Words by: Simon Difford
As part of their Mixing Star Project, Disaronno challenged me to identify five different styles of bartending. It was not something I’d considered before but it has led me to the conclusion that there are indeed five great bartending styles to which all bars, and all bartenders conform.
A few places such as Milan's Nottingham Forest use all five of these styles to great effect and most bartenders would categorise themselves under at least two of the following headings. However, each of the following represent distinctly different styles of bartending:
5. Contemporary & fun
Follows an exploration of each with hyper-links to in-depth information, along with my own Disaronno Mixing Star example cocktail for each category.
From the two great ages of bartending B.P. and A.P. - Before Prohibition and After Prohibition, classic cocktails are the foundation on which all other styles of bartending are based.
I consider Jerry Thomas' 1876 The Bar-tenders Guide the Old Testament and David Embury's 1948 The Fine Art of Mixing Drinks the New Testament, but any drink that appears in any cocktail book published before 1970 that is still being made and repeated in modern day bartending books can be considered a 'classic cocktail'. Many vintage drinks are 'forgotten classics' - no longer made because they have genuinely been overlooked, or simply weren't much good in the first place. Why the 1970 cut-off date? Because by then the world had moved into a whole other bartending age. The enlightenment didn't come until the 1990s with Dick Bradsell and Dale DeGroff the messiahs - see 'contemporary' below.
Due to the limited range of ingredients available to bartenders of old, classic cocktails tend to be made using a very limited palate of ingredients and typically have four or less ingredients.
During the bad years (the 1970s - 80s referred to above) these classics where pretty much the sole bastion of classic bartenders (think white jackets and bowties) in the American bars of five-star hotels. Many of these bars continue to offer much the same cocktails they have for generations, but in recent decades they have been joined by a new generation of bars, bartenders and their customers enjoying the legacy left by previous generations of bartenders.
I include modern day riffs and twists on vintage classics in this 'classic' category, as these modern day creations are based on the foundations established by bartenders in the classic cocktail era. And I'd argue that the Japanese-style of bartending is also a 'classic' subset.
My Disaronno Mixing Star example of a Classic cocktail: Almond Atholl Brose
Tiki is a heady concoction of drinks, music, décor, dress and attitude which took off in post-depression/post-war America when the country craved escapism. Broadly based on factual Polynesia, tiki culture conjures up a fantasy land of tropical lounges entered by crossing bridges into a paradise of bare breasted virgins dressed in hula skirts - well, not actually bare breasted and probably not virgins - at least not in any of the tiki bars I've visited, but you get my drift.
Tiki is more than fishing nets, stuffed fish and carved idols, it is a distinctive bartending style. Due to the period in which it emerged and thrived, tiki could be considered 'classic' but it deserves a category all of its own. After all, the average tiki cocktail boasts twice the number of ingredients than most classic cocktails and a Hawaiian shirt would look a tad out of place under the very classic white jacket of a Savoy Hotel bartender.
To properly appreciate this style of bartending read Beachbum Berry's Potions of the Caribbean. Shorter online reads are my Rise, Fall and Revival of Tiki and The Essential Elements That Comprise A Tiki bar.
My Disaronno Mixing Star example of a Tiki cocktail: Kamaniwanalaya
The appliance of science to bartending pretty much sums up what molecular refers to. Bartending techniques that aren't simply stirring, shaking or blending are also generally lumped under the term "molecular bartending", after the foodie equivalent, molecular gastronomy. Some argue that even techniques such as 'dry shaking and reverse dry shaking' are examples of molecular bartending.
Molecular bartending falls into two camps, 'simple' - easily practised in pretty much any bar to great effect, and those that are a 'faff' - requiring specialist knowledge, equipment or both.
Specialist techniques include: cooling with dry ice, freezing with liquid nitrogen, spherification (pearls or 'caviar'), and jellies.
My Disaronno Mixing Star example of a Molecular cocktail: Fat Godfather
Batched is the term I use to encompass a host of bartending techniques that have one thing in common - the drinks are pre-mixed, the ingredients measured out and combined en masse prior to service. 'Mise en place' if you will. For years batching cocktails was something that many of us did only when faced with bartending at an event where sheer numbers necessitated the need to pour pre-mixed ingredients into our shakers rather than measuring out each ingredient separately. However, the noughties and teensiese have been the golden age of batching with bartenders using both skill and technology to add an extra dimension to what is essentially a pre-mixed drink. These include:
Of all the above, I'm presently most excited by Highballs, as brilliantly demonstrated at Joerg Meyer's Boilerman Bars in Hamburg. Some will argue that Punches are classics and should be categorised as such. I'd retort that Punches pre-date the Classic cocktail era and that they are the original Batched drinks.
My Disaronno Mixing Star example of a Batched cocktail: Amaro-etti Biscotti (barrel aged)
I started my 'five great styles of bartending' with 'classic' so it's fitting that I end with 'contemporary'. Bartending as a profession has come a long way since the early 1990s and never before have discerning drinkers had so many great bars offering such a wide variety of drinks made by highly proficient professional bartenders. As far as my five categories go 'contemporary' is something of a catch all for those drinks not already covered by the previous categories. However, what about 'fun'?
The interior fit-out of a bar can be entertaining in itself with the likes of tenpin bowling, table tennis and even darts proving an attraction in themselves. DJs, sports TV and even lap-dancers have long attracted punters to bars, but bartenders are also entertainers, preforming nightly to a demanding audience - an audience that has usually experienced the show numerous times before.
I place flair bartending under the fun category and I'm not just thinking about those with the hand-eye coordination to pull off circus-like routines, but also bartenders who practice 'working flair' - embellished moves that add to the skill displayed, making the simple act of mixing a handful of ingredients together and straining into a glass something for those sat at the bar to watch in wonder and admiration.
There are also cocktails served with 'fun' attached - the Uga Booga at Tiki-Ti in Los Angeles for example. Order one of these and delight at the ritual pouring, and lots more pouring, of rum into the drink whilst all present chant "Uga Booga". I enjoyed this so much the first time I encountered it that I ordered three in succession.
Perhaps it's the Englishman in me but I love a wittily named cocktail with a pun to make drinkers smile. Gareth Evans, Kyle Wilkinson and others from Jason Atherton's bars are most identified with the pun cocktail name but Joel Fraser (Cufflink Club, Singapore) and the team at London's Cocktail Trading Company are amongst the others that have brilliantly followed.
Rye 'n' Air (Library Bar, Singapore) - named after the Ryanair Airline the drink is rye-based and served inside a bag with air. Not just any bag but one of those sealable bags you have to out liquids in to go through airport security.
Dill Or No Dill (Berners Tavern, London) - yes it's flavoured with dill and has dill for a garnish but (for readers outside the UK) "Deal or No Deal" is a TV game show hosted by Noel Edmonds. The drinks much better than the show and a lot funnier.
Cereal Killer (Blind Pig, London) - Made with Coco Pops-infused milk and served in cereal carton shaped glassware.
Robin Hood, Quince of Thieves (Blind Pig, London) - Apple brandy, quince liqueur, mead, lemon juice and a mini Chinese cherry apple. To quote Kyle Wilkinson, "This cocktail is something of a running joke for Gareth and me," says Kyle. "It replaces the Quince Charming that we sold at Pollen Street, which became The Artist Formerly Known as Quince. "
Slap and pickle (Blind Pig, London) - Gin, apricot brandy, kummel, lemon juice, pickle brine and juniper pickle shortstack.
Others from Gareth Evans include In-Cider Trading, Rum DMC and Greencage Mutant Ginger Murtle. London's cocktail trading company offer their Eggsperimental Cocktail Cup which they describe as being an "a poachable beverage" and Apairofteef garnished with a set of edible teeth.
I'm yet to come up with a pun name for a cocktail to follow the above so I leave you with my Disaronno Mixing Star example of a Contemporary cocktail: Toblerone