Issue September 15, 2010

Louisville’s Bartisans

Local bartenders talk the art of the cocktail

 

ADAM UNDERWOOD

Village Anchor Pub & Roost

www.villageanchor.com

Adam Underwood began his career as a “drink slinger,” a term he invented to differentiate between a professional bartender and someone who stands behind a bar and dishes out rum and Coke after rum and Coke for a nightly crowd. His job was to serve drinks as fast as he could at Main Street Lounge, which did nothing for his curiosity of the craft cocktail. He soon moved to Maker’s Mark Lounge, where he was able to experiment with building traditional cocktails for a clientele willing to wait five minutes for a drink. Now he’s landed at the new Village Anchor Pub, where he’s helping build a cocktail menu that’ll stand up to the best in town. He suggests trying drinks with an open mind — “If someone comes in and says, ‘Make me anything as long as it doesn’t have gin in it,’ I’m going to make them something with gin in it. They’ve obviously had the wrong gin.” —Sara Havens

1) Where does Louisville stand amongst some of the better-known, craft-cocktail towns?

Louisville has fewer cocktail bars than cities leading the trend (Chicago, New York, San Fran, L.A.). However, the cocktail bars and bartenders we do have are on par with any other city.

2) What are your thoughts on the resurgence of the cocktail?

I’m glad the cocktail is back — it’s long overdue. It’s crazy that it has taken this long to recover from Prohibition. Let’s hope that never happens again.

3) What’s your favorite cocktail tip the average at-home bartender doesn’t know?

Vermouth is 75-percent wine, so if you don’t like to drink really cheap wine, then don’t buy really cheap vermouth. You must also keep it fresh by spraying it after you pour it with wine preserve (available at most liquor stores), and I like to store mine in the refrigerator. It will keep for months like that. My two favorite sweet vermouths are Carpano Antica and Vya.

4) So, are you a bartender, craft tender, mixologist, classicist, neo-classicist, etc.?

For years, the term bartender meant someone who took orders for vodka and cranberry juice (which is a drink, not a cocktail) and made them as quickly as possible. The more appropriate term should have been “drink slinger.” During those years, I tried to distance myself by being a self-proclaimed “liquor chef.” However, with the resurgence of the cocktail, the cocktail bar and the professional bartender, I am proud to once again consider myself a bartender.

5) What’s next in cocktails?

It’s very difficult to predict where cocktails will go. All I know is that the cocktail is back and here to stay. Where it goes is up to the bartender and his patron, one cocktail at a time.

 

JARED SCHUBERT

Village Anchor Pub & Roost

www.villageanchor.com

Jared Schubert was instrumental in designing the cocktail program at 732 Social and continues to make his mark at popular spots like the new Village Anchor. Despite recent job offers that would have carried him to the Northwest, Schubert has committed himself to plying his trade in Louisville. Since serving in the Apprentice Program at “Tales of the Cocktail” in New Orleans, he has applied his renewed focus to developing plans for the world’s greatest speakeasy. Beverage Network, an industry magazine, recently voted Schubert one of the “top 10 mixologists to watch.” —J. Christian Walsh

1) Where does Louisville stand amongst some of the better-known, craft-cocktail towns?

Louisville’s on the map. We get noticed right off the bat, because so many people come in to taste our bourbon. I think we’re still in our infancy in terms of understanding flavor. We’re still developing our voice but are getting attention from outside, as I learned while attending “Tales of the Cocktail.” One Brooklyn bartender pointed out that the thing we do better here than any place is hospitality. So, yeah, we’re starting out with a good reputation.

2) What are your thoughts on the resurgence of the cocktail?

It was inevitable, especially considering what’s happening with food and wine, which cocktails seem to follow. We’re seeing chefs stepping out of the kitchen and bringing proper ingredients and culinary technique to the bar side of things. People like Toby Maloney and Audrey Saunders, who emphasize details like proper mint handling. Pat it, never muddle it — that level of technique. Soon customers become savvier and expect a certain quality. Suddenly the genie is out of the bottle, so to speak.

3) What’s your favorite cocktail tip the average at-home bartender doesn’t know?

Refrigerate vermouth! It’s wine — treat it that way. Also, the Interweb is your friend. People like Dale Degroff have already translated all the old books and made the measurement conversions. These days, you can go to a website and learn how to bartend. The other day, a customer told me to give something a “quick stir.” I was like, where did you learn that term? I think it’s awesome when customers know what they want and what they’re talking about.

4) So, are you a bartender, craft tender, mixologist, classicist, neo-classicist, etc.?

Neo-classicist, minimalist, liquid artisan and locavorist. No, really though, people who take this seriously call themselves bartenders. In fact, the latest campaign is to take that term back from the shot-and-a-beer guys. Increasingly, I’m hearing them referred to as “beertenders.”

5) What’s next in cocktails?

Thinking outside of the glass. Guest experience. The eye-rolling mixologist with attitude is definitely on the out. Also, it surprises me to say this, but I don’t think the molecular thing has gone away yet. It lulled for a while, but seems to be creeping back. It’s moving out of the super nerdy realm and reaching people who are just looking for a new experience. A bartender handed me a solid gin and tonic the other day. I didn’t realize I had to break it up with my hands until I lifted it to my lips. Then there’s Eben Freeman’s mojito in a bubble. Presentation can change everything.

 

JENNIFER PITTMAN

Proof on Main

www.proofonmain.com

It’s damn near impossible to tell how long Jennifer Pittman has been behind the bar. With numerous accolades and awards under her belt — including winning the Louisville Iron Bartender Competition — you would assume she’s been mixing spirits for decades. Surprisingly, though, it’s only been a few years, she says, but she’s jumped in head first, learning the history, the tricks and the traditions. Pittman is head bartender at Proof on Main, where they infuse local, fresh ingredients into house-made tonics and bitters. If you haven’t tried a Proof gin and tonic, you’re missing out. Better yet, visit Pittman and ask her to surprise you. I guarantee you’ll beg for more. —Sara Havens

1) Where does Louisville stand amongst some of the better-known, craft-cocktail towns?

Similar to other cities that are considered to be “up and coming,” Louisville definitely has something unique to add to the art of craft cocktails. Look at bars such as Proof, Social and the Blind Pig, and you’ll see the quality of bartending, the level of craftsmanship and knowledge of spirits. It’s fairly intimidating, even to those visiting from cities like Brooklyn or San Fran. You’d have to be completely oblivious if you couldn’t see that what’s going on here is special.

One of the great things about this city is that we act like a small community. We grow locally, eat locally, there’s a real sense of comradery amongst the bartenders and restaurant staff that I don’t think exists in larger cities. As a result, there’s a huge pool of knowledge that is shared between all of the bartenders who care. Having a good foundation, like knowing the old-school recipes, will only help to make you that much better at your craft. I think that’s why the resurgence of classic cocktails has made such an impact on what people drink — people are more conscious of what they are putting in their bodies, resulting in higher quality ingredients, fresh produce, house-made everything. And let’s not forget that while we do follow trends, we also set them. People come here from all around the world to learn about what we do in Kentucky. We are bourbon, and if you’re following cocktail trends, bourbon is huge. It’s everywhere.

2) What are your thoughts on the resurgence of the cocktail?

I think it’s important to know the classics, because they serve as the base for all other cocktails. Without knowing what a proper Manhattan is, or the recipe for a real martini, how can you make variations of that drink? Know the foundations first, then creativity will follow.

3) What’s your favorite cocktail tip the average at-home bartender doesn’t know?

Most recipes are given in ounces, and if you don’t have an ounce/half-ounce jigger, which most people do not, including myself, then following recipes can be difficult. However, most people have a teaspoon or tablespoon on hand: 1 ounce = 2 tablespoons or 6 teaspoons.

4) So, are you a bartender, craft tender, mixologist, classicist, neo-classicist, etc.?

I’m a bartender. 

5) What’s next in cocktails?

Creativity is coming back — less classics, more unique ideas. Fresh, quality ingredients are a must. Infusions are coming back, but this time around, they’re going to be more inventive, quirky, playful, daring.

 

JOSH DURR

Director of Research & Development, Hawthorn Beverage

hawthornbev.weebly.com

There were few people to talk to when Josh Durr started his Louisville-based, beverage-consulting firm in 2006. Yet, it seems the decision to open was prescient, considering the cocktail culture that’s sprouting up around town today. Durr is now a part of Hawthorn Beverage, where he’s learned to always keep a bag packed. No day is the same, says the bar consultant and marketer, who at any moment, can be asked to jump on a plane.
J. Christian Walsh

1) Where does Louisville stand amongst some of the better-known, craft-cocktail towns?

I travel a lot. I know the New York guys, I know the Chicago guys, and the reality is, we’re at a turning point here. In the next six months or so, maybe a year, you’re going to see bars come around that will really push this region into the next gear. Definitely be on the look out. On a world scale, per capita, I think we’re doing pretty well.

2) What are your thoughts on the resurgence of the cocktail?

Bartenders have business cards now. They’re doing consulting and beginning to capitalize on the talent they have and research they do, which is great. But when this was still evolving, before you could Google how to do it, there was what I call a “Soup Nazi approach” among those who knew. Now, the information is out there and it’s changing the environment. This is a movement, and we’re learning that with open arms and smiling faces, we’ll gain more than the other way around.

3) What’s your favorite cocktail tip the average at-home bartender doesn’t know?

Don’t be afraid of stirring. Stir your martinis and Manhattans. Two-to-one ratio on a martini and a Manhattan, orange bitters … Oh, and don’t be afraid of vermouth. Store it properly. Know that it goes bad in two weeks. Bartenders who have been working for 20 years hear that and go, “Really?” Yeah, really!

4) So, are you a bartender, craft tender, mixologist, classicist, neo-classicist, etc.?

What do I want to be known as? I want to be a bartender. There’s nothing wrong with being called that. It’s a noble profession, and you don’t need to jazz it up. The term mixologist was coined in the 1850s at the Knickerbocker, so it’s not a new term. Even back then, it was used as a marketing tool to define someone who was doing something different. Now, if you’re in the network, there’s this stigma around it. It’s kind of a ridiculous term. We don’t talk like that. We’re bartenders.

5) What’s next in cocktails?

I think rum. Tiki is hot, I mean, Painkiller in New York has got to be my favorite bar right now. Smuggler’s Cove in San Francisco and Thatch in Portland, Ore. — those are really great (tiki bars.) It’s just fun. How serious can you take yourself when you’re wearing a Hawaiian print T-shirt and a lei? But, they’re not screwing around. They’re making amazing drinks that will knock you on your ass. The other big thing is minimalism. Less is more. Hmm, there’s an irony in the two trends!

 

JOY PERRINE

Equus & Jack’s Lounge

www.equusrestaurant.com

“Everybody loves the bartender because they think they’re gonna get free drinks. That’s the one thing that hasn’t changed,” says Joy Perrine, who’s been doing time behind the bar for more than 45 years, 25 of them at the venerable Equus & Jack’s Lounge. Perrine knows how to make every cocktail in the book and has added her own recipes, including Jack’s signature cocktail, the Bourbonball, which has won numerous awards and is featured in Perrine’s “The Kentucky Bourbon Cocktail Book.” She’s quick to make suggestions, ready to offer advice and willing to sit back and listen — vital traits for successful bartenders. “People tell bartenders stuff they won’t tell their wives, their husbands, their priests, their lawyer, their business partner,” she says. “You become their shrink. You become everything to everyone — we wear a lot of different hats.” —Sara Havens

1) Where does Louisville stand amongst some of the better-known, craft-cocktail towns?

We have a lot of very good talent, the problem is they can’t hold a job. They seem to go from place to place to place. Most people aren’t going to wait 20 minutes for a drink. So you gotta do a good drink, you gotta do it fast, and it’s gotta be profitable.

Not only in Louisville, but everywhere, local trends have become national trends. Being the bourbon capital of the world, it’s a bit different for us, because everybody in Louisville drinks bourbon. This is the home of the Old Fashioned — if there is one drink that every bartender in Kentucky should be able to make, it’s the Old Fashioned. Most people suck at it. They won’t take the time to learn how to make one drink properly.

2) What are your thoughts on the resurgence of the cocktail?

In 45 years, I’ve never stopped making Old Fashioneds or martinis or Manhattans, and I think the better bars never have either. It’s the stuff that’s getting played, getting publicity. Now all of a sudden, the Manhattan is hot. Nothing ever happened to the Manhattan. The same guy who was drinking it 30 years ago is still drinking it. It just was never publicized. Again, I see trends. Certain kinds of restaurants will open up that feature certain kinds of drinks. When I first started, it was Jose Cuervo. But in the last 10 years, all of a sudden we have all of these expensive designer tequilas.

Also, people no longer go to a bar and order a Dewar’s and water. People come because they like cocktails or want to try cocktails — they’re interested. People are reading, they’re seeing it on TV — it’s in your face all the time, this cocktail resurgence. What is a cocktail? To me, it’s a drink with two or more ingredients, one of them being an alcoholic beverage, and some kind of a garnish.

3) What’s your favorite cocktail tip the average at-home bartender doesn’t know?

Don’t try to master every cocktail that’s out there. Become a master at two or three cocktails. Make a nice garnish. Keep it simple, make it your own. Oh, and buy good ingredients.

4) So, are you a bartender, craft tender, mixologist, classicist, neo-classicist, etc.?

I’m a bartender. I’ve always been a bartender — born a bartender, die a bartender. 

5) What’s next in cocktails?

There’s a lot going on — there’s been a revival in punches, in juleps, a big revival in eggnogs. At Christmas, we make five different eggnogs. People are already startin’ about when are you gonna do the eggnog. I also think the trend is in the craft distilleries — all over the country they’re making spirits, and we have a lot in the tri-state area. I think you’re going to see a big resurgence in Applejack. Applejack is to New Jersey what bourbon is to Kentucky.

 

MICHAEL PADGETT

732 Social

www.732social.com

While Michael Padgett was a member of the kitchen staff at Seviche, he was challenged by the bartender to make his best cocktail. After a taste and brief moment of disbelief, the “Dirk Funk” was born. So was a new career. Padgett and “Dirk Funk” (a bourbon, brandy and absinthe concoction) soon moved to 732 Social, where both have become fixtures. At “Tales of the Cocktail” this summer, Padgett learned that another of his creations, “The Rum Diaries,” had found its way onto a menu in Pittsburgh. “Hello, Mr. Michael Padgett,” he recalls the Pittsburgh bartender saying. “It was weird. Nobody calls me that. Not even the guy trying to sell me a car.” —J. Christian Walsh

1) Where does Louisville stand amongst some of the better-known, craft-cocktail towns?

We’re obviously growing. At “Tales of the Cocktail,” I was meeting people who were like, “Oh, you’re from Louisville, Ky. Have you heard of 732 Social?” “Uh, yeah, I work there.” We’ve learned a lot from those larger markets, and now going to those places and tasting drinks — I think we’re doing a hell of a job. It’s like the food community here. We’re right up there, and I think that will expand into great cocktail lounges.

2) What are your thoughts on the resurgence of the cocktail?

I think it’s only beginning. I don’t think it will explode to the point where you can get a Ramos Gin Fizz at a mom-and-pop joint or anything. But I think it’s out there, and it’s not a trend. They’ll always be a place for the classic style.

3) What’s your favorite cocktail tip the average at-home bartender doesn’t know?

Buy a hand juicer. Fresh juices. It really is the little things and subtle nuances that make it better. Spend a little extra on vermouth and take care of it. Buy better product, be patient and have fun, too. Try new things; treat it like cooking.

4) So, are you a bartender, craft tender, mixologist, classicist, neo-classicist, etc.?

We’re all bartenders. I mean, what do you call a chef that does something a little different? You don’t call him like, a food wizard. Did you get a degree in mixology? No, oh, then you’re a bartender, not a mixologist. I hear that term, and I think of a dorky guy in his basement, making obscure champagne cocktails and listening to Joy Division. Not that there’s anything wrong with either of those things.

5) What’s next in cocktails?

I don’t really know. Different trends seem to arrive every day. I’m seeing more Scotch lately — people asking for Scotch Manhattans, Scotch Old Fashioneds. There’s a lot of classics being given modern twists. And Mezcal was unheard of 10 years ago. Now, suddenly, everyone is in love with it. But, as far as what’s next on the horizon, I don’t really know.