Ask the bartender: Keep it simple, bartenders!
Sean Kenyon knows how to pour out both drinks and advice. A third-generation bar man with almost 25 years behind the bar, he is a student of cocktail history, a United States Bartenders Guild-certified Spirits Professional and a BAR Ready graduate of the prestigious Beverage Alcohol Resource Program. You can find him behind the bar at Squeaky Bean -- and here every week, where he'll answer your questions.
Q. What trends would you like to see develop in the world of bartending and mixology?
A. Wow, big question. I'd like to see two things. First and foremost, a renewed focus on guest service and hospitality has to happen. Our craft has had a bright spotlight for the last year or so, and many "mixologists" have become increasingly focused on what's happening behind their bars rather than concentrating their attention on the most important factor of our success, the guests.
My advice to mixologists? Be a bartender first, mixologist second (to me, calling a bartender a mixologist is like calling a janitor a custodial engineer; it's a fancy name for the same thing). Entertain, make people smile; know about current events, local happenings, sports; recommend other places; talk less about yourselves and ask more about your guests. Make people feel welcome, as cheesy as it sounds: Everybody wants that Cheers experience where the all the regulars and staff at a bar yell "(insert your name here)" when they walk in the door. My father is the best bartender I've ever known; he's had the same people coming to his bars for the past forty years, and it's not because he makes his own bitters (he doesn't) or wows his guests with his latest spherification techniques (he doesn't even know what that is, nor would he care). It's because he makes the people on the other side of the bar feel like they are welcome guests in his home.
For some time, I lost myself in a singular focus on making my recipes and methodology perfect, and forgot the real reason I love to be behind a bar, the people. Our guests are the fuel that keeps the hospitality engine running. That realization was a turning point to my career and my life. I can't imagine doing anything else. (Thank you to those who helped me see the light -- you know who you are.)
Second, KISB (keep it simple, bartenders). A great cocktail is the sum of the ingredients and the care in preparing the fine libation. I have a great respect for those in our profession who have embraced the "molecular mixology" movement. While there is a huge WOW factor in their creations, in my opinion the end result lacks the warmth that I associate with a great cocktail expereince. While molecular mixology is incredible, It's just not for me. I believe that a cocktail does not need seven or more ingredients to make it amazing or even innovative. I've grown tired of seeing cocktail menus with paragraph-long descriptions and obscure ingredients. The true challenge for a great bartender is to do more with less. There is real beauty in simplicity, and it is far more difficult to create an amazing, balanced, three-ingredient cocktail than it is to make one with seven.
These days, when I conceive cocktails, I stop at five ingredients. If a drink needs more than that to taste great, I don't want it on my menu. Need examples? Take a look at a few of the most iconic cocktails in history: the Manhattan (three ingredients), the Sazerac (four), the Sidecar (three), the margarita (three), the martini (two-three).
I will leave you with an amazing three-ingredient cocktail, the Sidecar. It first appeared in print in 1922 (Harry McElhone's ABC's of Mixing Drinks). Many have screwed this one up over the years by adding extra ingredients. My spirits of choice are in parentheses.
1.5 oz. Cognac or Brandy (Hennessey VSOP or Germain-Robin VSOP)
.75 oz. Orange Curacao (Grand Marnier)
.75 oz. fresh lemon juice
Add all ingredients into a mixing glass. Add ice and shake. Strain into a chilled cocktail glass half-rimmed with sugar. Garnish with a lemon wheel.
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