I recently took an evening job bartending. It is my goal to open a bar in the not too distant future, and I thought I might as well have someone pay me to learn how to do it.
I’ve also been throwing cocktail parties, big and small, at my house a lot. The two, I think, provided me with a learning experience this moth.
See, the bar I work at isn’t what you’d really call a cocktail bar. It sort of tries to be, but the owner just doesn’t know that much about cocktails. He does have lots of whiskey though, like maybe 30 bottles. He also stocks Carpano Antica and Luxardo Cherries, so I can make a mean Manhattan. If you order a Manhattan from any of the other bartenders though, good luck. You’ll likely get something containing Luxardo Liquer and served on the rocks, and so help me God I’ve seen my coworkers put Sprite in an Old-Fashioned.
I’ll fix that in a couple months, but here’s the point. Between that bar and my family Christmas party, I’ve run into a lot of people who think a cocktail is some sweet, fruity vodka beverage served in a martini glass. (Of course they call it a martini, but I won’t get into that here.) At the bar I can at least come up with something. I’ve got all sorts of fruit juices, Fireball, and there’s a bottle of Apple Pucker somewhere. But at home I don’t have any of that, and I’m not stocking it no matter how bad a host that makes me.
What I need to do is learn to bridge the gap. The gap between the “martini” (using of course, the TGI Fridays definition, not the actual martini) and a real cocktail.
See the problem isn’t the bar patron. They’ve been served thirty years worth of Chocolatinis. They’ve probably never had a drink with fresh lime juice in it. No wonder beer has done so well. If given a choice between Bud Light and whatever the hell passes for a “martini” at your chain restaurant, and assuming I can’t just go with water, I’d go with the beer. It isn’t good, but it doesn’t make me gag.
The problem is me. I can’t connect with them. I can’t subtly educate them. It’s not that they can’t appreciate nice things. It’s that I’m so wrapped up in which rye I should be using in my latest cocktail development that I’ve forgotten that 90% of people just aren’t there yet. I’m worried about how to teach people calculus when they haven’t even learned algebra.
So I need to learn to bridge that gap. To take the guy who says “can you make an Appletini?” and find something they’d like. (St Germain is turning out to be quite the crowd pleaser there, as well as Velvet Falernum. I suspect the shrubs I made will help too.) Or what to make for the guy who normally drinks Crown and Coke and thinks any gin drink equivalent to chewing on a pine tree.
I’ll get there. I will. But it’ll take practice and experimentation. I just have to keep in mind that the problem isn’t them. It isn’t that they can’t appreciate good things. It’s that nobody took the time to explain cocktails to them in a not-too-snobby way. To find out what they like and let them acquire tastes for the more flavorful spirits without treating them like imbeciles for not having done so yet.