Aspen Times Weekly: Mix Masters
TIPS FROM THE TALENT:
What the Master Mixologists Want You to Learn at This Year’s Après Ski Cocktail Classic
“I would like to explain the extreme versatility of a few classic cocktails.”
Anthony Bohlinger, head bartender, Chef’s Club/New York
“Cognac has been around longer than many other spirits, Hennessy was founded in 1765. The over two and half century legacy of Hennessy has deep roots in cocktail culture across the globe. It has lived through many wars and rebellions at its doorstep. Throughout its legacy, the product has always been perfection. Now is the time to explore a beautiful spirit and taste history.”
Jordan Bushell, Hennessy master mixologist
“Cocktails are fun! Enjoy the experience when creating a cocktail. Play with your ingredients. Include your family and friends. Let’s bring home entertainment back!”
Brigid Albert, director of education, Southern Wine & Spirits
“I love to think outside the box with innovative approaches to après ski cocktails, as well as with the events that I do. I have quite a varied schedule this year where I’ll be mixing up coffee and cocoa cocktails, demonstrating a King’s Ginger cocktail, hosting a cocktail and dinner pairing event with Glenrothes single malt, and judging the ‘Search for the Real McCoy with The Real McCoy rum on Saturday.”
Jonathan Pogash, “The Cocktail Guru”
“We want people to walk away with the love of the mountains, love of being with friends and people, and a new found love of spirits. There is something about being in the mountains — the awe and beauty of it — kind of feels like you’re away at camp, but with friends and with good libations. We want it to be an experience that people will always remember and want to experience again and again.”
Kim Hassarud, mixologist/author
ONCE UPON A TIME, COCKTAILS WERE AS SIMPLE AS A MARTINI — shaken not stirred, with three olives. Not any more. In fact, cocktailing has become an art form, and those who dream up the concoctions have become masters of their craft. They are the mixologists; the men and women who blend science and spirits to pour the next great drink. But, at the end of the night, what inspires the mixology movement — in Aspen and beyond? And how does the “talent” behind the 2016 Après Ski Cocktail Classic see the ever-changing landscape of liquid gold.
“I feel what inspires me is experimenting and learning,” says Alex Guevara, who tends bar at Jimmy’s – An American Restaurant. “Much like a kid in candy store, tasting awesome, well-made spirits and combining them into something exciting and new is what gives me the most joy — a joy I hope to share with all my guests through delicious drinks and a gracious welcome.”
Of course crafting those well-made spirits into a drink that stands up to the stiff competition in bars across the country is no easy task, especially considering that bartenders are often mixologists.
And what, you ask, is the difference between these two people behind the bar?
The answers vary — from education to experience to execution. For example, a person who pours a vodka tonic might be considered a bartender, while a person who takes a more culinary approach to pouring that drink would be dubbed a mixologist.
Some say the renaissance of the mixologist is due in large part to the boom in premium spirits over the past two decade; others argue it’s a direct reflection of our increasingly adventuresome palate in this global economy.
But, in the end, the mixologist is a real person — and has been for some time.
A 1856 edition of Knickerbocker magazine featured a columnist asking: “Who ever heard of a man calling the barkeeper a mixologist of tipicular fixing . . . ?” And the 1960 U.S. Census Report listed mixologist as one of the four sub-categories of bartender (the other three sub-categories were the barkeeper, the drink-mixer, and the tavern-car attendant).
But “mixologist” is a title some in the business eschew: “My take on mixology….I am not a mixologist and think there is a lot of ego behind the term,” says Ryan Sterling, the man behind the J-bar in the Hotel Jerome. “I would prefer to be a bartender that makes the experience of the guest better. That is a very individualized experience.”
Still, Sterling and his brothers in bottle service — whether bartender or mixologist — have much in common when it comes to creating craft cocktails.
“No need to be fancy or fussy,” says Brigid Albert, director of education for Southern Wine & Spirits, who will again lead “How to Put the ‘Hot’ in Your Toddy!” at this year’s Cocktail Classic. “Trust and use what Mother Nature brings us each season in your cocktails.”
That sentiment — using fresh ingredients to create cocktails people want to drink —seems universal when it comes to success as a bartender or mixologist.
“Ultimately you want the drink to taste good,” says Tim Baldwin, director of food and beverage for The Little Nell. “My approach is to try to make a drink that most people will like and if first you don’t succeed, don’t give up and keep tasting away.”
And at the heart of the mixology movement, according to those who know best: “Keep it simple. Enjoy what you do and try and put a smile on people’s face,” adds Kelsi Moore, director of events at Casa Tua Aspen.
For author and mixologist Kim Hassarud, who has been part of the Après Ski Cocktail Classic since its inception, this translates to starting with a great ingredient — “or a smell” — and working to create a drink that really embodies that ingredients or aroma.
Jonathan Pogash, aka “The Cocktail Guru,” takes this mixology methodology one step further.
“The key to mixology is innovative cocktails that are easy to replicate at home … I try to teach proper technique and use of quality ingredients, because the cocktails you serve are only as good as the ingredients and process behind them,” he says.
Jordan Bushell, Hennessy’s “Master Mixologist,” believes the best in the business can do this as simply as making that classic martini.
“I look to delight and surprise with as few ingredients as possible,” Bushell says. “To ask someone to name me their three favorite ingredients and I can make them something delicious and versatile …”
Regardless, many will argue that mixologist is just a moniker. What matters most is the people behind the titles and the customers they serve.
“Mixology these days refers too much to the drink itself and not enough about the guest anymore,” says Mattias Horseman of Chefs Club by Food & Wine at the St. Regis Aspen. “As bartenders, we’re here to be whoever the person on the other side of the stick needs us to be. We’re trying to coin the term ‘drink smith’ because a smith makes something for you specifically.
“The best drink starts and finishes with the relationship you can create across the bar.”
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Perhaps it’s because we are in the abbreviated days of winter and I instinctively know that the sun is shining down-under. But every January I go through a nostalgic period where Australian wine dominates my mind.