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BarBot and Personality

In the pursuit of performing the technical functions of our jobs well, I see a common mistake of homogenizing our personalities; allow me to relate my own recent story of this to you for example of what may actually occur:

As I have continued to work more hours in my career as a bartender, further pushing myself into allowing it to consume my life, I found an inability to expose much of myself to those people around me, be they co-workers or guests. Still holding myself to high standards of “service”, I learned to turn off those parts of my personality which could expose me to possible negativity – creating what my close friends have branded “BarBot”.

A consummate service industry professional, BarBot has programs and subroutines for just about every imaginable situation – lifelike smiling and laughing, efficiency of movement geared towards drink production, adaptive subroutines for stress-inducing situations, and much more… For anyone who does not know me personally, BarBot is a stunningly realistic representation of a real person.

My realization of the potential problem of BarBot (the generic service-industry personality) came during a recently stressful time when my friend and barmate Steve requested something seemingly simple of me: He wanted to work with Brian that Thursday, not BarBot.

Powering down the service-industry machine proved more difficult than I might have imagined; I certainly made technical mistakes, and very well may have slightly offended a number of guests without ever having intended to. Plainly speaking, I had become unpracticed at being myself while also providing service to others.

Here’s the kicker, though: By the end of the evening, I had created and furthered real relationships with both a number of my guests AND strengthened my friendship with Steve, all at the minor cost of making a number of minor technical mistakes. In my mind, this is a mutually beneficial trade-off – and I’ve been putting real efforts into turning off the Bot in each shift since then.

I would love to see more people as a whole turning off BarBot, or ServerBot, or any other ProfessionBot, to take the real, somewhat scary chance at creating genuine relationships with those that they interact with on a regular basis.

I implore, please take a look at what you’re doing in the same way that I was asked to: If you’re giving stock answers, constantly repeating yourself in your words and actions, go ahead and turn off the Bot for a few minutes, allow yourself to make mistakes, and, just maybe, come out with a few stronger friendships because of it. Until next time,

Cheers,

BA

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A Few Words on Perspective and Service

Tending a bar puts a person in a particularly interesting position, by the very nature of the physical layout of the establishment: Firmly at the center of a series of interactions. The best bartenders, in my opinion, are able to comfortably embrace this position without letting their egos consume their actions.

Being in this center is, perhaps, the most personally important part of my career as a bartender. Whereas in my daily life, I often find my viewpoint somewhat restricted by my shifting circumstances, being behind a bar often provides me with an ability to observe in 360 degrees; my best, most memorable shifts have taken advantage of this to build real relationships with people I may have never met outside of my work.

As previously mentioned, though, this position can easily become fraught with error by an overt involvement of the bartender’s ego. Should it not be our job to use this central position to create better opportunities for the lives of each guest who enters into our space? All too often, though, this position can become one of dominance rather than easy-going flow; “If you don’t like what I made, fuck you”, as has been stated verbally (and with frowns and glares) by perhaps one too many bartenders.

Whereas my writing for cocktail construction is fairly straightforward, the idea of writing on the importance of real service is still a difficult one for me. In general, I’m much more keen on sharing those things which create positive change through positive messages. With that in mind, I hope you’ll bear with me as I point out something which might be somewhat uncomfortable:

As bartenders, I believe it to be our duty to ensure that each guest who enters our space leaves enriched for having spent their time, their money, and their efforts in order to visit us. To accomplish this, it is of primary importance to leave our egos at the door: Because we are not other people, and they are not us, it is not our job to firmly force our opinions on anyone, including ourselves. An open, inquisitive mind is an absolute necessity in order to finally take advantage of the central position that we might all find ourselves in, either behind a bar, or in other circumstances in life.

Perhaps, if given the opportunity, you can take this challenge to heart: In the next series of interactions you find yourself in behind a bar, take yourself out of the equation for just a moment (by asking: What would be best for this person, regardless of my own opinions of self?), and strive to truly provide service to a guest, with no necessity for compensation in that moment. Though I understand the necessity of receiving payment due to the nature of business, for that one moment, put your all into understanding how to best please the guest who has chosen to reside in your space, by letting go of the strict boundaries imposed by self-gratification.

I know it’s made my nights better, and continues to do so each time I practice it. I sincerely hope that it might do the same for someone else, as well. Until next time,

Cheers,

BA

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Drink Feature 3: Downhill From Here

Inspired by the information on Joe Scialom in Jeff “Beachbum” Berry’s Potions of the Caribbean, I sought to make a cocktail from one of my favorite under-used liqueurs, Stroh Jagertee.

This Austrian “Hunter’s Tea” can be made at home from dark rum, black tea, red wine, plum brandy, spices, and sometimes orange juice. The bottled, pre-made version from Stroh comes in two proofs state-side: 80 and 160 proof. Both have a pronounced caramel-and-spice flavor built on top of a rum base, making them ideal for use in an off-kilter tropical drink.

Inspired by the “Suffering Bastard”, here are my new takes on Mr. Scialom’s classic:

DOWNHILL FROM HERE

2.0 oz Stroh Jagertee

5 dashes acidified Angostura Bitters

4-5 oz Ginger Beer (I use Fentiman’s for mine)

Build over ice in a highball glass, decorating with a mint sprig and fan of cucumber.

Simple to build and reminiscent of a more tropically-spiced Dark and Stormy, the Downhill From Here is named after Stroh’s popularity in ski lodges in the Alps (proving, perhaps, that tropical flavors can find themselves just about anywhere). Deceptively easy to drink because of the density of flavors provided by my acidification of Angostura bitters, going downhill can quickly lead to:

NO BRAKES

1.0 Stroh Jagertee

1.0 Stroh 80

5 dashes acidified Angostura Bitters

4-5 oz Ginger Beer (Fentiman’s again, preferably)

Build over ice in a highball glass, garnish with mint and cucumber, and sip cautiously for fear of unseen trees in your path.

Hopefully this deceptively simple-to-prepare drink might make it into your summer parties, skis or no. Until next time,

Cheers,

BA

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Mod Your Bitters: Stirred Tiki

Tiki and tropical drinks have been my favorites from the start of my drinking experience – but, as I’ve progressed as a bartender, my tastes have definitely trended more towards the stirred, more densely alcoholic cocktail. My question was: How can I find a middle ground between the two without compromising on the overall quality of the drink?

Rum is not well known for its stirred cocktails for good reason: It lacks the tannic strength of whiskeys, and does not capitalize on the cleanliness of gin or vodka. No, rum’s strengths lie in an amazing complement of fruit flavors, as well as a balanced sweetness to complement the alcohol content’s bitterness.

Whiskey (and brandy as well, though not as prominently) is balanced in classic cocktails primarily by the addition of sweetener; think old-fashioneds, Manhattans, and Sazeracs, each with a sweet component to compliment the tannins imparted by oak.

Gin is accentuated primarily by a clean, mostly acidic ingredient: Dry vermouth. Clean, beautifully expressed herbal, floral, citrus, and botanical content is the name of the game for stirred gin cocktails.

Rum falls somewhere in-between. Already possessing its own sweetness (as well as a full arsenal of sweet-associated aromas), it requires a certain amount of acidity in order to reach full expression within a cocktail. This brings a problem for classic cocktails, though: Citrus juice and the occasional shrub are the only ways to incorporate acidity, and both have a tendency to ruin stirred cocktails.

So, with stirred cocktails as a class of drinks which prioritizes concentration of alcohol within balance of flavors, rum is often left out – unable to achieve the sort of body provided by either tannin or cleanliness, the stirred rum cocktail remains the sole territory of rum enthusiasts.

Let’s change that, by incorporating acidity in a different concentration than is provided by citrus or vinegar. And what better way to do it than by modifying our own favorite “dash” additive, Angostura Bitters?

ACID ANGO

For each ounce of Angostura Bitters, add 1 teaspoon of a blend of citric (citrus), malic (apples), and tartaric (grape) acids as well as 1/8 of a teaspoon of high-quality sea salt. Stir until all solids are dissolved (this takes a considerable amount of time), and rebottle with the wonderfully-calibrated dasher cap provided by Angostura.

Now, we’ve equipped ourselves with a tool with which to add a complement of spices (from the age-old Angostura recipe), a small modicum of acidity, and a tiny dash of salt to further integrate all of the flavors within a cocktail. What better way to accentuate all of the desirable characteristics of rum?

The template that follows is widely applicable to a variety of spirits, but uses the natural sweetness of rum to its best effect: Being balanced with acidity to create a truly delicious drink.

MR. NANCY

2.0 oz spirit (Rum, of course)

.5 oz sweetener (syrup, liqueur, or amaro)

3 dashes Acid Ango

Combine all ingredients with ice in a shaker tin, stirring until a pleasant frost develops on the exterior. Strain into a coupe, garnishing with a twist of citrus complementary to the flavors of the cocktail.

At once silky-smooth, densely alcoholic, and and balanced by acidity – all while being integrated by salt and a highly-regarded bitters recipe from the house of Angosturs – this template can be best demonstrated by a cocktail inspired by the only place I’ve ever been happy to call home: New Orleans. Referred to in local parlance as the “Northernmost tip of the Caribbean”, island time prevails – withing the context of a city which greatly values spirits and spirituous cocktails. Therefore, let me offer you:

JUST THE TIP

2.0 oz Zaya 12-year-old Trinidad Rum

.5 oz Cynar

3 dashes Acid Ango

Stir with plenty of ice and strain into the most island-centric coupe you can find, garnishing with a twist of orange expressed over the drink. Try it out, see how it feels – and until next time,

Cheers,

BA

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Cocktail Template: The Bridge

In working with our three varieties of cordials (sweetener-based, juice-based, and steeped), we can create opportunities for new cocktails that bridge the gap between two main classes of drinks: Those based on a balance with acid, and those intended to be enjoyed for their bitterness.

Without further ado, I present to you the Bridge cocktail template, one of my own invention:

THE BRIDGE

3 parts spirit

2 parts cordial

1 part bitter liqueur

Combine all ingredients, shake, and double-strain up into a coupe. This template falls directly in-between our two previously divided categories of cocktails, combining portions of acidity, sweetness, and bitterness to balance whichever spirit is selected.

Completely open to interpretation, substitutions can be made for any of all three ingredients to create entirely new drinks; in addition, it works equally well on the rocks, with soda, and with egg whites.

Proportions can be adjusted readily for those who enjoy more bitterness, more along the lines of 2 parts spirit, 1 part cordial, and 1 part bitter liqueur.

Some of my favorite applications follow:

JALISCO BRIDGE

1.5 oz Blanco Tequila

1.0 oz Honey Cordial

.5 oz Campari

Shaken and served up, this one works beautifully with a salted rim; served tall with soda, it’s a dead ringer for the flavors of a Paloma.

LONDON BRIDGE

1.5 oz London Dry Gin

1.0 oz Earl Grey Cordial

.5 oz Averna Amaro

1 egg white

Dry Shake all ingredients before adding ice to shake and double-strain into a coupe. Full of botanical power, the tannins of earl grey tea are softened by the egg white.

OAXACAN BRIDGE

1.5 oz Espadin Mezcal

1.0 oz Hibiscus Cordial

.5 oz Amargo-Vallet

Well-suited to being served on the rocks, consider a rim of spicy salt with the Oaxacan Bridge as well.

HAITIAN BRIDGE

1.5 oz Rhum Barbancourt 8

.75 oz Pineapple Juice Cordial

.75 oz Gran Classico Bitter

Outright tropical flavors are skewed against a prominent bitterness and elevated by Gran Classico’s herbal content to create a drink equally suited for the bar and the beach.

BOURBON COUNTY BRIDGE

1.5 oz Bourbon

1.0 oz Maple Syrup Cordial

.5 oz Fernet Branca

Served on the rocks and garnished with a mint leaf, this cocktail takes advantage of the outright mintiness of Fernet Branca while rounding out the other herbal flavors and bitterness with oaken sweetness.

The Bridge is a drink template that’s hard to go wrong with – follow the proportions, adjust to personal taste, and you can have an all-weather drink that’s open to experimentation and perfect to start or end an evening with. Until next time,

Cheers,

BA

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Think Outside the (Citrus) Juice Box

Lemon and lime juice have long held a position of great importance in mixed drinks. With the advent of modern processing methods, though, we’re presented with many other options in how to incorporate acidity into our cocktails. What follows are my top 5 reasons for beginning to drink outside the juice box:

Number One: Acid Qualities

Different acids create different taste sensations. Lemon juice predominantly provides citric acid, imparting a “bright” characteristic; lime blends citric and malic acids to express both “bright” and “crisp” tastes, respectively. Meanwhile, three other readily available concentrated acids can provide especially different taste qualities: Lactic acid (fermented, creamy), tartaric acid (tannic, “grapey”), and phosphoric acid (dry, powdery). Using these provides a greater control over the final product, as well as a greater ability to integrate flavors effectively.

Number Two: Flavor Variety

Countless spirits, liqueurs, and natural sweeteners create a broad range of available flavors in the alcoholic and sweet categories, with bitter liqueurs further expanding on, well, bitter qualities. By utilizing acids in the form of agrumes and cordials, an equal variety of flavors can be integrated as sour components.

Number Three: Color Variety

Before ever taking a first sip, color and presentation of a drink create perceptions as to how the drink will taste. Care for a red drink? Keep the color vibrant by using an hibiscus agrumes or cordial. Green more your speed? From mint to green tea, many leaves and herbs can impart a purer green color. Orange strike your fancy? Saffron, turmeric, and annato seed all fit the bill.

Number Four: Clarity

The natural fruit fibers in lemon and lime juice necessitate a drink being somewhat opaque. Breaking free of this using pure infusions into water guarantees a level of clarity which is difficult and time-consuming to achieve with fresh fruit juices.

Number Five: Consistency

Particularly in locales which experience a wide range of temperatures, quality and freshness of fruit can vary wildly during a year; this means that, at best, a drink made with fruit juice will rely on the season, making it at peak drinkability for only a short time. Controlling acidity with pure acids ensures consistent drinks across time.

By all means, don’t stop using lemon and lime juice solely in favor of the methods I’ve written about; rather, consider these agrumes and cordials as further tools to create the drinks that you want to create. A more accurate translation of your desired final product always shows through in the smile on a recipient’s face!

Check out my introduction to agrumes here: https://chemicallyassisted.com/2014/09/29/aqua-agrumes-part-1/

And cordials, here: https://chemicallyassisted.com/2014/11/17/an-introduction-to-cordials/

Until next time,

Cheers,

BA

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Steeped Cordials: Green Tea

Flavored syrups are all the rage in many modern cocktail bars. When looking for a way to spice up a sour, refreshing cocktail, many bartenders will elaborate on a Sour template by infusing simple syrup with any variety of flavorings.

What happens to these flavors when included in a cocktail with lemon or lime, though? Many end up getting “lost in translation” (particularly some of the more delicate and subtle aromas found in fine teas), muddied by the addition of lemon or lime juice.

A fine remedy to this comes in the form of our Steeped Cordial, a combination of any water-soluble ingredient (tea is a fine example) with both sugar and acid – creating a sweet and tart balance with a pure, directed flavor. For example:

GREEN TEA CORDIAL

1 tablespoon Japanese Sencha green tea

8 oz water, near-boiling

8 oz white sugar

2 teaspoons malic acid

¼ tsp salt

Begin by steeping the Sencha tea in the near-boiling water for 5 minutes; the infusion should produce a grass-green color with strong aromas of sea air, walnuts, and a hint of vegetation. Strain the tea from the infusion, then add all dry ingredients, stirring to combine. Because of the high level of acid and moderate addition of salt, cordials made in this way have a particularly long shelf life (up to a month without flavors degrading, if refrigerated).

With flavors reminiscent of both land and sea in addition to a significant umami, our Green Tea Cordial can be put to use with a wide variety of spirits in a traditional Gimlet (try it with gin, rhum agricole, and blanco tequila), and is equally delightful when combined with soda, as in the following recipe:

GREEN TEA FIZZ

1.5 oz London Dry Gin

1.0 oz Green Tea cordial

1 egg white

4 oz soda water

Combine gin and cordial with the egg white, dry shaking before adding ice and shaking vigorously. Prepare a highball glass by adding a splash of soda water in the bottom (no ice), and strain the cocktail over the top of it to produce a great initial foaming. Add the rest of the soda water and serve with a straw.

In the next article, we’ll take a look at how to elaborate on this basic template using other water-soluble ingredients including hops and hibiscus. Until then,

Cheers,

BA