Monday, 5 March 2018

Generation Z

[This article previously appeared in Barlife Magazine.]

by Anistatia Miller and Jared Brown

They say the young generation doesn’t read. As publishers, we wonder about the hardbound books purchased as decorations for bars today. They seem to sit pristine on backbars around the world. 

However, this doesn’t mean the younger generation has turned away from reading. They just read differently. They have embraced far more populist and rapid media: social media. Facebook, Snapchat, Instagram, Twitter and the others have become the platforms for instantaneous, interactive, internationally-oriented information dispersal. (Say that after three Martinis!). 

This active reading is the secret to the success of Generation Z. Today, you don’t need to wait for a book to come out—much less wait for it to come out translated into your preferred language. The apps have translation buttons. We can communicate as easily between Prague and Buenos Aires as we can communicate with each other tête-à-tête in a coffee shop. 

Some say too much time on the internet is unhealthy. It steals time away from more productive pursuits. This is true if the bulk of your time is spent watching cute dog and cat videos (or porn). However, if you use social media as a tool for learning and sharing ideas, it is the greatest knowledge accumulation and development tool in the history of our species. Social media is one of the main reasons this has become the Golden Age of the Cocktail, the Cocktail Renaissance—or rather because the industry has so thoroughly embraced social media. 

Does spending time online make you anti-social? This has also been said many times. And when you’re sitting with a group of people who are all staring at their phones rather than talking it feels anti-social. However, it is more the case that we are alternatively social today. We are no longer bound by geography to socialise with those people around us. We can seek out people who share our interests wherever they are. We may never even meet them in person but they can become our closest friends. This has spawned interest groups focusing on everything from classic cocktails to bitters to flair bartending to bartenders’ fashions. Got a particular interest? There’s probably a group out there already, waiting to share ideas and critique ideas with you. 

It is essential to keep reading, to stay on top of the developments, to find the innovators to follow their work. Equally essential is sharing your own work. While it might be tempting to keep secret recipes secret, imagine if Joërg Meyer had kept the Gin Basil Smash a secret, or if Sam Ross had refused to share his Penicillin Cocktail recipe? The world would never have gotten to try these drinks. Their creators would never know how far their creations could and have circumnavigated the world. 

If you’ve made it this far, then you have a better than average chance of success in this business for the simple reason that you are reading. Cheers!

Soft & Low

[This article previously appeared in Barlife Magazine.]

by Anistatia Miller and Jared Brown

There are no hardhats, steel toes, safety goggles or reflector vests required—not because bartending isn’t hazardous work, but because the physical, mental and emotional hazards are subtle. 

At least once we’ve all been three deep at the bar and caught a thumb with a serrated knife drenched in lime juice. Inevitably it happens directly over the well and at that moment when it would be least appropriate to explode in a stream of all the words we weren’t taught as children. We keep straight faces. We smile. We gesture to the barback for a bandage or a roll of duct tape and a bucket of ice and a fresh ice well while smiling and chatting to the bar reviewer who showed up during a Friday night peak. All the while, we’re remembering the inventory is due at the end of the shift and we’ve got visitors dropping in at closing time and the ice well is filling with blood and toward the back of the bar a drunken hen party is stuffing all the expensive new electric candles into their purses, the ones you barely squeezed into the budget. 

Stress. The world doesn’t realise bartenders face stress. Many bartenders are unaware of it, even some of the ones feeling it the most, and most affected by it. Does it matter? Perhaps not in the short run, but the three most common causes of death: heart disease, stroke and cancer all include stress as a major contributing factor. 

For bartenders there are additional dangers from stress. Primary among them is substance abuse. Alcohol is the obvious danger. It is all around us. Customers buy us shots. We buy customers shots and they expect us to drink with them. Drinking is part of the job. Moderation is up to us and incredibly challenging. 

While the prevailing cure for alcoholism is complete abstinence (and for some this is the only possible cure) for many it is possible to exercise self-control once the problem or potential problem is recognised. 

Other more addictive and illegal substances should generally be avoided. Bartending is a profession. Cocaine and other class A drugs have ruined countless careers and lives. Those highs are simply not worth the risk.

If you or someone close to you has issues with substance abuse, it is worth investigating the root cause by going to (or encouraging the person) to visit a therapist. All too frequently, this abuse is self-medication in an attempt to cure underlying emotional issues. Once the root is treated, the remedy loses its urgency. 

Beyond substances, there are less visible forms of self abuse and other hidden addictions that can harm us in the long run—even the pursuit of good health. Beware of workout programs that do damage to your body. You can get a massive endorphin release in the gym or on a run but if you are risking your ligaments and rotator cuffs you are not actually improving your overall health. Again, bartending is a profession. It is one of the best professions in the world. Take care of yourself now and always and you extend your professional life, and the party keeps going.

“Everything in moderation,” said British author and bon vivant Oscar Wilde, “including moderation."

The Multilevel Bartender

[This article previously appeared in Barlife Magazine.]

by Anistatia Miller and Jared Brown

Every bartender must learn the classics. These are the drinks you will inevitably make in some form more than any others. As long as there are bars there will be customers looking for Martinis, Manhattans, Daiquirís, Gin & Tonics, Mojitos, and Old Fashioneds. Mastering these is essential to becoming a great bartender.

However, there is another far more important reason to learn the classics. These recipes contain the building blocks for drinks with no name, drinks made on the spot perhaps inspired by a customer who is up for trying the “bartender’s choice”.

For that matter, once a bartender has learned the fundamentals of the classics, the job is not over. It is easy to spend a lifetime learning the nuances and variations. Previous generations left us a legacy of classic recipes not so that we could become masters of replication of standardised formulae and stand beside those past masters, but so that we might learn from them and stand upon their shoulders taking drink a step further in our lifetimes. 

Bartender’s choice is a personal favourite. Willy Schmidt, a German bartender working in New York during the late 1800s was more famous in his lifetime than Harry Johnson and Professor Jerry Thomas combined. “The Only” William was also famous for producing original creations for his customers. He might not remember thirty minutes later what he had mixed, but that drink and the next one would likely be the best that the customer had ever tasted because Willy had mastered the fundamental structures and could demonstrate remarkable creativity within them. 

Today, Guiliano Morandin at the Dorchester Hotel in London is among the best living examples of freestyle masters. Give him a spirit, a few ingredient suggestions or a general direction and his well-trained palate allows him to put together a new masterpiece on the spot. 

Building on the classics is not a new concept. In the late 1800s and early 1900s, bartenders were more akin to chefs. Louis Fouquet, who wrote Bariana in 1896 and could be considered the father of cocktail bartending in France made his Martini with gin, dry vermouth and crème de noyaux. Pedro Chicote, father of Spanish cocktail bartending and author of El Bar Americano en Espagna, Cocktails Mundials, and Mis 500 Cocktails, mixed a Martini with gin, dry vermouth and four dashes of Angostura bitters. These are bartenders who learned the classics and then modified them to create their own original drinks.

Pop-Up

[This article previously appeared in Barlife Magazine.]

by Anistatia Miller and Jared Brown

Aside from being a drinking establishment launched with the premise that it will be open for a finite period, the sky’s the limit with a pop-up bar. There is far more freedom to experiment with new concepts and far less financial risk than comes with building a permanent establishment.

With smaller start-up investment requirements it is no surprise pop-ups have exploded over the past decade—although the structure has been around for as long as humans have gathered to eat and drink. Christmas and harvest fairs are timeless pop-ups. A great example of more sporadic pop-ups is the series of frost fairs held on the Thames River in London whenever it was frozen so thick it could support the weight of crowds and occasionally elephants. The frost fairs occurred in the 1700s and 1800s with people setting up tents and welcoming an onslaught of customers.  

The most famous historic pop-ups in the USA were the 1960s music festivals. Woodstock and Monterey Pop were not ongoing concerns but one-offs organised by idealists. From those origins a new genre emerged. Music festivals are now big business, employing nearly 50,000 people each year.

Similarly, the pop-up model has emerged as a viable business bar or restaurant alternative and have also become big business. However, smaller players frequently have the advantage. Pop-ups are no more challenging for an individual or small group to put together than for a corporation. Plus, the prevailing opinion  of consumers is a general mistrust of corporate pop-ups. 

An alternative model is to create a free-standing, independent pop-up within an existing establishment. ABV in San Francisco for example has a second bar upstairs in the back. At the moment it is a whiskey bar. Soon it will be a gin bar. Then an agave spirits bar. 

Mobile bars are another of the latest hot food trends to spill over into drink. The average investment to set up a food truck is far lower than to a restaurant build out. The same goes for bars. The licensing can be tricky. But in most countries a mobile bar falls under the same strictures as any other catering operation. 

One of the great secrets of the live concert business is the built-in plan to add more dates if a show quickly sells out all of its nights. This can also add enormously to the profits from a pop-up bar and should always be factored into the plan. It may not happen every time, but we have worked on a six-week event that ultimately ran for four months. It probably could have continued. But with pop-ups it is always better to end them while they are still successful rather than spending the profits to prop up a sinking pop-up. 

Bottom line: What consumers appreciate more than anything is a fresh concept, a new idea. While it is safer to take an idea that has proven successful and repeat it, with pop-ups consumers are drawn to innovation. Thus, being first will be more risky but also more profitable in the near term and a stronger reputation builder in the long run.

Think Globally, Act Locally

[This article previously appeared in Barlife Magazine.]

by Anistatia Miller and Jared Brown


Back in the Sixties an acquaintance of mine and his band released their second album. The title song was a rock version of the Pete Seeger’s classic “Turn! Turn! Turn! (To Everything There Is a Season)”. Although the lyrics were an almost verbatim transcription of a passage in the Bible (Ecclesiastes 3:1-8), the words resonated a message to Kerouac’s post-war Hip Generation and the Hippie Movement that immediately followed. Believe it or not, this same song reminds us that even the bar industry follows a natural cycle, revisiting viable concepts in a different light.

The Sixties generation wanted to get back to the earth. Diet for a Small Planet and Food for Free were just two epistles that heralded a return to old ways:  a time to plant, a time to learn how to make liqueurs, syrups, and homemade wine. Individuality was the axiom. The young searched for the natural, the rural, and the local whether it was in the Canadian Rockies, Rajasthan, or the Patagonia.

Disco discarded all that comfy goodness for throughout the Seventies for glitter and polyester. The soda gun dispensed the only mixers used to make a litany of tall drinks. Reconstituted juices and foaming agents fuelled Travolta moves wherever TV delivered coolness in a recessed economy. It was a time to cast away the old in favour of the instant. 

Globalisation was the click word of the Eighties. Reganomics, Thatcherism, yuppiedom, big hair, power lunches, and excess. It was a time when gainers globe-hopped, leaving a huge carbon footprint and immense loss. Who cared if your Vodka Martini was garnished with Ossetra caviar? Wasted fuel, a depleted fishery that is now facing extinction, and unsustainable lines of credit were the decade’s poor harvest.

A ground swell movement to revive old recipes TO THE LETTER announced the Nineties. A new and curious audience were told a Manhattan could only be made one way regardless what the customer wanted. Homogeneity of cocktail classics spread like wildfire in North America. Then its disciples carried their gospel to an emerging cluster of bar shows: London, Amsterdam, Berlin, Tokyo, New Orleans, Las Vegas.

But why can’t local ingredients offer the flavours and textures that appeal to a local audience? Why can’t bartenders learn new techniques and tastes around the globe, returning to adapt them to a local audience? Urban gardens, allotment gardening, farmers markets, and a new mantra—“love food, hate waste”—are taking hold with Millennials. Vintage cookbooks offer up alternative techniques that pair efficiently with improved technology. Thanks to the digital world, the search for this knowledge can be done on a mobile, a laptop, or a tablet instead of a passenger jet.

To everything turn, turn, turn. There is a season, turn, turn, turn. And a time to every purpose under the heaven. We have come full circle in a mere fifty years, looking to make the best out of what we have at home and what we discovered in our global travels without losing sight of our responsibility to sustainability.

TRENDS OF 2017

[This article previously appeared in Barlife Magazine.]


by Jared Brown & Anistatia Miller

Radical trends have swept through the drinks industry over the past few years. “Craft” and “small batch” have become mainstream as global brands—particularly beer—have steadily lost business to companies not trying for international or even national success but solely focussed on regional markets. It is a trend set to continue and even rise this year.

Drink went so deep into the fussy and quirky side of speakeasy mixology over the past 16 years that there had to be an eventual swing of the pendulum in the other direction. Look for the return of the rock-and-roll dive. However, unlike the rock dives of past decades, look for a much higher standard of drink offerings.

Vodka drinkers are set to become a bit less embarrassed and apologetic, although it won’t have the slightest effect on the continued rise and rise of boutique gins. There’s no cannibalism among these categories, All these emerging identities are chipping away at the mountainous profits that once poured into the multi-national beer companies’ coffers. 

Mescal has hit an unforeseen snag, becoming a victim of its own success. Look for bartenders to cut back on pouring and customers to be a bit less wide-eyed as it becomes apparent that the trend is endangering rare agaves rather than helping to save them as it would at smaller volumes.

Look for age statements to vanish from the brown spirits as such whiskies, rums, and brandies as higher demand pushes producers into finding new flavours and marketing positions in younger blends.

We would love to see Guillaume LeBlanc’s coconut fat-washed Daiquiri that’s served in Dirty Dick’s in Paris hit Gin Basil Smash levels of international penetration. It’s phenomenal drink, but may be held back by the level of skill and amount of prep time required. However, this drink does represent another trend: the return of signature drinks. More and more, bars are becoming known for a particular drink and that drink is becoming a substantial part of the bar’s sales. Look at the Working 9-to-5 at The Shard in the Gong Bar.

Bottled cocktails have been touted as a coming trend for years. However, last year saw a number of known innovators and trend setters make headway with this wonderfully streamlined service. Will it become a major 2017 trend? More likely, we will see more early adopters join in, moving it closer to trend status in 2018. 

Ice. Ice has been so talked about for so many years that it has reached average bars and big chain operations. This is the year to be shocked if a bar doesn’t have a flawless ice program.

Brace yourself for the start of a flood of craft whiskies from enthusiastic newcomers. Remember all those new gin companies that emerged about three years ago? Most of them were making gin just to pay the bills with white spirits until their first whisk(e)y was mature enough to sell. Is it mature enough in only three years? Don’t expect the next Van Winkle or Whistle Pig to emerge from these. However, there are sure to be some interesting and even category challenging entries among them. 

America is going to see a bit of shrinkage in their global drink influence over the next few years. A nation headed by an outspoken non-drinker, its political and social climates are entering a time of upheaval and temperance. Watch for far greater European and Asian influence on global drinks in 2017. 

Wednesday, 5 October 2016

Nothing New But Thankfully the Same

[This article previously appeared in Barlife Magazine.]

by Anistatia Miller and Jared Brown

When we recently were asked to write about this topic, I admit that I had to lookup what these click words mean: relaxation, zen, wellness. See, before the current era’s trilogy of terms and its predecessor—the New Age lifestyle—the search for self was not so much a trend as a secret society game of Chinese whispers shared amongst a very few. 

Some of my generation have somehow managed to live through decades we thought we would never see—thirty, forty, fifty, sixty. And with that experience behind me I am relieved to see external chaos and crisis is being met with a call for personal sanity. 

My grandparents lived through that same roller coaster of stress, during the 1920s and 1930s, brought on by progress and the demands of a world in chaos. They secretly submerged themselves in theosophy, western yoga (introduced through the Self-Realisation Fellowship), and even zen buddhism. Such free souls lived not at the core of cool, but on the razor’s edge of society. They formed the avant-garde. They were the people who sought an unconventional way to accept their presence in a world gone mad between the world wars and economic crises. Over cigarettes, spirits, and the occasional baked wheatgerm doughnut, they delved deep into these esoteric wonders. They questioned purpose for life as their counterparts rattled in the dark forces of nihilism, anarchy, and drug addiction.

A post-war generation swept such thoughts into a dark pit, finding comfort in mood elevators and stabilisers knocked back with a few therapy sessions with a psychiatrist and the local bar. They commuted to jobs they hated so they could live an expected life. Those people, the parents of my generation, told us how to live the life they had planned for us to live. 

Natural human reaction ensued as the outside world fell into the chaos of the Cold War, nuclear threats, and economic downturns. We rebelled. At university, we dove deep into impractical degrees—philosophy, archaeology, sociology, art history—as we planned our next sit-in at the administration building and traded notes on our new macrobiotic diet; our personal take on the meanings of the Sutras; our personal experiences with focussed thinking (read: meditation or research or a masters dissertation on pre-Columbian Amazonian cultures).

And now a similar cycle of outer chaos and a desire for inner peace has arisen. But it is a very special moment for those of us in hospitality. We need provide a quantum of solace to the people we serve. It comes from within: the ability to focus on making a drink and serving it with a personal superpower that delivers solace, comfort, cheer, support. It is the essence of zen.

Solace cannot be conveyed if you are hungover, stressed, angry, unsure. Solace does not need to be generated from the latest fitness craze, diet, or psycho-babble fad. It can build up from cooking the perfect egg for yourself and savouring its flavour, aroma, and moment of experience. It can be empowered in taking a reflective walk to search your thoughts and feelings, to discover new points of inspiration. It be recharged from learning your personal patterns for sleeping, eating, and relaxing.

Different from before? In one sense, yes. This time, those of us who seek this inner calm and self-awareness are not on the outskirts of society. We are not even social rebels. We are the salve that soothes a world that needs solace.