While the whole mixology thing may seem like just another fresh-faced fad being foisted on the drinking public, the foisting has actually been going on for at least 150 years. An 1856 edition of Knickerbocker magazine featured a columnist asking: “Who ever heard of a man ( . . . ) calling the barkeeper a mixologist of tipicular fixing . . . ?”
The answer to which is: “A lot of people, every 30 years or so.” A mixology craze will rise up, hang around a while, then get stamped down by a bunch of people with disgusted looks on their faces, only to rise up again a generation or so later like a phoenix that really should find something better to do with its life.
And like an unemployed neighbor you foolishly granted kegerator privileges, the fad hangs around a little longer each time, finally compelling the federal government into giving the title official status: the 1960 US Census Report lists mixologist as one of the four sub-categories of bartender, the other three being the ultra-gauche barkeeper, the stylistically-barren drink-mixer, and the rather specialized tavern-car attendant. Mixologist is the only dapper monkey in the bunch, and not especially showy when you consider in that same census barbers were puffing themselves up as tonsorial artists and trichologists.
Fancy title and official government recognition aside, there are many other advantages to being a mixologist, as opposed to a plain old bartender. First off, if you go around saying you’re a bartender, people will expect you to 1.) actually spend part of your day tending a bar and 2.) be able to “whip up” actual cocktails, and not just the ones with both ingredients in the name. The mixologist is more akin to a splendid and dashing rocket scientist who designs the gleaming slivers of titanium that pierce the sky, while bartenders are mere laborers who crank out those sleek inventions in some sort of dreary factory.
(This, of course, flies in the face of the fact that bartenders have been the main inventors of cocktails since time immemorial, but hey, flying in the face of things is exactly what mixologists do.)
Infuriatingly, people keep posing the question, “Why not just call yourself a bartender?” when the answer is plain as the smirk on their faces. Bartender is not shiny enough, it does not ring, it does not say enough, it does not begin to illustrate the splendor and genius of this new breed. The very words bar and tender suggest a servile individual tethered and caged, while mixologist brings to mind a modern-day Marco Polo, a free-ranging adventurer not only free from convention but actively avoiding it. Mixologists are cocktail artistes, not blinkered workhorses crudely harnessed to cash registers and bar tops.
It wasn’t so long ago that announcing yourself as a “mixologist” would have gotten you hooted out of the room, while today it is met with small excited cries of, “Oh, I am too!” So you’ll want to scramble aboard immediately because there is very little room left on the wagon, and by the time you finish this guide we may well be trundling into the Twilight of the Golden Age of Mixology. To speed your ascension into the rarefied ranks, I’ve put together the 44 foremost secrets of mixology. You’re welcome.
1 The first step to becoming a mixologist is announcing in a sonorous and believable voice, “I am a mixologist!” And…that’s it! Congratulations and welcome! You’ve arrived! Mixology is a journey, and everyone knows a journey begins with the first step, therefore saying you are a mixologist makes you a mixologist. There’s no need to produce a pay stub or diploma or any other proof of competence. Do jungle explorers ever have to show a jungle explorer diploma? No! They become what they are when they take that first step into the jungle. Doin’ it is their diploma!
2 The field is completely unregulated!
As you might have guessed by the first secret. While there are schools, organizations and even a magazine (certainly not this one) that try to exert some manner of control over the sweet chaos, they lack the power to enforce their tyranny. So if some officious uptighty asks you which mixology school you went to, feel free to smile while pointing at your crotch. (And that M.E. at the end of my byline? Mixologist Extraordinaire. I gave that to myself, and so can you!)
3 Don’t worry if you—an utterly inexperienced neophyte—don’t feel comfortable using the title “mixologist.” There are plenty of other titles that might suit you better, such as Cocktail Stylist, Cocktailologist, Mixmaster X or He Who Spins Turds into Starshine. If you’re interested in enraging chefs, there’s Liquid Chef, and if you want to enrage bartenders and chefs, try on Bar Chef.
4 Believe in what you do. Ignore the sheer mathematical odds and assume your new three-part cocktail made from ingredients that have been around for decades, if not centuries, is utterly original.
5 Get some cards made up. Unless your phone number and address are somehow extremely exciting, do not just put something boring like Joe Smith, Mixologist on your card. Instead, it should read something like Joe Smith, Noted Celebrity Mixologist Extraordinaire to Your Favorite Stars!
6 Start a blog. The name should be something authoritative yet lighthearted. For example, the title “Mixologist to the Gods” should be balanced by a whimsy subtitle like “No autographs, please!”
7 Buy a lot of fancy tools. You wouldn’t think that combining liquids in a glass would require the same amount of tools found in a typical operating room, but that just shows what a neophyte you really are. Along with the usual shakers, tongs, jiggers, peelers, muddlers, stirrers, whizzers and wompers, you’ll need an ice pick, a burlap bag, and a hammer. You probably didn’t know this, but ice you stab from a large block then put in a burlap bag and smash with a hammer is the best kind of ice. No one knows why, but it is!
8 Name your children well. And it’s not such an outrageous idea to think of your cocktails as children: both start as a crazy idea, you give them a name, spend a lot of time trying to make them perfect, then finally you throw up your hands and say, “A little prison time is probably just what he needs!”
It’s a very good idea to name your cocktails after deceased literary figures, especially if he or she was known to be a bit of a souse. This adds instant pedigree and prestige to your creation and also gives you excellent cover because writers, like most heavy drinkers, will gulp down anything that will make them drunk, so your critics can hardly expect your cocktail to taste like dew-kissed ambrosia.
So if someone makes a face at your Hemingway’s Rusty Rudder and says it tastes “rough,” you should release a sudden yelp of delight as if that was exactly the effect you were going for, then hoarsely whisper something along the lines of, “And that is precisely how Papa lived his life.”
9 So long as it looks good on paper, you don’t have to actually go through the hassle of trying out a new recipe. How many rocket scientists actually test pilot their sometimes explosive rockets? That’s best left to space monkeys and their human counterparts, especially those of your friends who are loathe to see you weep like an angry baby.
10 You don’t have to memorize a bunch of old “classic” recipes. That’s what bartenders are for. You don’t even have to memorize your own recipes. A truly great mixologist is always tinkering, always evolving his cocktails. For example, if during a tasting you forget to put gin in your Gin Blossom Fantasia Flip, you did not “screw the pooch” or “really drop the ball” as other mixologists might murmur. You merely evolved the recipe.
11 Locally source your ingredients. This is very important, because the shorter the distance an ingredient has traveled, the more awesome your cocktail will taste. You should assert this natural truth firmly, loudly and repeatedly as you prepare the drink because otherwise the idiots might not notice the additional awesomeness because they’re idiots. The absolutely best system would be to pluck the ingredient from the soil, bush or branch and hurl it immediately into the blender, so consider mixing your drinks in the middle of a field.
12 Dress up your dogs. If the Internet has taught us anything, it’s people love dogs wearing fancy outfits. So if your new recipe is a bit of a dog, dress it up with fancy shouting fits. Before the first sip can be snarled at, you should blurt out: “All ingredients locally sourced! Non-profit distillery benefiting whales! A tree is planted in the Matto Grasso every time this cocktail is served!” Only a monster would wail with disgust and vomit that cocktail back into the glass.
13 Make a big deal about bitters. Like the Matto Grasso, you don’t have to know exactly what bitters are, you just have to make a big deal about them.
14 Learn to carve ice into orbs. It’s very de rigueur to ice-pick big chunks of ice into orbs about the size of a cue ball, which you then put in a cocktail in place of boring old ice cubes. It looks really cool, and if they tilt the glass back far enough, the ball hits them in the mouth, which is pretty funny. Hint! When attacking the ice, do so with a furrowed brow of concentration, as if you were Michelangelo deciding if God’s hair is big and fluffy enough.
15 Discovery is the mean step-mom of reinvention. Sometimes you’ll invent an absolutely wonderful new cocktail only to discover that some jerk ripped you off a hundred years ago. For example, if some blabbermouth observes your Mexican House Fire has the exact same ingredients as a Tequila Sunrise, put on a tight little grin and say, “Yes, it’s a reinvention.” Then all you have to do is change up the ratios and add a pickle and it’s yours. Be careful not to reinvent a reinvention or you might end up with the old recipe and then you’ll have to tell them it’s an homage.
16 A substandard drink recipe, delivered at booming proof, will traverse from ridiculous to sublime in four cocktails. Three if sunk quickly.
17 If you publish an original recipe on your blog, minimize the possibility of criticism by making it impossible to replicate. First, insist on very specific ingredients—the juices must be hand squeezed from fruit plucked from a branch within jogging distance, the water must be glacial and unshaped by tray or mechanical device, the liquor the finest available (unless you are a brand ambassador, in which case the liquor need not be so very fine), the bitters homemade. To be doubly safe, include an ingredient so exotic, so difficult to acquire, that the average Joe would have as much chance of making and, therefore, judging your cocktail as a some gap-toothed yokel finding a Picasso in the town dump. For example: The middle yolk of a Duckbill Platypus egg (freshly laid!).
LEARN THE LINGO
18 Always spell rum as rhum. It’s fancier and signals that you might just know something other people don’t. You should also make an effort to pronounce the “h,” i.e.: ra-HUM!
19 Do not refer to your fans as drunks. Refer to them as drinkies, much as amateur gluttons are now called foodies.
20 Use language to manage expectations. If your drink leans toward a turgid muddle, tell them it’s highly nuanced. If it is utterly bland, call it well-mannered. If cringingly bitter, warn that it has a lovely bite. If it’s godawfully beastly, label it devilishly untamed. Saying your cocktail is not for beginners will make nearly all novice drinkies suppress their taste buds and gag reflex.
21 Memorize These Useful Phrases:
“It’s a reinvention of an updated hybrid.”
“Did I say reinvention? I meant deinvention.”
“I didn’t steal that recipe, I homaged it.”
“It’s not a purse, it’s a bitters-and-herbs satchel!”
“Make my cocktail with these bar tools? You must be kidding me!
“I’m just muddling along.” (If you’re using a muddler, pause for laughter.)
IN THE SCENE
22 Strut around like a fairly-well regarded physicist who occasionally enters Tough Man competitions.
One of the best things about being a mixologist is you not only get to use outrageous terminology to explain something relatively simple, just like a wine snob, but also get to cast yourself in the dual roles of Guardian of the Great Mysteries and Rugged Creator of Something Pretty Okay that are the bailiwick of homebrewers.
23 Take a stand: are you pro-blender or anti-blender? Being anti-blender makes you appear an uncompromising purist while being pro-blender makes you seem breezy and efficient (which sometimes leads to a bartending job, so be careful.)
24 Deflect doubt with the right look. Bow-tie, vintage spectacles, monocle, fedora, Hawaiian shirt, leather doctor’s bag, Victorian coat, smoking jacket, velvet pants, weird beard or handlebar mustache. Women must choose at least two, men three.
25 Don’t give away the game. If, in a moment of clarity, the idea that you’re a complete fraud who is certain to be exposed in a sudden climax of humiliation and shame rears up its ugly head, push it deep down with all those doubts about your Victorian jacket and monocle. Generally speaking, mixologists treat each other with the same chummy, let’s-not-blow-this-sweet-deal respect common to abstract painters, fashion designers, snake-oil salesmen and other long-con flimflam men. However . . .
26 Beware of wolves in sheeps’ Victorian coats. There are some who dress like mixologists and even call themselves mixologists but actually work behind a bar. They are easy to spot because the furtive pranciness of the mixologist is replaced by an opulent confidence that brings to mind Porthos—a dandy through and through but also an expert swordsman willing to murder strangers over an imagined slight. Don’t let them trick you into guessing how much Tai goes in a Mai-Tai.
27 Photobond your rep. Go to enough mixology conferences and you’ll eventually run into actual real-life cocktail masters who know what they’re doing. While it’s important to appear next to them in pictures (this is a version of photobombing called photobonding), do not engage in conversation with the DeGroffs, Wondriches, Regans, Berrys, Haighs and Whites of the cocktail world.
They won’t be so crude as to denounce you on Twitter, but this clan has a secret network, and once you’ve been outed as a fraud you’ll never be a brand ambassador, you’ll never get a book deal, and you most assuredly will never get a bar job that doesn’t have the word “back” attached to it.
28 Don’t get rat-boxed.* Beware of scenes where mixologists have been allowed to overbreed to the extent an ugly element of competition has crept in. Whereas mixologists generally congratulate one another’s creations and reinventions with such booming exclamations as “A huskily carnal delight!” and “A boldly original reworking!” and “I want to marry this cocktail!”, overpopulation can create a cruel caste system. Those in the upper caste are hailed as artistic geniuses and explosive innovators and those below are reviled as Johnny-come-lately gutterswine who just rolled out of a ditch full of turds and yet, incredibly, want a seat at the kewl-nerd table.
*A reference to the Too Many Rats in a Box Theorem. In the 1930s, behavioral scientists discovered that if you put too many rats in a box they become agitated, antisocial and, most heinous of all, start eating their young. And if you are a late arrival, you can guess who the elder mixologists will consider the “young.”
MIX ‘EM UP!
29 Learn how to shake a cocktail. The secret is behaving as if an invisible entity exactly as strong as you has a grip on the shaker and is energetically trying to take it from you. This creates an up and down, forward and back, heave and ho motion that appears very stylish to observers. This is important because . . .
30 The longer and more bizarre the manner in which you shake a cocktail, the better it will taste. This is called the Benihana Effect. It also makes you appear a little insane, and most people are loathe to insult cocktails made by a nearby insane person.
31 Make sure they know you care very much about their opinions.
Stare at them with an aggressive yet fragile smile, as if the slightest suggestion that your cocktail is anything less than spectacular will make you either burst out crying or reach into their mouths and rip out their unappreciative tongues.
32 Alcoholics are the best taste testers. It’s true! So be sure to steer your more devilishly untamed drinks toward the guys with cigarette burns on their pants.
33 Vegans, because they have trained themselves to eat weeds, are also superior taste testers. And the last thing you want is them thinking your cocktails are raising sea levels, so when describing your creation use these words liberally, even if you’re not sure what they mean: locally, sourced, farmers, market, gluten, free, sustainable, green, craft, eco, friendly and homemade. For example: “All my eco-sourced ingredients are freely sustained by the locally-friendly homemade farmers craft glutenning their markets. Green!”
34 Learn to pair your cocktails. This is the art of telling people what to eat with your drinks. Then perhaps later you can tell them what to wear and what they should talk about during the meal because plainly they’re imbeciles and need all the help they can get.
35 The longer it takes to make a cocktail, the better it will taste.Just like waiting in line for what seems an eternity at the DMV makes you appreciate your driver’s license all the more, waiting 20 minutes to get a drink makes the drinkie slaver with anticipation. So be sure to add a bunch of arbitrary stages (remember the ice in a bag thing?) and refrain from using any modern technology created expressly to speed along the very thing you are doing.
36 Carefully monitor how long it takes someone to finish your cocktails. If someone drinks your masterpiece in under three minutes, mutter: “Pearls before swine.” If it takes more than three minutes, snarl: “Great! You’ve drowned the damn thing in melted ice!”
37 Sometimes grimaces are secret smiles. If someone shouts, “What the hell did I just drink?” after trying your new recipe, keep in mind that that was exactly the sort of response you wanted: a passionate ache for knowledge.
A MIXOLOGIST WALKS INTO A BAR
38 When in bars, subtly communicate to the bartender that he is massacring the cocktail you just ordered. During each stage of the cocktail’s manufacture, make a tiny lunge as if trying to save a favorite lemming from hurling itself off a cliff. Alas, each lunge will be too late, so you must sigh mightily until his next blunder, which will be immediate. If a bartender stirs your cocktail, cringe like a bullwhip was laid across your back and say, a bit breathlessly, “Could you please shake so as to aerate?” If he shakes your cocktail, let loose a large groan and complain loudly to the nearest person, “He’s bruising the vermouth!”
39 Don’t forget the ice! There was a time when asking, “Where is the ice from?” would be met with, “The ice machine, asshole.” But now bartenders have to mutter, “It’s triple-filtered in-house,” even if it’s not true, and it isn’t.
40 Pity the fools. It’s easy to get a little misty-eyed when musing over the mixologist’s chosen fate: a courageous explorer far out in the nether regions, wrestling with wild new liqueurs and liquors, while the bartender squats in his safe little bar mixing safe little drinks for his safe little minions. Sliding your bartender looks steeped with pity while shaking your head sadly will help communicate your profound disappointment in him.
41 Talk at great length about opening your own bar. Talk all you want, but for the love of God, do not open your own bar. Running a bar is like mixing cocktails in your kitchen except hundreds of people are screaming for drinks that someone else invented a long time ago and they want them right now. Trust me, you don’t want any part of it.
42 Write a book. It should contain a vast collection of classic recipes (you can copy and paste these from the Internet, which will save you loads of writing time), plus some you reimagined or even made up, plus a chapter on the tools you’ll need to mix the cocktails (make sure you include a joke about the muddler, because muddler is a very funny word) and finally a chapter on how to actually mix the cocktails, which will include complicated maneuvers like stirring, shaking and, yes, muddling! Ha-ha!
Unfortunately, if you present your book to an agent or publisher, they will start yelling that a gazillion cocktail guides are published every year and who the hell are you to think you can be one of those gazillion authors?
Fortunately, you can now bypass those jerks and publish it yourself on Kindle. (They call it Kindle because if you had actually mailed a physical manuscript to an agent or publisher they would have used it for kindling.)
Good Words to Use in Your Book Title
Eco-Friendly Locally-Sourced Classic Essential HOT! Bible
Ultimate Celebrated Complete Exhaustive
Eco-Hostile New Jersey-Sourced Teetotaler’s
Pregnant Just So-So Heavily-Abridged Passable Semen
43 Labor mightily to secure a brand ambassadorship. This is one of the biggest plums a mixologist can muddle in the highball glass that is his reputation. What does a brand ambassador do? Why, the same as the ambassador to Liechtenstein does! Almost nothing!
Just kidding! Actually, there are many duties bundled up with that grand title. Depending upon which liquor conglomerate acquires you, you must put whichever alcohol product you’re assigned in every cocktail you invent, reinvent or homage, even if it doesn’t fit. (This is why Rum & Tonics and other silly drinks exist.) You must also put their product IN CAPS in every recipe or sentence you print, post, text, tweet or say. If someone asks you, “How do I get to the freeway from here?” you must answer “Take a right on 7th and look for the next exit at OLD BARNACLE RUM.”
44 Don’t become a molecular mixologist unless you have the time and money to blow on liquid nitrogen, rotavaps, centrifuges and other advanced tools. And make sure you have plenty of space in that cabinet above the refrigerator because that’s where all that expensive crap is going in about three months.