Myths of Mixology Debunked

A few dashes of vermouth

Fancy Fingers Pouring Technique – For Mo’ Better Flavor

Folks calling themselves “Mixologists” are truly strange characters. The truth is that they almost all suffer from an elevated inferiority complex. They bend over backwards to have you identify them, not as the plebian “bartender,” no… but as something much more – someone who studiously and methodically “crafts” your “beverage.” They’ve gathered their Turbinado Sugar, Organic Basil, Candied Ginger, and Fennel Seeds and have them all on tantalizing display in the bar trough – almost always in fancy little mason jars. There’s just one major problem: these people are fucking retarded slow at making drinks.

The minor, relatively annoying problems, are numerous. “Mixologists” often claim to have – you know – gone to “clown mixologist school” or have graduated from rigorous training programs that impart upon them knowledge not ever found in your pedestrian Bartender. In some cases, they even bring in actual chemists and slap bestow upon them the well-earned title of Beverage Director or Corporate Mixologist. These clowns know shit – shit like Moroccan Tea, Spring Flower, and California Watermelon infusions. They rattle off really, really important scientific beverage terms like (1) acidity (2) lactose (3) chlorophyll (4) distillate of blaa, blaa blaa and (5) essence of blaa blaa blaa. Corporate training-mandated marketing terms have been ingrained into their psyche to the point they can no longer speak like a human fucking being. They incessantly rattle of resume-words like (1) flavor profile (2) guests [as opposed to customers] (3) floral  (4) bouquet (5) pairing and (6) hints of a, b and c.

Mixologists travel extensively, scouring the far corners of the planet for the most obscure liquors like Chartreuse, Dubonnet, Benedictine, Strega and Grand Mariner (all of which can be found behind your ghetto’s PlexiGlass laden counter). They fucking love to concoct some new “herbacious” cocktails based on one of these rarefied cordials. They’ll attract all kinds of unnecessary attention with some fanciful long-pour, and have everyone in the heezy sip, gargle, nod, and concur how refreshing and balanced the New Shit happens to be. That’s because the tasters are usually under duress and risk a swift beating with the Corporate Bad-Schedule Stick should they really speak their minds. in reality, what the staff really wants is a simple-ass beer and a shot.

Mixologists can not function without a Jigger. It’s their Linus Blanket. Sure, most of them are decent at free-pouring but they’d rather amputate their big toes with a blunt butter knife and no anesthesia than be caught making a cocktail without a measuring device. Exact consistency (something many well-experienced NYC bartenders should be able to perform routinely – free-handed) is paramount.

If you’re anything like me, you’ve been hitting Bar Rescue on DVR - hard. I think I’ve caught up with every episode at this point. Like much of reality television, there are points where – as my wife puts it – “I have to go into my office.” Meaning: I cringe and put a pillow over my head because what I’m witnessing is so horrendously awful and backwards. A lot of what makes me cringes is (a) how awful most of the bartenders they showcase are at measuring and free-pouring and (b) the utter lack of basic bartending knowledge most of them have. The show has a predictable structure and I’m sure at least some of it is Snooki-like scripted. But, whatever… I still enjoy the hell out of it – even if I seriously disagree with some of Taffer’s recommendations and beliefs about the “cool factor.” I don’t know if some of his choices are the result of limited production/renovation budgets or simply not having spent enough time in bars in New York City, Los Angeles, Miami, Paris or Milan. Just about every bar rescue target is in the Mid-West or some other rural, strip mall setting.

Anyway, Taffer loves to bring in his A-Team, usually consisting of a Chef, and secondly, our aforementioned Mixologists. Some of these guys actually have a decent combination of speed, attractiveness, cleanliness and food/beverage knowledge. Some of them however, do some really stupid shit. Things like pouring backhanded, sticking out pinkies, pouring from two bottles in each hand simultaneously, pouring backhanded into jiggers, etc. are much more flair than function. Originally, I guessed some of what they were doing was camera fodder. However, looking back on where I’ve worked and whom I’ve worked with over the years, it’s not. These guys love to fucking show off. Yes, bartending is partially about presentation. But, there comes a time when enough is enough – you have to bury your heard, perform flawlessly, refrain from spilling 25% of the profits, and simply fucking crank out drinks for an extremely busy bar. In other words, at those times, you cannot afford to take 1 to 2 minutes to make a god-damned drink. Mixology often instills narcolepsy.

In the end, making an inventive, original, popular cocktail is about 35% science and 65% vodoo arts (read: subjectivity). In other words, it’s mostly a matter of personal taste. What one person finds visually appealing and pleasing to the palate, the next person can find repulsive. Crafting a winner is not akin to alchemy and is not limited to the skills of a so called Mixologist only.

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12 thoughts on “Myths of Mixology Debunked

  1. I have love/hate feelings towards the mixology thing. There is no greater sin in the restaurant business than slowness, and I’ve worked in a place where the fancy cocktails took DAYS to make. Unfortunately, those slow-ass cocktails are damn tasty. I’m more of a wine drinker but whenever I go to this spot, I have to try whatever the latest creation is (Fortunately the GM who does the crafting does not call himself a mixologist). I also hate the whole hipster-douche element of the term- yet I’ve been waited on by bartenders who completely non-pretentiously talked about how they make their bitters and other topics that pique my geekness.
    I’ll have to check out that show, sounds like a good guilty pleasure.

    • Yeah… Ditto. I love me some quality, OCD’ish, prohibition era inspired concoctions too. But, I know there is a right place and a right time for them. There’s a degree of “mixologist” in all us bartenders. Some are better informed and have mo skills than others, sure. I too want to bitch-slap snooty, close-minded, cocktail nerds.

    • I’ve been “Tending Bar” for 32 years and and I,ve seen these Mixologist,in action. They are fucking robots and not bartenders.Bar owners lose money on these people almost as bad as bartenders who have there hands in pockets (usually there own). Tending Bar isn’t just about drinks,it’s about people,watching them,Babysitting them and sometimes throwing they’re cocking fucking asses out. Not Fusion this and taking time to build a drink that someone s going to stir and fuck it all up. do that shit at your house when you get her home jerk off’s. Mixologist ! Please LMFAO

  2. I agree about the preteniousness , but I disagree that there isn’t validity to being passionate about stepping bartending up past vodka cranberries and budlight, not tat there is anything wrong with them. I LOVE making drinks that are out of the norm, I enjoy muddling herbs and shit and explaining to guests (yes, I call them guests) what Im doing and why .. if they ask. I dont see whats wrong with being excited about what you do. I think the term mixolgist is a little silly, and I love a shot of jameson at the end of the night.. but I also love making a really awesome whiskey sour with fresh lemon juice and caring enough not to feed people sour mix out of my gun. Just saying….

    • Thanks. I hear ya. I love being creative too. Furthermore, as much as it might sound like I’m a dick of a bartender, nothing could be further from the truth. I love people and I’m passionate about interactive with, conversing with, and serving people inventive cocktails. What I’m pointing out, is my disdain for pompous, fanboi pseudo-chemists who harp on title and stature. Those tend to run a muck around here, incessantly spewing their holier-than-thou, condescension.

  3. So what do you say about bartenders who do all of the things you mentioned above, but also hate the word Mixologist?

    …And your point about jiggers, you’d be equally lost without your speed pourers. Good look counting out that half ounce of absinthe from a wide-mouth bottle with no pourer.

    This entire piece just comes off as the rant of a “career bartender” who is extremely embittered with the shape the industry has taken in the past few years.

    The fact is a lot of the bartenders at places like Milk and Honey, Death and Company, PTD, Olive Branch, etc. are all trained to the 9s in product knowledge and flavor pairings as well as general bar management so I’m not sure if you’ve had poor experiences but to imply as many times as you have that you have a superior functional knowledge of what goes on behind a bar and the products involved is not only arrogant, but flat out wrong.

    Also to touch on your quip about burying your head in the well and cranking out drinks, first of all you should never have your head buried in the well. You should always be eyes up, regardless of what you’re doing. But you knew that with your breadth of experience, right? You seem really hung up on the time involved in preparing some of these drinks. May I suggest you stop going to places where you will wait in that manner? People like the drinks the way they are prepared and it’s a new aesthetic, industries don’t remain static and just because you do things differently than other bartenders gives you absolutely no grounds to pull a “holier than thou” piece out of your ass like this one.

    Yes Mixologist is a stupid word and also yes this entire piece after the first few sentences is a personal value judgement of an entire industry you don’t seem to fully understand.

    Times change, get with them or at the very least get over yourself.

    • Your the exact pretentious fag he just finished explaining. “Mixologist” is a word invented to make those bartenders who want to be hip and stylish feel better about themselves. It’s booze. That’s all. You pour it in a glass. Get over yourself

      • May I change the subject? hope you said yes cause im asking..How does one go about starting a school of bartending. I have the Bar, I have the years of experiance and Im no spring chicken now. Ive seen some of the Masterpieces the schools shove out at 6 to 8 hundred bucks and yeah they can cook ( Recipe,s) but they dont know crap when its all done.
        When they say “yes I can tend bar”. I say go for it and they dont know what to do..My ideah is good ..I send them into battle and they pay me for it..I gotta retire soon.
        Thanks.

  4. Thanks for the kind words, Mixologist Mike! You’ve got to be the Jerry Thomas of your generation, aren’t ya? It’s also clear that you’re easily able to decipher humor, jest and self-ridicule from responsibility, customer satisfaction, and the profit-chain circle. You’re an InterToobs wonder. More power to you bud.

  5. As a bartender in LA and one who watches Bar Rescue. You need to understand that it’s television. I know very well how reality tv works and a lot of it is staged and fake. Don’t believe everything you see on tv and I know a couple of the bartenders on the show and believe me when i say these guys can crank out drinks when they are 4-5 deep. I see what your saying in your post but again, it’s television. Just how like on storage wars, the production company plants the things in the storage unit and sells it back to the people that they originally bought from for the show.

  6. I totally get this rant. Good job! As a high-volume bartender who cranked out huge numbers in my time, I think bartenders who fuss over cocktails that aren’t cost-effective or efficient to make are amateurs who have probably never worked in a busy bar.

    Jigger? If you can’t free-pour accurately, then you aren’t a professional. Bar Rescue? I love the show, but after you’ve seen one, you’ve seen them all. The bartenders on the show remind me of the guys who did the bartending course, BarSmarts. (The course was so great that they had to give it away for free. Dying to learn some pearls of wisdom, I painfully went through the entire course. What a waste of my time. It has very little to do with actual bartending.)

    There’s nothing wrong with caring about your job and your customers (customers pay, guests do not). You should care very much and in turn, you should be treated with respect. The new focus on “mixology” does give bartenders more credibility, but the truth is that we should be treated by our employers like the money-making machines that we are. Bartenders are the reason bar owners drive nice cars.

    The job of a good bartender is challenging beyond the comprehension of most people, requiring the stamina of a
    marathon runner, the strength of a weight-lifter, the patience of
    a kindergarten teacher and the palate of a connoisseur. Not to
    mention long-term memory, short-term memory and multi-tasking skills. Plus the ability to perform mathematical calculations at the speed of light, pour liquor with delicate precision and smile at drunk, rude and obnoxious customers. Let’s not forget to add that these tasks are often carried out with sore feet, in dim lighting and with ear-piercing music pounding in your ears.

    Mixologist? Liquid Chef? Bartender? Call me whatever you want, just leave a tip for my service.

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