gaz regan's

Bartender Bulletin

April 23, 2012

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Mindful Bartending

Excerpted from the Annual Manual for Bartenders: 2011.

The Mindful Bartender

“Almost anyone can learn to mix drinks accurately and fast.  That is the least of it.  I have always believed success behind the bar comes from an ability to understand the man or woman I am serving, to enter into his joys or woes, make him feel the need of me as a person rather than a servant.”  This Must be the Place: Memoirs of Jimmie the Barman, by Morrill Cody, 1937.

You might have heard the term mindfulness quite often in the recent past.  It’s associated with Buddhism, though you certainly don’t need to be a Buddhist to practice mindfulness.  Atheists, Agnostics, Christians, Hindus, Jews, Moslems, and anyone else on the face of the earth can practice mindfulness.  And lots of bartenders have been practicing mindfulness for years, though they might not be familiar with the term.

            Personally, I’ve been learning about mindfulness primarily from a woman named Sandy Wells.  Sandy conducts a Sunday-morning meditation in my home town in the Hudson Valley, and recently she’s been focusing on mindfulness.  After learning about this concept it quickly became clear to me that the craft of the bartender lends itself beautifully to mindfulness, so I decided to try to adapt the philosophy to our craft, and Sandy, along with Martha Schueneman, my mindful editor, helped guide me.  Thanks guys.

            I’ve also been working with Aisha Sharpe of New York’s Contemporary Cocktails company, and Dushan Zaric, from Employees Only and The Macao Trading Company, two fabulous bars in the Big Apple, to put together a program on this subject.  Aisha and Dushan have been conducting bartender workshops on The Mastery of Wisdom, a related subject, for quite some time, and together we have formed The Institute for Mindful Bartending, a concept that’s in its infancy, and will always be, I think, a work in progress.

            I don’t purport to be a qualified teacher of mindfulness. I merely want to pass along what I’ve been learning for the past few years, and make some suggestions on how you might want to put mindfulness to work for you both behind the bar and as part of your daily life.  Mindfulness has brought much happiness into my life, and I’m hoping to spread the joy a little.  In my opinion, mindfulness isn’t something to achieve, it’s something to keep working on.  I doubt if many, or any, people are fully mindful 24/7, but people who embrace mindfulness, from my point of view, seem to be very happy people.  I believe that a brand new Lamborghini might make you happy for a few hours, but mindfulness can make you happy for the rest of your life.

            Before we get down to the nitty gritty, then, let me add one more thing.  Mindfulness, in my opinion, is like a tailored suit.  The suit has to have lapels, but you get to decide how wide they are.  Trousers are mandatory, but cuffs are your call.  Similarly, everyone gets to pick and choose what suits them best on the path of mindfulness.  Take a look, consider your options, and take whatever you’re comfortable with.  A little mindfulness is better than none at all, I think.  And above all, though, no matter what anyone tells you, don’t ever take things too seriously.  We’re here to have fun, you know.  You can’t be happy and too serious at the same time!

Chapter 1: Becoming a Mindful Bartender

Mindfulness, when applied to tending bar, is an approach to the job that entails being totally aware of everything you are doing, being cognizant of everything that is going on around you, and tuning in to all of your guests’ wants and needs.  You can also be mindful of your mixology skills, and we’ll discuss this a little later in this chapter.    Be aware that mindfulness is not easy.  It’s something that, should you decide to try become a mindful bartender, you will never 100-percent achieve in this lifetime.  It’s worth striving for, though.

            A mindful bartender trusts her intuition.  She is primarily focused on what the customer in front of her is doing or saying, or upon the drink she is making, but she is also aware of what’s going on at the other end of the bar, and in the entire restaurant. She keeps tabs on the atmosphere of the place, and she constantly monitors the events, actions, and people that might affect the mood at the bar or within the restaurant.  A mindful bartender pays attention to the personal preferences of her guests, and she makes each person’s drinks accordingly.  A mindful bartender leaves her personal shit at the door because she knows she can’t be fully attentive to her customers if she’s obsessing about the fight she just had with her sister or if she’s making mental notes about all the crap she needs to do tomorrow morning before her spin class.  A mindful bartender sets her intentions to be of service to her customers.

Mindful bartenders draw customers to their bars like bears to a honey-pot, and their customers always feel better for having visited them.  Since more customers results in more money in the tip-cup, mindful bartenders are rewarded monetarily for their efforts, and since more customers also results in more money in the cash register, bar owners take extra special care of their mindful bartenders.

This all leads to a great atmosphere in bars where mindful bartenders work, and mindful bartenders spend far less time pounding the pavement because they quit that lousy job or that bastard fired them for no good reason.  Mindful bartenders are highly valued workers in the hospitality industry.

There are a number of different ways to approach mindfulness behind the bar, and I’ll attempt to explain these in relatively simple terms in this section.  I’m keeping it simple because I’m not sure that I understand mindfulness in its entirety, though there are times when it all falls into place for me.  I read a book once that explained Einstein’s Theory of Relativity in such simple terms that, for about three minutes, I swear I understood it.  Then it was gone.  For me, mindfulness is like that, too. 

First, though, we have to understand something about intuition, and acceptance of certain universal truths that aren’t quite tangible.

Do you remember the last time that your gut told you not to serve someone but you went ahead and did anyway?  You regretted that one, right?  Have you ever walked into a room where a couple has been arguing, and although they “snap out of it” and make like nothing was going down, you could feel the tension in the atmosphere?  Have you ever gotten the feeling that someone is looking at you, and when you turned your head, sure enough, you see someone with their eyes glued to you?

If you answered yes to any of those questions, and I’m betting that most people answer all in the affirmative, then I’m going to ask you to bear that sense of intuition in mind as you read this section.  We might not be able to take a picture of our intuition, but it’s there.  The universe send us signs constantly, and those signs, if we take notice of them and if we act on them, can help us lead happier, healthier lives.  Taking notice of how we feel about serving a drink to someone who might have already had enough, and acting on that feeling by refusing service, for instance, will ultimately lead to you feeling happier than you would have felt had you served him.  There might be a bit of a scene if the prospective customer becomes belligerent, but it won’t be anywhere near as bad as things could get if you hand him another drink.  One more drink and this guy might start annoying your other customers, he could start a fight, or, well, you know how that goes. 

If you don’t already do this, think about casting your eyes over everyone at the bar on a regular basis, and if you can see the tables in the restaurant, try to find time to look at the people there, too.  Naturally this will help you become aware of who needs your attention, but it will also pay off by giving you some guidance as to what’s going down at the bar, and in the restaurant.  It’s fairly easy to understand the body language that people display, so by doing this, and by trusting the vibes you get as you look around, all sorts of problems can be avoided.  The vibes might not be as strong as they are when you walk into a room right after a heated argument, but they are there all the same, and it’s not too hard to tap into them.

And you can also use your intuition, and/or your powers of observation, to start trying to understand why each of your guests have come to your bar.  Sometimes this can be very obvious.  A guy who asks to send a drink to the single woman down the bar is obviously out to meet someone, right?  And two women talking about hiring a new office manager are at the bar to talk business, while the man buying the bar a drink to toast the birth of his new baby is obviously there to celebrate.  Now think about how you’re going to treat these people.  You might ask the woman if she would like to accept a drink from the guy looking to meet someone new, and you should be ready to let him down lightly if she refuses.  You’ll probably be protective of the two businesswomen by not trying to make small-talk with them, and being on the look-out for anyone who approaches them with that sort of thing in mind.  And the man with a new baby will love you for letting him buy the bar a drink, then giving him a nice cognac on the house along with a big smile and a hearty congratulations.

Trusting your intuition, or your gut-reaction, then, is a very important aspect of mindfulness.  And learning to act on how certain people or situations make you feel is something to strive for.  These things come naturally to many bartenders, but not to all bartenders.  Those of you who find this sort of thing difficult, though, needn’t fret.  Relax, make an effort, and your efforts will be rewarded.  Promise. 

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Cheap DateColey's Corner

Ada "Coley" Coleman was a celebrated early twentieth-century bartender at London's Savoy Hotel, and she was a woman who got her fair share of the limelight. 

When she announced that she was about to retire, in 1925, The Daily Express quoted her as saying, "I made cocktails for Mark Twain when he came in the Savoy, Diamond Jim Brady, Prince Wilhelm of Sweden, James Corbett, 'Mr A.', the Egyptian Princess - yes, and the Prince of Wales," and noted that she was "known to thousands of men all over the world."

In "Coley's Corner," then, we bring you links to stories about bartenders all over the place.  We think it might make Coley smile.  In this issue we're featuring:

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gaz's Cocktail Book

Copy and paste these babies to get yerself a very complete cocktail book.

Mercy, Mercy

60 ml (2 oz) Sazerac rye whiskey

2 dashes Peychaud’s bitters

15 ml (.5 oz) Martini & Rossi sweet vermouth

7.5 ml (.25 oz) Luxardo Maraschino liqueur

Campari, for rinsing glass

1 lemon twist, for garnish

Stir over ice and strain into a chilled Campari-rinsed champagne flute. Squeeze the lemon twist over the glass, then rub on the rim before discarding.

 

Metaxa Blaster

Recipe by gaz regan.

60 ml (2 oz) Metaxa 5-star

15 ml (.5 oz) B&B

7.5 ml (.25 oz) fresh lemon juice

2 dashes Angostura bitters

Shake over ice and strain into a chilled cocktail glass.

 

Metropolitan

Adapted from a recipe created by Chuck Coggins, Marion's Continental, New York.

45 ml (1.5 oz) Absolut Kurant vodka

30 ml (1 oz) Cointreau

15 ml (.5 oz) fresh lime juice

2 to 3 dashes cranberry juice

1 lime wedge, for garnish

Shake over ice and strain into a chilled cocktail glass.  Add the garnish.

 

Mexican Aperitivo

Adapted from a recipe by Jonny Raglin and Raul Tamayo, Absinthe, San Francisco (Makes 2 shooters).

“This drink was really a combined effort between Jonny [Raglin] and Raul Tamayo. Jonny started making the shot by mixing the Chartreuses, lemon-lime and the sink of Campari.  It was intended to be a quick aperitif style palate cleanser before a meal, so he called it the Aperitivo. Raul, our resident Mexican behind the bar at Absinthe, thinks that everything is better when a Mexican touch is added, so he started making his shots with a little Champagne thrown into the mix, and dubbed it the ‘Mexican Aperitivo.’  While we still call the shot the Aperitivo on our menu, those of us behind the bar, and guests in the know, will always refer to it as the Mexican Aperitivo. I guess Raul (aka D-Mex) was right, everything is better with a Mexican touch!”  Jeff Hollinger, Bar Manager, Absinthe, San Francisco.

30 ml (1 oz) Green Chartreuse

15 ml (.5 oz) Yellow Chartreuse

20 ml (.6 oz) fresh lemon juice

10 ml (.3 oz) fresh lime juice

Chilled champagne

7.5 ml (.25 oz) Campari, as a “sink”

Shake Green & Yellow Chartreuses and lemon-lime over ice and strain, dividing between two tall shot glasses, leaving about 1/4 inch of room at the top of the glasses.  Fill each shot to the top with champagne, and sink a little Campari into the bottom of them for color. Look your friend in the eye, clink glasses, say cheers, and knock 'em back.

 

Mexican Mojito

Adapted from a recipe by Dave Singh, Ambassador for Gran Centenario tequila.

45 ml (1.5 oz) Gran Centenario plata tequila

2 teaspoons granulated sugar

6 to 8 fresh mint leaves

club soda

1 to 2 dashes Angostura bitters

2 to 3 mint sprigs, for garnish

Put the tequila, sugar, and mint leaves into an empty mixing glass and grind them with a wooden muddler until the mint leaves break into flecks.  Pour into an ice-filled collins glass, add the club soda and bitters, and stir briefly.  Add the garnish.

 

Mexican Sidecar

Adapted from a recipe by Jeffrey Morgenthaler, Head Bartender at El Vaquero, Eugene, Oregon.

30 ml (1 oz) Presidente Mexican brandy

30 ml (1 oz) Patron Citronge orange liqueur

30 ml (1 oz) fresh lemon juice

1 lemon twist, for garnish

Shake over ice and strain into a sugar-rimmed chilled cocktail glass.  Add the garnish.

 

Mexican Standoff

Adapted from a recipe by Matty Conway, NOPA, San Francisco

“I'm not one of those barmen who has adopted his recipes into metric measurements [no, Matty, we did that for you], though for the sake of the crème de cacao, maybe I should.  Half an ounce is a bit too much, i feel.  I jigger this drink every time and pull back a little on the cacao . . . Obviously, you can play with different mezcals..  I liked this one of the few I experimented with.   One (Del Maguey Minero, I think) was a bit too floral for this drink, another a bit too scratchy, it’s all subjective, but since its my drink, I'm going with Chichicapa.

“Neyah [White] said he liked it with a dark crème de cacao, but I prefer it this way.  The bitters I cannot take credit for.  They are Neyah's coffee-chili bitters.  Specifically ground Blue Bottle beans and shaved jalapenos in high proof Lemon Hart Demerara rum.  Knowing Neyah, there's probably some other stuff in there...  space bark, hampster poop, what have you, but the coffee and chili are the important parts, for sure.

“Finally, I'm a sucker for the smoky aromatic affect of the burnt orange garnish.  I think it really works on this drink.  When you lift the glass and you get that on the nose, it’s a little foreshadowing [of what’s to come].”   Matty Conway.

60 ml (2oz) Del Maguey Chichicapa mezcal

15 ml (.5 oz) Averna

7.5 to 15 ml (.25 to .5 oz) Bols white crème de cacao

1 good dash of Hellfire bitters

1 flamed orange twist, as garnish

Stir over ice and strain into a chilled cocktail glass.  Add the garnish.

Quick Hellfire Bitters

Adapted from a recipe in The San Francisco Chronicle.  (This recipe is probably the result of collaboration between Neyah White and Jon Bonne.  Neyah says that if you don’t have time or inclination to make this version, use a drop of Tabasco sauce instead)

Makes 60 to 75 ml (2 to 2.5 oz)

1 medium jalapeno pepper

60 ml (2 oz) white rum

3 Tablespoons ground espresso or other coffee

30 ml (1oz) water

Muddle the entire pepper, including flesh, seeds and pith, in a small saucepan. Add rum and continue to muddle until pulpy. Add ground espresso and water. Heat, covered, over very low heat for 10 minutes, minimizing the evaporation of the rum. Remove from heat, cover tightly and cool. Transfer the mixture to a small glass jar and cover tightly. Let sit at room temperature for at least six hours, preferably a day or longer. The longer it sits, the more intense the flavors will be. When ready, strain the mixture through a double-folded cheesecloth or coffee filter and pour into a small bottle.

 

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