Category - Bartenders

I’ve got a bone to pick with a lot of good bartenders
Scottish Alcohol Responsibility Disclaimer
The Apotheosis of Cocktail Reporting
TIki Drink: Tiki Tylenol

I’ve got a bone to pick with a lot of good bartenders

Hey bartenders! You know many of you number among my favorite professionals in the world. Ofttimes, I will value some of your opinions above my own. (Well, sometimes….) But there is a current complaint about customers going the rounds among a lot of even the elite among you that you all need to realize is a bad conceit.

I was triggered to write this little rant by an otherwise excellent post at Spirits & Motors by Robby Nelson named I’m a Bartender. He has seven enumerated points that are each funny, true, and ought to be required reading for any number of idiot customers out there. Read the post. It’s good.

But in the final wrap-up, he throws out this:

For your part, trust that I know what I’m doing. When you tell me that you want a drink that’s “not too sweet,” all I hear is that you don’t want me mess up your drink, which makes me think that you think that I’m a hack, which makes me sad. Do you ask the chef to make your food “not too undercooked?” I recommend abolishing that “not too sweet” phrase from your vocabulary.

Um, no. Robby, here’s the thing: I am a very experienced bar customer. I know what I like, and more importantly, how my tastes differ from other people. I probably have one of two very good reasons for asking you to, yes, not mess up my drink.

One, I may have drunk at your establishment in the past. I therefor know how your house recipes are balanced. I may have even ordered this particular selection before. And I judge that your house profile is too sweet for my taste.

Two, I my know that my own taste in drinks runs to the very dry. You may well have had your Cosmopolitan recipe handed down to you by Dale DeGroff himself, inscribed on a stone tablet. But I know I want mine less sweet than that.

See? Like Dale always says, he didn’t come up with the recipe himself.

I am, in fact, trusting you to either punch up the lime, or use a drier orange liqueur, or whatever you, in your professional opinion, believe will produce a less-sweet drink with the same underlying flavor profile. If you know that you make that drink a lot less sweet already than most, feel free to do your regular thing. Sophisticated palates can and do disagree about the amount of sweet they need to make any given drink perfect. It is frankly insulting to the customer to grump about how you know better than them about their desires. It’s a bit like a server who says the chef recommends the duck be medium rare, then gets all huffy when the customer says he’ll have it medium anyway.

Here’s the point. I am giving you valuable information about me (and my desires) when I say I want my drink “not too sweet”. I am going to be, without doubt, one of two guys. I could be, well, me: a customer who has long experience with cocktails, who understands the market, who is making an educated judgement that your drinks may well run sweeter than he really wants, and who knows that you (like him) could fix a drink with too little sugar, but you’d have to dump one that is too sweet and start over. I could also be the cocktail version of the wine poseur who asks for “any Loire red from the north bank, nice and tannic, maybe with a hint of plums or elderberries.” All I know is that I’ve read on the blogs that most cocktails are designed overly sweet to appeal to inexperienced drinkers, and since I fancy myself to be sophisticated, I signal my elite status by asking for my Lemon Drop to be “not so sweet”.

If I am the Idiot pole of this Boolean gate, you could make that Lemon Drop with 50-50 vodka and lemon juice, or 50-50 sugar and Citron, or just back off the sugar in your regular recipe a bit. As long as you slide it over the bar to me with a conspiratorial smile that will say to them, “Lots of my better customers agree with you about Lemon Drops being too sweet. I think you’ll find this to your liking,” they will guzzle it down and run off to Yelp to bugle about how they’ve finally found a bartender who “gets it”. But if I am the other possibility, and you choose anything other than the last option, I’m going to think you are a hack, or a douchebag, or possibly both.

I singled out Nelson here only because he was unfortunate enough to have me read his post right when I had time to rant about it. I’ve been hearing this increasingly lately and it has got to stop. Let’s not put another row of bricks in the Craft Bartenders Are Rude, Douchey Snobs wall, shall we? Save your (well-hidden) scorn for Tanqueray Martinis with no vermouth, or Piña Coladas, or guys who order friggin’ Grey Goose on a first date while she’s knocking back Knob Creek neat. It’ll be a helluva lot more profitable for everybody. Trust me.

Scottish Alcohol Responsibility Disclaimer

This learned-looking individual is Simon Brooking, Beam Suntory’s much-awarded Scotch Brand Ambassador. He just visited Columbus to educate the bar-noscienti on Laphroaig, Bowmore, and Auchentoshen. I got a chance to meet him at our USBG presentation. I’ve said it before, and I’ll iterate it here: If you are good enough to be a major brand Global Ambassador, I will happily listen to you talk all day.

I won’t go into the details of his presentation, because I was enjoying myself too much to take notes. But I did want to post here about the fact that Simon began his talk with a Scottish responsible drinking disclaimer. I was unaware that my ancestral people had drinking disclaimers. I was under the impression that Scots knew it was time to stop drinking when they started missing their mouths with the glass…. Anyway, here is the one he read:

Being moderately taken, (whiskey) sloweth age. It strengthen youth. It cutteth phlegm, abandon melancholy, lighten the mind. It preserveth the head from whirling, the tongue from lisping, the teeth from chattering, the stomach from wombling, the heart from swelling, the hands from shivering, the veins form crumbling.
Truly, it is a sovereign drink… if it be orderly taken.
Holinshed’s Chronicles—1578

Wait. 1578?!? They had safe drinking messages in 1578?

Livers didn’t have superpowers back then either. Honestly, I see nothing debatable about this, even today.

The Apotheosis of Cocktail Reporting

I’m breaking the recent radio silence to share a find by Angus Winchester. I’m sure you remember the game Mad Libs? A great game that I loved as a kid, it has a fatal flaw: Replayability. Once you fill in a sheet, it is never as good if you try that same sheet again. There are times when blogging about cocktails (and most other things) you can get to feeling as if you are just filling in the same old sheet, over and over.

This gets worse when the people you are “playing with” keep giving you the same answers to fill in the sheet….

With that introduction, let me point you to a brilliantly hilarious illustration of this problem, by Max Chanowitz: New Bar in [Town].

Whether you write about bars, or just talk about them (I’m assuming you drink in them of course), try this experiment. Put where you live in place of [Town] and go from there with as many local craft cocktail bars as you can think of. For how many will you come up with a completely publishable press release about their opening?

The whole post is totally short, so I can’t excerpt much, but I’ll give you this to make sure you visit.

The building’s previous tenant is gone but not forgotten — there are plenty of cheeky references to [charming relic business] in the decor and cocktail names. They have a drink called The [the street it’s on], and another one named after [famous person in local lore]. They also reportedly serve a [neighborhood name], which is like a Manhattan, but with [unnecessary twist] instead of [what it should be]. Intriguing.

TIki Drink: Tiki Tylenol

TikiTylenol Full
This cocktail comes by way of Board of Tiki Idols member, Doctor Bamboo. His name for it in its original form is the Pololu. You can find it in Beach Bum Berry’s Remixed, since the good Doctor never seems to have blogged it. I changed its name to Tiki Tylenol, because I make some tiny changes in the recipe, and because if Tylenol is a painkiller without asprin, and this is a Painkiller without rum…. Also, like regular Tylenol, too many can result in liver damage.


Combine all ingredients in a cocktail shaker with lots of ice and shake very well to fully emulsify the coconut creme. Strain into a largish cocktail glass and sprinkle surface with powdered cinnamon.

This is a particularly delicious, though non-standard Tiki drink. Gin and Cognac work better together than most people think, and at three ounces, pack quite a punch. My main change is to replace the original St. Germaine with the far more potent Thatcher, and adding a little apricot in place of the pear tones in the St. Germain. This change works well, I think.
It also lead to an interesting discussion two nights ago. I put the Tylenol on the menu for a bunch of bartenders. An hour and a half in, I observed loudly that I hadn’t served a single one of these drinks all night. They all looked at me, and one said simply, “It has St. Germain.” I replied that no, it had elderflower, not St. Germain, and what did he have against bartender’s ketchup? “Nothing,” was the reply. “You put a drink with it on your menu and you’ll sell hell out of it to one group of customers, but the others won’t touch it for anything.”

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