After eight years of working in the N.Y. hospitality industry, I have noticed the term mixologist has been thrown around a lot in the past few years; especially with the growing trend of infusing liquors and using specialty bitters.
The Oxford dictionary defines that a mixologist is a person who is skilled at mixing cocktails and other drinks. I half-heartedly agree; a mixologist (to me) has a much more complex undertaking. I'm an observer, a keen listener and a multi-tasker on the job. Also, I don’t wear the traditional garb of suspenders and slacks—I opt for casual clothing that’s comfortable to work in.
It’s a usual Saturday night and people from all over Brooklyn are pouring inside the long u-shaped bar that is my stationery home for the next several hours. As I cut, slice and peel my way into their taste buds with a multitude of ingredients, I realize no one is ordering beer or wine. I make sure that the bar has been fully stocked, because God forbid, you (the patron) might have to order something that does not take as long as hailing a cab. It’s Saturday night after all and the general feeling around the bar is that everyone is willing to wait for a crafted cocktail. It’s cold outside and no one is going anywhere for a while.
In this line of work, I always wonder what is the real difference between a mixologist and a bartender. Who are patrons expecting to interact with? Who is it you want to engage with while you sip your fancy jungle juice that you might regret in the morning, but never really do because you find yourself coming back for more.
But I need to get out of my head for a moment because when I look around the bar, it’s packed. Patrons always ask me, “what’s your favorite drink from the menu?” Out of the six cocktails we offer (not including traditional cocktails that we make regularly, i.e. Old Fashioneds and Manhattans) my favorite is a lip-puckering spicy concoction that will raise your body temperature within minutes, perhaps seconds depending how greedy your taste buds are. I suggest this one because of its distinct smokiness that builds on your taste buds. It consist of two ounces red chili and chipotle-infused tequila, one ounce of fresh squeezed lime juice and three quarters of organic agave nectar. I shake all the ingredients in a boston shaker, then strain it over a short round champagne glass. One side of the glass is garnished with chili salt and the other side with a piece of candied pineapple. It’s called The Barnyard Dance and every drink on the menu is named after a children’s story or a nursery rhyme. Also, our menus are inserted inside old books—each picked at random and great conversation starters.
But if you are not the adventurous type and lean more towards classic drinks, a suggestion I make for the traditionalist drinkers is an Old Fashioned. This one is very simple, but time-consuming. It’s two parts bourbon whiskey, one sugar cube and a few dashes of angostura bitters (a “master” mixologist would have their own homemade batch of infused-bitters, but I’m talking traditional here). I grab an old-fashioned glass and pour all of the ingredients inside, then stir it until the entire sugar cube is dissolved, so as to deliver the fullest flavor. Then, I add a few big ice cubes and garnished it with an orange peel (for zest) and pickled cherries (just to make your head spin).
While I continue to scan the bar and make sure everyone is satisfied with their drinks, I talk and listen to regulars and check in with new patrons. Now my peripheral vision is centered on the patrons whom I served the Barnyards to a moment ago and I tune into their commentary and body language as they take their sips. After a few “wow’s” and “thank you’s” I make my way to the next set of patrons and this is yet another one of my typical Saturday nights.
There is an evolving culture in the world of mixology and as long as people’s taste buds demand it, it is here to stay. And as my night winds down and carousing voices subside, I remember that people will get intoxicated, but eventually come back for their favorite drink and the atmosphere I create around it.
If you're ever in Park Slope, stop by where I serve my favorite cocktail, The Barnyard Dance three nights a week at Wolf & Deer. (74 5th Ave. between St. Marks and Prospect Pl.)
Image sources: https://www.facebook.com/pages/Wolf-and-Deer/226081684076153