How To Drink Like A Bartender.
Before getting into this, I’d like to stress that you should always drink whatever you want, however you want. A whisky full of ice, a martini (pornstar or otherwise), or even the humble beer — all drinks are created equal.
This is just a tiny window into the fourth wall that separates drinker from bartender, the drinks that create a rare bond. I am going to attempt to speak on behalf of bartenders here which, as I write this, suddenly seems somewhat of a rash decision.
What an omelette is to a chef, the daiquiri is to a bartender. It is often used at the ultimate skills test because it marries the knowledge of dilution and balance, the two most important factors in making a cocktail. The bartender won’t just be able to throw together rum, lime and sugar. They’ll have to know the ratio of their sugar syrup, the quality of the lime juice, how their type of ice will react in the shaker, how long to shake for and how to pour correctly. This is the case for all drinks but the simplicity of this Caribbean classic leaves nowhere for the bartender to hide. If you order a daiquiri at the bar, the bartender will know your appreciation for classics and that you trust them to make the fundamental bartender’s test.
2. Fernet Branca
Otherwise known at the ‘Bartender’s Handshake’, this bitter Italian number has been on the backbars the world over for decades. It’s only in recent years that the bitter palate has reached the masses — Negronis have been drunk by chefs and bartenders many years but only recently have the more bitter mixes been celebrated. Fernet is taken as a shot and is not for the faint-hearted. It’s got a real zing to it and will do the same job as a double espresso but also blow away those hard-to-blow-away cobwebs. The ultimate palate-cleanser even if you haven’t eaten or plan to eat — the knowing nod from the bartender will be satisfying enough.
3. Rittenhouse Rye/Mellow Corn
The two darlings of the bar world. You’re in the bar on a ram-jam-packed Friday night (in normal times, of course). The bar has been full for hours and you’ve noticed it’s just been three bartenders all night when really it should’ve been four or five. Suddenly, through what seems like new forms of sign language and at least some telepathy, they converge in a tight circle as if they’re starting a boozy séance and in unison bottoms-up a silky bronze shot. Chances are that shot was either Ritnehouse Rye or Mellow Corn. Both have been around for years (Mellow Corn since the 1950s) and both have managed to collect somewhat of a cult following within the industry. The booze speaks for itself and is undeniably the most important factor in winning the favour of the bartenders. If you haven’t tried it yet, look out for them in your next visits and I’m sure if you were to offer a shot for yourself and the bartender, you’ll find some friends for life in that bar.
Mezcal is a bit like the Ross and Rachel of the bar industry. For the best part of a decade or more bartenders have been saying
This year! This will be the year of mezcal.
Then there’ll be some flirting, a new Mezcaleria will open up every now and then, but year on year mezcal is yet to even come close to its blue brother Tequila. There is still a small-town nature to mezcal along with its slightly formidable ‘smoky’ tasting note, but once you’ve tasted a quality mezcal cocktail or even just the right one neat, there’s no going back. It lies gloriously in the middle of many flavour profiles — if you like whisky but not tequila, try mezcal. If you usually like brown spirits only, try mezcal. If you usually like only sweet, try mezcal. It is so wonderfully versatile and full of complexity, something bartenders have been trying to get across for years but it hasn’t hit that mainstream popularity yet. Before it does, ask for that mezcal margarita and bask in the magnificent nod of approval you’ll receive.
5 Guinness, All The Way Up
This one is controversial. I’m sure to lose readers from both sides of the bar here and certainly from Ireland. Look, when someone comes up to the bar on a Friday night, it’s 8 people deep and they order 4 Guinness, it’s gonna slow us down. A lot. I know there’s been decades of science and a heck load of marketing that’s gone into the indoctrination of the ‘Surge & Settle’, but does it make all that much difference to let the pint settle after pouring two thirds? I don’t think so. As long as the beer lines are clean, the cellar is cold and the bartender isn’t pouring it like an amateur, it’s all the same beer. Guinness is delicious, definitely the best beer option around and far superior to any lager. However, when the bartender has 4 Whisky Sours, a couple of manhattans, six or seven G&Ts and several Guinness on order, I promise they’ll appreciate the phrase “Guinness, all the way up” more than you know.
I’ve said it already but it’s worth saying again — drink what you want. There are thousands of drinks out there worth drinking. If you have one that’s worth trying, come to the bar sometime in the future and let’s talk about it.