Shatbhi Basu: Orchestrating the perfect bar experience

Shatbhi Basu: Orchestrating the perfect bar experience

At a recent conference I was asked what I thought of the new crop of bartending students. Are they as serious about learning as we were? It got me thinking. There are seldom bad students, but often bad or indifferent teachers.

It is up to the teacher to know the difference between teaching and sharing knowledge that their audience can absorb and learn from. Not to look down upon them, but to reach into their psyche and speak to them in a language that they understand – to connect.

This is what wakes them up, opens their mind and allows them to shape their future.

Not just to be stern but also to laugh with them. Most of all, to help them believe in themselves, that they can achieve their dreams. We have the ability to shape their minds and their careers and we must use this power with responsibility.

Nurturing genius

It’s not enough to simply give them direction, but to steer them on to the path of right. We must encourage them, give them a pat on the back… yet correct them when their interpretations of specific methodology are wrong.

In my mind, a great bartender is an absolute genius. Look at all s/he needs to know and then apply. S/he’s an artist as a well-made cocktail is visual art – the coming together of texture, colour, contrasts and presentation.

A part-scientist who understands atoms, molecules, friction, density, temperature, emulsions and suspensions – in short, physics and chemistry! S/he works with a range or aromatics to balance flavour and nose, has flair and style, presence of mind, communication skills, a sense of humour.

S/he is a psychoanalyst too – defining the consumer, understanding his/her taste profile, preferences, analysing his/her mood, who s/he’s with, his/her needs at a point in time. An entertainer, storyteller – going above and beyond the customer’s expectations. Seriously!

Which is why I’m often in the midst of a dilemma: bartender or mixologist? Is there one without the other? How does one define a mixologist? Is it as simple as just someone who mixes drinks, shakes cocktails, even creates a few? Can one become a mixologist before barely touching upon the immense complexities of good bartending? Are both these terms synonymous?

Beyond ordinary

One knows that you need to bartend for a few years, to learn all the subtle nuances of mixology. Go beyond the ordinary, deep into the underbelly of the spirited world. Emerge steeped in the hows-n-whys. Walk inside the minds of the customer.

Succeed at least reasonably well, before deeming oneself a mixologist! Maybe I’m old fashioned – or completely in the wrong. You decide!

For me the bar is like a philharmonic orchestra. Like every musical instrument, every bottle has something special to offer: a history, a tradition and skilled hands that created the liquid inside.

They capture all our senses… The myriad hues and shades of colour of the spirits, wines or beer; the touch of a shaker or a cold glass; the resounding bell of crystal glasses or the tinkle of ice going in them.

The aroma of fruits, herbs and spices that mingle with the spirits and the soul of their terroir. The bartender, the maestro directing all of the elements to come together in a beautiful symphony that bursts into song in the mouth. Magical!