As the art of craft cocktails has once again become a trend, the role of a modern mixologist has risen to significance. If you are confused about the difference between a mixologist and a bartender, compare it to the roles of a chef and a waiter. Mixology requires a higher skill set and more creativity. Why do some mixologists take offence to being called bartenders? The same reason a professional with a PhD insists on being called Doctor. The skill is earned, perfected, and thus deserves respect.
Over the last two decades, private distillers began creating and releasing high quality, local, artisanal liquor products. This prompted the need for generic bartenders to become better educated on what they were selling and to develop a sensitive taste palate in crafting signature cocktails.
NOT JUST A BARTENDER
A bartender does not need to be a mixologist. However, to be a mixologist one must first have been a bartender. At base level a bartender is trained to know the recipes for basic mixed drinks, and to be equipped for mass volume. On busy nights they barely have time to knock out basic rum and cokes in mass quantity so they secretly scoff when asked for a “complicated” mojito or margarita with a salted rim. Bartenders try to take 20 seconds or less to make a drink and by the end of a shift, they have gotten a high cardio workout.
Conversely, the mixologist takes his time with each cocktail. A bartender knows the ingredients for a requested cocktail, a mixologist knows why those ingredients are important to the drink. Every individual element like the presentation, the smell, the first sip, and the aftertaste on your palate combine to the complete experience of a true craft cocktail.
In essence, mixology gives your cocktail an added luxury and sophistication. Let me describe this with a contrast using a classic gentleman’s drink: The Old Fashioned. You can experiment with the following from the comfort of your own home bar to impress friends next time you’re entertaining.
Drop a lemon twist, a lime twist, an orange twist, a piece of clove, and a cube of sugar in a rocks glass. Add 3 or 4 drops of Bitter Bitches Pipe Tobacco Bitters. (A unique, pungent bitter will absolutely make the difference in your drink) Tap down the clove and sugar cube with the flat back end of a long bar spoon, and mix it into the citrus twists. Add ice (preferably a large “scotch rock” cube). Pour 1 ½ oz. of bourbon or rye. Stir it well against the glass in a clockwise direction until smooth and well blended. With an orange twist, rub against the rim of the glass before gently laying the twist on top.
What you get with the second version is a luxurious encounter. Visually, the drink is crafted with care and precision. Next you experience the aroma of the fresh citrus against the rim of the glass. Your first taste is smooth – the method in which the whisky was stirred cuts the alcohol the right amount without diluting it. You are then left with the faint aftertaste of the citrus, cloves and hints of tobacco.