants, there are different types of bars for different types of customers. Maybe you like waiters in starched tuxedos serving you tiny jewels of food while you sweat in a tight suit and quiver with anus clenched excitement in an uncomfortable chair. Maybe I like to have a bacon hamburger served to me by a tatooed hipster in a dive bar.

We don’t all enjoy the same restaurants, why should we all enjoy the same bars?

What is it about bars, where if someone is attempting something other than the one or two accepted tropes, that it is perceived as alienating, where there is a whole range of accepted restaurant experiences?

But, you say, Bars are about going out, getting drunk, and having fun with your friends.

Well, sure, but not everyone’s idea of “fun” is the same thing. For you, maybe the cat’s pajamas is going out to a loud bar where there are five different sporting contests on three different screens and you do a shot every time each respective team scores. Well, that’s fun some of the time. Personally, I rarely care about sports, and would rather go out to a quiet bar and talk about music or geek out about cocktails with a well informed bartender, some cocktail and music geek friends. I don’t go out to a sports bar and try to debate the finer points of the Pegu Club with a jock bartender free pouring vodka red bulls, why should you expect that you should enjoy yourself at a bar catering to cocktailian patrons? Look around at the other customers, at the bartenders, at the back bar. What do you see? Do you feel like you fit in? If not, I hate to be harsh, but maybe this isn’t the place for you.

Jigger Pouring vs. Free Pouring. I used to not measure the cocktails I made for myself, friends, and family at home. Some times they were good, some times they were bad, and it was often the same cocktail. When I started the Savoy Cocktail Book project, I forced myself to measure, and found that my cocktails, if not improved, were at least consistent. I don’t know how to measure spirits by counting my pours, so I measure using a measuring cup or jigger. Other people know how to measure by counting their pours or by visually judging the amounts in clear mixing glasses. Awesome for them, but I’m 46 and don’t work in a Sports bar, so I am just not going to make the effort to learn how to free pour at this point in my life. And I don’t juggle bottles, either.

While you’re thinking about this, take a look at the bottles in the speed rail at your “local”, where the bartenders “Free Pour”. Do you see anything which would cost you MORE than $15 at retail? No? I didn’t think so. Now take a look at the bottles in the speed rail at Alembic or Heaven’s Dog. Do you see anything that would cost LESS than $15 at retail? Right, that bottle of Barbancourt 15 that we just poured in your “Rum and Honey” would probably set you back $40, or more, at the liquor store. A half ounce over-pour of Barbancourt 15 is costing the house significant money, especially when factored over days or weeks. A half an ounce over-pour of the rum flavored after shave you see on the speed rail at your local may be costing them less than the cola they are mixing it with. There is a reason we have to measure and they don’t.

Finally, a lot of people take issue with the more enthusiastic zealots of this new cocktailian wave of bartenders and mixologists. To be clear, we think America, and the rest of the world, was drinking pretty shit cocktails, for quite a few years. For those of us with any sort of podium, it is almost a matter of a righteous cause, that we use these outlets to improve the way people are drinking, and spread our agenda of drinking better. It’s not life or death, but we do think you will be happier drinking better spirits, liqueurs, mixers, and cocktails.

You don’t have to agree, and I’m always up for a healthy discussion on the topic, but I’ve found, in most cases, that the cocktails made with care and well selected ingredients speak for themselves, even to the coarsest of palates.


9 thoughts on “Fear of Mixology

  1. Completely agree with your post. Not sure what all the fuss is about. When you go to Taco Bell you shouldn’t expect foie gras and vice versa. If I’m in a bar that’s preaching the gospel, I’m happy as a clam, and I order off the cocktail menu or let the bartender be my guide. If I’m in the other kind of bar, which is most of ’em, especially when I visit my beloved relatives on the Jersey Shore, I order a Jack & Coke. Why? Because I have tried to order other stuff and the Jack & Coke is the one that won’t disappoint (most of the time). Having been building my home bar for the past few years, I know what the good stuff costs. Frankly, it’s the most expensive thing I own besides my wedding ring, the house, and the car. I’m happy to pay the $10 – $13 per cocktail if it’s done with great ingredients, care, thoughtfulness, and a good story.

    • Totally on board here as well. It think the point about different kinds of bars being for different things can’t be made enough, and I’m frustrated that people seem to keep missing it.

      I will admit to being a bit of a booze snob, but if I find myself in a bar that isn’t all about pre-prohibition cocktails and high-end craft spirits, I don’t get indignant that they don’t have the selection I’m used to–I order something that I know they’ll be able to make for me.

      The restaurant analogy is a good one. Do people go Flour + Water and try to order chicken tenders? Then why would you go to Alembic and try to order a vodka Red Bull? I do find it interesting that there is something about the experience of going to a bar that causes us to categorize it differently than our experience of going to a restaurant.

      • Thanks for the links. Predictable, straw man complaints still getting an airing, then. What I do find funny is when some of people who go out of their way to criticise cocktail bars invariably frequent more pretentious, more expensive, more flashy and less friendly bars on a frequent basis. The kind of cocktail bar I frequent tends to be warm and welcoming, with bartenders always ready to have a chat (whether it be about last night’s football or the new artisanal liqueur they’re stocking), are more geeky than showy, and are often more reasonably priced than the aspirational bars where the wannabe celebs hang out.

        And of course, the drinks are way better.

  2. It’s particularly hilarious to see people in New York City making these kinds of arguments. They have, what, hundreds, thousands of bars to choose from? If you don’t like how drinks are made in one place, find another bar. It’s not going to be that difficult. Talk about ranting for the sake of ranting.

    It’s especially peculiar to complain about measuring drinks. How is that stinting? At least if the bartender is measuring, you’re actually going to get the same amount of alcohol each time.

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