Bartending vs. Mixology

Mixology

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Just a brief reflection on mixology.  When to use it, when not to use it and what the difference is between a bartender and a mixologist.  What you see above is something called a Whiskey Smash.  It was prepared by a manager at a chain restaurant which will remain nameless.  This is what I originally ordered and when it was presented to me after the first one was obviously a fail.  I asked for a Whiskey Smash and the lovely young lady asked me what kind of whiskey.  Impressed that she bothered to ask, I looked up at the selection and decided on Bulliet Bourbon.  She returned an instant later with a rocks class half filled with about 75% ice and what must have been perhaps 2 ounces of bourbon.  I took a sip and did not taste much.  In fact, I only tasted bourbon.  Not a bad thing, but it was not the cocktail I had ordered.  So I asked the other bartender what was in the drink.  She said she had to ask the manager.  The manager apologized and said he would make me another.  I insisted it was no problem, I love bourbon, I am all but happy to drink it over ice and I was not going to let the drink go to waste.  He told me it was just “Bulliet on the Rocks”.  I laughed and said that is fine by me, I actually prefer it that way, I just wanted to taste one of their “Signature Cocktails” and he explained that the Whiskey Smash was removed from the menu, this is why the bartender was not familiar with the drink.  I should mention that on the corporate website, it states its “NEW”, so maybe they did not get the memo, but its not new, not discontinued, unless the website of this billion dollar corporation was not updated recently.

The truth is, the drink was free, all drinks were free, it was a promotional program to help boost a new restaurant in this location.  I was just trying to promote the cocktails they advertise on their website snobbish people like me would appreciate.  Just because they got the order wrong, it was certainly no reason to waste perfectly good bourbon which I was enjoying just fine.  However, if a bartender is not familiar with a drink that was previously on the menu, why would they attempt to make it instead of saying “give me a minute, I am not familiar with it”, at which point, I would have ordered something different.  I understand that all beer and pre-mixed margarita slingers are not classically trained to know every single trendy (or even classic) cocktail in the book.

The manager all smiles brings me over the Whiskey Smash almost exactly how it appeared on their website.  I laughed and was very appreciative.  Really, I was fine with my bourbon on the rocks, but obviously they were going out of their way to accommodate me, so I gladly accepted.  It was delicious.  All the proper balance of mint, lime juice, sugar, and of course, whiskey.

Next up, I decided to order something that was on the printed menu right there at the bar.  Berries and Bourbon.  Cranberry juice, lemon, bourbon, and garnished with lemon and blackberry.  This one they nailed perfectly. If it were not for my poor iPhone photography, you would see this is exactly the cocktail you ordered is what appears on their website.  Sure, the bourbon is buried in cranberry sweetness, but its tasty, the garnishes are nice, and now I am feeling like I am in a fancy cocktail bar, as they try to represent it.

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So now I am 3 drinks into the evening, and usually that is my limit.  but I have to give them one last shot.  I order something called a Cucumber Martini from the current printed menu.   The lead bartendress (female bartender, just in case I made that word up) comes over and explains why its taking so long… apparently they brought her a zucchini from the kitchen, not a cucumber. I was wondering why she was on the walkie-talkie to another section of the restaurant and why, what should be a standard drink was causing such a stir (no pun intended).  Eventually the kitchen delivers a cucumber, and they use either a local gin or vodka and it comes, and its delicious, no doubt, but confusing.  Seems like this is a drink made with lime, mint and bits of cucumber and I am guessing vodka since I could not taste the gin.

My first, last and only comment on this subject is simple.  Mixology is not a term that should be used for bartenders or vice verse.  Mixologists have a working knowledge of what the customer orders, what they are serving and the proper ratios, and even some history behind the cocktail itself.  And while I do not expect a mega chain in the center of a metropolis filled with tourists to deliver old school “crafted” cocktails, I certainly hope that if they advertise such, they either have them pre-fixed so that a bartender can pour into a shaker with ice so appears to be real.  Or, they can retrain the staff and/or remove the items from the menu.  If you are a billion dollar, million dollar, or even a mom and pop local joint, its not very hard to train people to make whats on the menu.  If you can’t they can’t do that, don’t try to sell, promise or advertise what you can’t bring to the table.

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