Meet a special breed of bartender: the mixologist. No ordinary dispenser of bar favourites, this specialist weaves magic with drink ingredients to create the stunning concoctions that can make or break a hospitality establishment, party or special event.
Just ask Michelle Hunt and Laura Panter of The Martini Club. As university students, Hunt and Panter started bartending for their friends at parties where they’d whip up new drink sensations. Today they run a successful drinks catering company and include restaurants, private customers and liquor boards as their hospitality industry clients. They are also the founders of Canada’s largest consumer spirits event, The Drinks Show, where the work of bartender-mixologists for various companies is highlighted.
Mixologists are certainly expected to know how to create the classics, but where they shine is in experimenting with a wide range of beverages to find tomorrow’s classics and introduce them to an increasingly sophisticated public. Says Michelle Hunt, “There’s more creativity and more control in terms of the types of drinks you choose to make.”
Chef-consultant Gary E. Miller agrees: “They [bartender-mixologists] need to know how to mix drinks. A bartender with any experience believes he or she can invent drinks. To a degree, they’re creative and there’s a flair to their job. It’s not just knowing how to mix a drink.”
Just as chefs do not want to be confused with mere “cooks,” mixologists want the respect that comes with creating cocktails that are a notch above the work of “set ‘em up Joe” bartenders. In a sense, they are beverage scientists trying out different types of alcohol combinations and working magic with ingredients the way the top chefs create signature dishes from their own recipes.
One of the world’s top mixologists, Tony Conigliaro, collaborated with a renowned chef in England to concoct an apple white lady garnished with an apple sprayed with violet essence. Fellow mixologist-to-the-celebrities Dimitri Lezinska recently created La Vie en Rose, combining vodka, port, lemon juice, sugar and champagne, sprayed with raspberry foam made in a soda siphon.
Thanks to TV shows like Sex in the City, cocktail culture has captured the imagination of today’s consumers. Hospitality schools are answering the call for more bartending and mixology training with specially designed courses, often within the culinary arts curriculum and leading to a college diploma or certificate. You can expect to combine TIPS- and SmartServe-type courses and bartending basics with hands-on, on-the-job training. Mixology courses take bartending to the next level: from the standards, you begin to work with new equipment and ingredients, and this is where your own artistry can come into play as you dazzle your friends and colleagues with new cocktail combos.
Not all mixologists attend formal courses to learn their craft, preferring to work their way up in bars and restaurants. A top notch mixologist can expect to find work in high-end hospitality establishments, command a more attractive salary than a “regular” bartender, and garner handsome gratuities.
Plus, there’s the satisfaction of creating your own signature cocktails and wowing the public.
Professional Bartending Schools of America, http://www.pbsa.com/Learn.html
USA Bartending School, http://www.usabartendingschool.com
Shaker Barschools, http://www.shakeruk.co.uk