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The Beverage Network’s 2012 10 Mixologists to Watch

Posted on  | September 2, 2012   Bookmark and Share
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It wasn’t so long ago that anyone asked to pick 10 American bartenders “on their way up” would have declined the opportunity—because there really weren’t many places to go. Now, restaurants dare not open without a well-thought-out beverage program, no matter the city; spirit brands are on a constant hunt for smart presenters to tell their stories; even non-alcohol concerns are looking to bartenders for help making their wares relevant in the sizzling hot cocktail scene. So as the cocktail revolution rolls on, there’s a wealth of skilled and diligent drink makers to choose from.

Without the 21st century momentum, though, one of our honorees might be writing torts, another weighing magnesium, a third styling a photo shoot. But all of the following 10 are instead serving drinks in some of America’s best bars, having recently checked off a significant box in contemporary bartender career advancement—cocktail apprentice at “Tales of the Cocktail,” juicing, chipping, shaking and schlepping their way forward.

For eight years now, The Beverage Network Publications have showcased the future of bartending by naming 10 Mixologists to Watch. And as in the past, we selected our final 10 from the remarkable roster of Tales of the Cocktail apprentices. Not every young bartender can manage to participate in that annual cocktail phenomenon in New Orleans, but for those who do, amassing a thousand lemon twists is all in a day’s work.

Just as the 2012 Tales was about to take off, our top 10 gathered at the Bellocq bar in the Hotel Modern New Orleans, the latest venture from Cure’s Neal Bodenheimer, Kirk Estopinal and Matthew Kohnke. The up-and-comers hail from all over, but they share a dedication, drink intelligence and enthusiasm that surely distinguishes them.

Photo by Andrew Kist


Jaymee Mandeville Los Angeles, CA

Time to brag—what makes you a good bartender?
I love working with crazy ingredients and transforming them into libations that play like a symphony on the palate and look like a piece of art. I do use restraint and don’t add things to cocktails just for the hell of it. Every aspect must have a function and purpose.

What’s particularly interesting about the drinks in LA?
Southern California is the perfect locale for farm-to-glass. Every day of the year there’s a farmer’s market within 15 miles. On top of that, LA’s bar scene has been growing exponentially in the last few years. From the speakeasies to beachfront bars to amazing restaurants with equally strong bar programs, there is something for everyone.

What are your career goals?
Eventually, I would like to partner up with some of my nearest and dearest peers and open a place of our own. Recently, I teamed up with Cari Hah to create “Lil’ Twisted,” taking our passion for tequila with sangrita and sweeping Los Angeles. We are currently working on bottling and selling some of our sangrita magic.

Who or what outside the drinks business influences your work and how?
My other influences include food and fashion. I consider them to be parallel industries and apply principles from both to my work. I freelance as a fashion stylist and think that creating looks to grace the pages of high fashion magazines is a lot like creating gorgeous yet provocative cocktails that are balanced both in taste and appearance. Color, texture, balance; that’s what my first fashion mentor told me to focus on. I try to apply the same to drinks… and of course add “taste” to that list of standards.

Clint Rogers Chicago, IL

What’s particularly interesting about the drinks in Chicago?
I feel that our bar scene in Chicago gets a little transference from both the East and West coast culture as well as from abroad. What I think most don’t realize about Chicago is that we have some damn fine produce and farmer’s markets here (it’s not always 10 degrees Farenheit), and I have seen those elements better integrated into bar programs in this city than anywhere else in the country.

What one thing would you change about bartending in the U.S. today?
I would change the way in which competitions are handled. On one hand I think they are great for allowing bartenders to hang out in a neutral and spirited environment. I also love how many “fans” attend these events to learn about the craft and about particular spirits. However, I am really torn about how I feel about online voting formats. I fully understand that without brands there would be no competitions and probably no forums for our craft. But I have attended many fantastic competitions that didn’t involve the prodding of friends and strangers to like my libation on a social networking site.

When you work on crafting a new drink, what’s uppermost in your mind?
How badly I want the drink to be balanced and make sense seasonally. And how much I am going to dread naming the damn thing.

What are your career goals?
I want to oversee a series of beverage programs at varied venues with one goal: to try to surpass customer expectations every time. Sounds cheesy but that’s about right.

Recent drink innovation that excites you the most?
Cutting-edge ice programs. And particularly the challenge of executing an ice program on a budget and making it built for speed.

If you weren’t a bartender, what would you be?
Comedy writer. A very poorly compensated one. I am far better at mixing drinks.

Lucinda Weed New Orleans, LA

When you work on crafting a new drink, what’s uppermost in your mind?
Local, seasonal ingredients combined to complement and brighten spirits. Classic recipe variations are a quick go-to that can be easily transformed with the addition of a house-made syrup or an obscure Louisiana citrus. It is also important to take into account how smoothly a cocktail will fit into service at a restaurant. If it can’t be made quickly, the flow of service falls completely off balance. I try to make my drinks both interesting and efficient.

What’s particularly interesting about the drinks in New Orleans?
New Orleans is a place where what is classic and traditional merges with what is new and necessary. That can plainly be seen in the cocktails at Sylvain as well as countless other local watering holes. I’m always so pleasantly surprised to taste the personalities of my friends and of this place in the drinks they craft.
Who or what outside the drinks business influences your work and how?
New Orleans is a rich source of inspiration. Everything from the music to the local characters, the architecture, the history, the flora—the entire culture drives me to be a better host and a more creative bartender. My syrups always taste better when I’m cooking them while listening to WWOZ.

What recent drink innovation excites  you the most?
Carbonated cocktails are pretty exciting—better with bubbles! I’m also fascinated by molecular mixology, though I don’t see myself pursuing that beyond gourmet Jell-O shots, of course.

If you weren’t tending bar, what would  you be doing?
Karaoke. A lot of it.

Kyle Reutner Honolulu, HI

What one thing would you change about bartending in the U.S. today?
I’d try to make things a little more service-oriented. I’m not interested in your bespoke cocktail list if you can’t even greet me with a smile so, yeah, I’d change that. Smile more frequently—and treat your guests better than you treat your cocktail ingredients.

When you work on crafting a new drink, what’s uppermost in your mind?
I think about two things up front: the guest and the establishment. I want the drink to be perfect for both. Sometimes people get so focused on what they think is cool that they forget to fit within the vision of the restaurant. If you find that sweet spot—with the guest, the owner and yourself all being happy—that’s a good drink.

Who or what outside the drinks business influences your work and how?
Obviously my chefs and culinary friends influence me in the most applicable way. I’m fortunate enough to know the most forward-thinking chefs in my city, and they challenge and push me to do better things daily.

What recent drink innovation excites you the most… or makes you scratch your head?
I love bubbles, so all the different variations on carbonating cocktails are really awesome. Whether it’s the Chartreuse and lime drink at Booker & Dax or the bottled Americanos at Clyde Common, I dig it. We’ve had some fun bottling cocktails at Town as well. It’s just great to add. … I’m not sure everyone understands the barrel-aging process or the cocktail on tap. I like both of these things but some of the decisions about how to use them have left me scratching my head.

If you weren’t tending bar, what would  you be doing?
Still working in a chemistry lab, unhappily.

Naomi Levy Boston, MA

What makes you a good bartender?
I see bartending as a people-related industry rather than a potion-related industry. Don’t get me wrong: I’ll mix you up a mean cocktail; but when you come into my bar, my home, I want you to feel like a welcome guest. For me, it’s about giving someone an experience, not just a drink. I still consider myself first and foremost a server. Oh, and did I mention I’m crazy fast?

What one thing would you change about bartending in the U.S. today?
I would love to see more of a return to the values of the bartender as concierge. Once upon a time, you walked into a hotel and it was the bartender that grabbed your bags and got you situated; they made you a drink and helped you with dinner reservations. I don’t think we need to be greeting people at the door or anything like that, but I’d like to see more bartenders acting as hosts.

What recent drink innovation excites you the most… or makes you scratch your head?
I love that, now, not only are many places making their own syrups, bitters, etc., but the local sustainable movement has worked its way behind the bar. Also, the return of the soda fountain is very exciting as it just takes all of that to yet another forum. … I’m over meat in cocktails. I’ve been a vegetarian for a decade, but regardless, I just don’t see how putting meat in your glass enhances it. I think it has certain value as novelty, and certainly there are some cocktails that use meat-based products and do it well, I just think this is one trend that’s gone a bit overboard.

Dean Hurst Tampa, FL

What makes you a good bartender?
I really like the guest interaction. It is what keeps me in the business. The drinks are an extension of my personality and how they, hopefully, relate to the guest.

What one thing would you change about bartending in the U.S. today?
Not just bartending, but the industry itself and how the consumer views the people, drinks, food, style, etc. of a place. The saying “a little knowledge is a dangerous thing” is very true right now. The Internet gives a voice to anyone who deems their opinion to have relevance, which can be good, but often it gets abusive and one-sided. A bartender’s passion for drinks and the history surrounding them can be translated as revelatory to one and pompous to the next. I guess my point is: It takes two to have a conversation; both parties should remain accountable.

When you work on crafting a new drink, what’s uppermost in your mind?
Balance of flavor and acidity with a nod to food pairings is always front of mind. It stems from my restaurant experience and having to be ready with a quick response to “What should drink with this?” Plus, the more versatile a drink is, the more successful it will be.

What recent drink innovation excites you, bores you or makes you scratch your head?
Not so much an innovation, but the trend of personalized technique. Watching someone with a highly tuned sense of their surroundings, from bottle handling to shake/stir technique to garnish placement to the smile somewhere in the middle, is a remarkable act to behold. … The sour bores me! But, it works so well it’s hard to ignore. And smoked ice?!—I’ve never experienced a drink with smoked ice that wasn’t ruined by it.

Julia Ebell Washington D.C.

What’s particularly interesting about the drinks in Washington, DC?
DC has a fascinating drinking culture. It’s the birthplace of the Rickey, and for good reason. Summers here are brutal, and the refreshing, approachable tartness of the Rickey is an elegantly easy solution. At its best, DC bartending still has that sense of the right drink for the right moment. Bartenders here are wonderful at making drinks that won’t scare off college students or government workers but are still thoughtful enough to stretch their boundaries.

What are your career goals?
Bartending is a career. It’s not a stopgap moneymaking venture between life stages. Bartenders who are in it for the money are as far off the mark as patrons who say they just want to get drunk. Bartending is a craft that deserves love, attention and knowledge. Eventually, I’d like to teach and consult.

When you work on crafting a new drink, what’s uppermost in your mind?
I usually write drinks for people. Or in response to something that I’m interested in. Or because of the weather. Or because I’m having a slow night and want to entertain myself. Or because I have a new bottle I want to try out. Sorting through drink ideas, refining and fine-tuning them, that’s where the work comes in. My regulars help keep me creative and interested—I’m always working to keep up with them.

Finish this sentence: “By the time I’m 40, I’ll…”
I’ll have designed a line of ladies’ bar shirts. Has there ever been a black blouse that one can shake a drink comfortably wearing and will stay tucked in during service? Honestly, I have no idea what I’ll be doing at 40. There aren’t many options beyond going straight or opening your own bar, are there?

Jonathan Lind New York, NY

Time to brag—what makes you a good bartender?
My technical service is outstanding. Learning to bartend in a four-star restaurant really gives you an understanding of how to perform in such a way that develops an environment that lets your guests let their hair down and trust you as a bartender. On top of that I’m very good at quarterbacking the bar, controlling stations and knowing where the team needs to put their focus.

What would you change about bartending in the U.S. today?
Honestly? The amount of facial hair. We’re bartenders, not pirates. As for bar patrons, I wish we could somehow discourage our guests from asking for vodka and soda. We create these beautiful cocktail bars to make great drinks, not sling sparkling water with alcohol by volume. It’s like going to the Philharmonic and yelling, “Play Freebird!”

Recent drink innovation that makes you scratch your head?
I’m not quite certain I understand the fascination with very specifically flavored vodkas. Why would I want a vodka that tastes like a vanilla cupcake and a side of chocolate ice cream with sprinkles and a cherry? It’s getting to be a little much.

When you work on crafting a new drink, what’s uppermost in your mind?
I love to create drinks that evoke a certain sense memory. Experiential drinks are great because not only do they taste great, but the mean something to the person creating them, and hopefully to the person drinking them as well.

When you’re not drinking cocktails,  you’re drinking…
Vegetable juices. Kale. Spinach. Carrot. Whatever looks tasty.

Finish this sentence: “By the time I’m 40, I’ll…”
If I had that sort of foresight, I probably wouldn’t be a bartender.

Jennifer Ferreira  Providence, RI

What makes you a good bartender?
I love what I do. I think the passion that I have for what I do comes through, and people notice it and they get excited, too. I love the feeling I get when I can look down my bar and see it full and everyone is having a good time and strangers are becoming friends. I make that happen and it’s the best feeling.

What one thing would you change about bartending in the U.S. today?
I think the one thing is making it more accessible. If someone wants to know about what you’re doing and why you’re doing it, tell them. A great bartender named Jesse, whom I have the pleasure of working under and with, once said, “A good bartender has no secrets; that is the secret to bartending.” He’s right. How is anyone going to learn about what we do unless we tell them?

When you work on crafting a new drink, what’s uppermost in your mind?
Is it going to sell? The funny thing about making drinks, at least here in Rhode Island, is that you can make a drink that is so good, but the general public are the ones who determine whether it’s going to sell or not. So it’s really finding that balance of pushing the envelope but playing it safe.

If you weren’t tending bar, what would you be doing?
There is something else to do beside this?

Finish this sentence: “By the time I’m 40,  I’ll be…”
Drinking daiquiris at the bar that I own.

And your biggest non-hospitality-related enthusiasm, hobby or pastime is…?
What’s that?

Scott Tipton Kansas City, MO

What makes you a good bartender?
My particular style that I embrace involves a constant desire to learn, which I like to then impart to guests and co-workers. I also view bartending as a creative outlet. The possibilities are endless behind a bar, and we are in the special position to create unique experiences every day.

When you work on crafting a new drink, what’s uppermost in your mind?
Sometimes it’s a desire to be controversial. To take ingredients that people don’t think should mesh, and surprise them. Or controversial in the sense of bastardizing a classic to create something new. Don’t get me wrong, I love the classics, and I love honoring them, and especially drinking them true to form. However, history just provides foundation. It’s up to us to create our own history.

Who or what outside the drinks business influences your work and how?
I am constantly listening to music and using any small piece I can to find to spur an idea. For example, Adam Yauch of the Beastie Boys passed away earlier this year. I wanted to pay homage and thought of the song “Root Down,” which led me to sasparilla root, which led me to making root beer bitters, which seemed to pair well with Fernet Branca. Then I created a sassafras gomme syrup and cream soda foam to create the Root Down cocktail. There is a lot going on there, but that’s the fun of it.

If you weren’t tending bar, what would you be doing?
I went to law school and passed the California Bar. Had I landed a job I was seeking four years ago, I’d probably be working in business and legal affairs for an entertainment company. 


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