In all the years spent bartending and being around bartenders I’ve come to the conclusion that a really good bartender is a genius. Very few bartenders, however, either realise it or pursue it to fully optimize their potential.
The more I think about it the more convinced I become. Let’s analyse my theory.
What makes a truly great bartender? He must have a deep knowledge of every bottle in his/her bar, and even those that are not! He should be able to use that information to communicate with his guests and in the way he constructs his cocktails.
A great bartender also presents his cocktail in an appropriate glass and dresses it in the right “garnish” to make it look attractive. But long before that he observes guests as they walk in, gauges their company and figures what the occasion may be.
He also listens carefully to individual preferences and conversations to be able to tailor his offerings. He is patient with rants, joyous with celebrations and sympathises with sorrow. All of this while pouring a drink, shaking or stirring or pulling a beer from the tap.
You’re wondering where this is going! Here goes. In my mind a bartender is part scientist, part artist, part historian, part analyst, part psychologist, part chef, part dreamer, entertainer, skilled communicator and orator.
Skill and art
He knows current news and old, is able to discuss sports and music and smile through it all without involving himself in any topic at hand. All of these people in one. Think about it!
To be able to fully comprehend the method behind my madness, one needs to first understand the concept of Mixology. It begins with lands far and near, their history, culture, tradition, geography, their flora and fauna, their palate and the people.
This allows us to understand the ideology behind native alcoholic beverages. And that takes us to the techniques of fermentation, brewing, distilling and maturing. The effect of the elements of nature like water, grain, weather, location and wood on the entire process to getting to what we sip in the glass.
The nuances and flavours that arise out of these and the respect we give the skilled artisans behind every drop. The complexities of esters and aldehydes, essential oils, of friction and density, solutions and suspensions, of atoms and molecules that shift shape while being shaken or stirred.
The squeeze of a fruit, snap of a spice or a tiny hint of a herb that just wafts past – the how’s and why’s of what finally makes it to the glass.
The artist in him knows the colour wheel; its secondary and tertiary combinations that form the hue that lights up your eye; picking the colourful array of bottles with precision; the finishing with complementary or contrasting effects, not only to the eye but also the nose and the palate.
The myriad little things that matter before a delicious drink finally sits before the customer – all while paying attention to his/her words, actions and needs, flipping an occasional bottle, chatting affably, smiling.
Yes, it was a “Eureka” moment for me too when I finally understood what I needed to do if I wanted to be truly brilliant. I was actually able to put the science I studied to real use and see it work; build my personality and draw from everything I had learned along the way; then go above and beyond expectations in everything that I did.
To be the best one can be at whatever we are passionate about; to learn as much as we can and keep it constant. Have a deep respect for what puts food on the table and those that help you get there. Share with those less fortunate and imbibe in them a sense of the genius they could be too.