[This article previously appeared in Barlife Magazine.]
by Anistatia Miller and Jared Brown
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.