A Companion for the Young Imbiber

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Falling Off The Radar

Posted by drinkscompanion on May 4, 2008

This blog was never really meant to be a serious thing, more like a way to reiterate in words the things I had been learning.  That’s how I reinforce education, by writing about it, taking notes, or talking about it with people.  When this blog was created, I didn’t have an outlet for that – I simply didn’t work at bars where I could geek out with customers and coworkers.  Now that I do, I find that most of my free time is spent reading books about spirits and cocktails, blogs, and on the occasional night off, visiting friends at their bars.

For the first time in a while, I have three days off in a row.  I quite literally have no idea what to do with myself.  And then I remembered I had a blog once, back in the day when I was a teenager, before I had status and before I had a pager.   It was fun, but then I got busy (read: lazy) and just couldn’t keep up (read: drinking too much).

That’s all.  I haven’t given up completely, but almost.  

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(( General Discussion ))

Posted by drinkscompanion on October 24, 2007

Spoiling The Kids

I keep hearing we’ve entered the second great cocktail renaissance, a time when the craft of bartending is returning to a professional prestige of the 1890s, that much-loved and heralded Golden Age. That was a time when the craft of a bar was a thing of wonder: tall gentleman in pinstripe shirts and bow ties mixing drinks for their customers, consulting a library of spirits and an arsenal of house-made bitters, all the while being earnestly watched by an apprentice. These were not the bars of our modern era, by and large. No, these were meant for a higher echelon of society, the caste of cosmopolitan culture imbued with their Old World traditions of formality and pedigree. The Bar Man, it seems, lived up to that expectation with his professionalism and knowledge, his depth of skill and a profound passion for the craft. It’s sad – so miserably depressing – that those Debbie Downers of the Temperance League ruined what had been such a fine party. Thanks to the Volstead Act and the 18th Amendment, the profession was thrown to the perils of bootleg liquor (with its substantial impurities) and the exportation of the industry’s finest bar men to foreign lands. And then it really started getting bad.

But things seem to be recovering from Prohibition – finally. According to people who’ve worked much, much longer in the industry than I have, a remarkable transition in the last ten or so years has occurred; customers, by and large, are much more likely to consult a specialty cocktail list than ever before. They’re willing to experiment, to talk with their bartender about what’s going on in the glass, and ultimately to learn what cocktails can do past being an inebriant. We’re coming to a time again, I’m beginning to feel, when the bartender is not only getting more respect, but is holding up his or her end of the bargain. He is the beacon of knowledge in the room, the bad ass that can have extensive discourse on the virtues of large ice, the importance of bitters, how great whiskey is, and always willing to share other places a customer can get a good drink – all at the same time, and with different people. It’s an art in its organization, research, and finesse, and I find it amazing when it comes across as effortless.

It’s this customer-bartender relationship that has allowed so many cocktail-centered bars to open up. They fuel the forward progression of each other, obviously, and I’m very excited to be working in two places now that are at the forefront of that movement in slightly different, though connected, ways. There is an expectation at that level to know your shit – to really know your shit – because the customer knowledge base now is so vast.

Here’s looking at you, fellow internet cocktail geeks.

I’m not trying to pat myself or anyone else on the back. I’m just really happy that there are more and more places popping up that employ dedicated and passionate bartenders, and that they are successful because people want them around. Simple economics – supply and demand – and it’s awesome.

I’m wondering now about the next evolutionary step. At what point do we as bartenders cease being mere booze slingers, and become more like a cook in our practice and education? We find ourselves in the kitchen more and more these days, using the cook’s techniques and consulting the chef on flavor combinations, so why not bridge this gap even more? Eben Freeman’s work at Tailor is a good example of this, where the kitchen and the bar work very, very closely together. Perhaps this is my own personal inclination and interest in the world of cooking, an interest that often has me reading Michael Ruhlman’s and Anthony Bourdain’s books with the intensity of a Harry Potter novel. How lame, I know, but I can’t help myself. It’s like crack.

The mentality of a cook, and the determination with which cooks address their work, either fits with our profession or just my personal ethos – I’m not sure which. If bartenders were trained as cooks, or in the same manner and philosophy as cooks, I think the industry would evolve in absolutely amazing ways. Can you imagine if that particular barrier between front- and back-of-house were broken down in some way? If you’ve ever seen the beauty that is an efficient line during service, you probably know what I mean – God damn it’s inspiring.

And yet the bartender already exists in an odd world of server/cook, expected to provide strong service and produce a quality product at the same time, but I think for myself something more can be done. As I look to the future of my own career, I can’t help thinking about what I can do to be different, to be special. I want to have such a vast understanding of not only the stuff that would normally be found at a high-end bar, but also have an understanding of flavors so deep that I can pick from the hat of classic culinary education in my work. I want to conquer the go-to formulas for cocktails and branch outward. I’m really not sure how to do it, but there are vague murmurings somewhere in mind. Should I think seriously about culinary school? Beg the kitchen to let me work with them? I’m not sure…

Ultimately, I want my customer to take a sip, eyes widen slightly, and stare into their glass, if only for the slightest moment, with the look of Wow.

That’s my utopian idea, and that’s my personal nirvana.

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(( New Stuff ))

Posted by drinkscompanion on August 23, 2007


Adventures in Molecular Gastronomy From Behind the Bar

For about five months now, I’ve been “on staff” with a new restaurant that’s very soon to open. There’s been a ton of press, notable principles, and a whole lot of hoopla – all without the doors even opening. Now, after months of waiting, it’s about to start.

In the coming months, I’ll do my best to write about this adventure in all things molecular. The chef is well known, but the bar manager is really the draw for me. He’s been around for quite some time, gaining a notable reputation for pushing this industry of ours to innovate – never to stagnate. As someone who’s rooted in the classics (almost to a fault), I’m excited to learn these new techniques and flavor combinations.

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(( Introductions ))

Posted by drinkscompanion on August 6, 2007

Most nights, when the weather and mood is right, we step out on our terrace and sit with a cocktail, glass of fine whisky, a bottle of beer, or a goblet of wine, enjoying the night air, the mellow conversations of our nearby neighbors, and the hum of our surrounding Brooklyn. We sit, talk about the world and our lives, but invariably our conversation turns to the glass or bottle in our hands. We find ourselves fascinated, intrigued, disgusted, inspired by the Drink – something more than an indifferent imbibing, something like religious or scientific interest. Sure, we’d like to pretend a drink is never a means to an end, never the medication to ail a stressful day or an avenue to escape. We’d like to, but we’d be lying.

Sometimes it’s nice and fun to drink too much, enjoy life in a different perspective, and fall together with unexpected people in wholly unexpected places just for the hell of it. We’ve done it, and we’ll damn well do it again.

But that’s not why we’re here.

The writing of this journal – this companion to the young imbiber – is meant as an exploration of the fascinating world of spirits and cocktails, beers and wines, food and night life, and almost anything else that might cross our path. We live and work in New York City, so forgive us if we seem too focused on our surroundings – flights are expensive. We say ‘young’ for only one reason: because we are young (mid-20s, perhaps) and because we are ignorant, still very much in the process of learning. We spend hours working behind some of Manhattan’s bars every week, and while this in itself has taught us a lot, there is a whole world out there full of dialogue and fascinating people who can teach us so much more. They write their own blogs and contribute to various magazines and publications. While we respect and aspire to that level of knowledge, and spend a substantial (some say pathetic) amount of time reading their works, there are far too few people documenting the road to becoming an expert. We are not experts in experience or palate, so we’ll do our best to steer clear of didactic and unnecessary reviews because, frankly, we’ll end being wrong.

We’d like to be experts. We’d like it very much, thank you, but we have a long way to go.

Therefore, this journal is meant as a companion to our education from the perspective of young, passionate bartenders as we explore from behind our own bars and bent-elbowed, keen, and wide-eyed at our favorite night time spots on the other side of the stick. We work at various levels within the restaurant and bar world, seeing very different perspectives of what many think to be the same thing, so we hope that by writing this, we can inspire more young people to take a passionate interest in the profession without focusing too much on the prestige of their restaurant or bar. We’d love to see a bartender at a dive bar use bitters, ask “rye or bourbon?”, and stir a Manhattan if we were big enough jerks to order one.

Be warned: we’re total geeks about this stuff. If the reader expects detailed accounts of the debaucheries last month that started at an Irish pub in SoHo, made its way to a party boat that circled the island, somehow got into an after hours spot in the East Village with those terrible, terrible margaritas that we can’t stop ordering, and for one reason or another ended at dawn with us convincing a guy named Mark from Texas to drive us over the bridge to our apartment, all the while getting a hefty 5:00am sermon on the virtues of this-or-that by our jolly host, you’re probably not gonna get it. We’re here to talk about the things we learn and observe, the experiences we have that teach us something, our evolving opinions, and the general world surrounding our profession. We’re newbies, and that’s totally awesome.

If the reader finds all this interesting, good. If it sparks conversation, all the better. If not, at least we get to flush out our thoughts and ideas.

To quote the text for which this blog is partly inspired, and from where we respectively pilfer our name: “…we are still heartily of the opinion that decent libation supports as many million souls as it threatens; donates pleasure and sparkle to more lives than it shadows; inspires more brilliance in the world of art, music, letters, and common ordinary intelligent conversation, than it dims – as even a brief glance into the history of our finest lyric poets, musicians, artists, authors, and statesmen, will attest – right from the day of Wull Shaksper to our own generation” (The Gentleman’s Companion, Vol II, Charles H Baker Jr.).

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