So I am in a difficult position. I do not have enough grey hairs to be considered a Bartending Grand Master alongside with Dorelli, Regan, Schumann and DeGroff and yet I don’t not have enough hair full stop to be considered a young stud. And yet I figure I have been in the game long enough and flown enough miles to make a few comments about the state of our Industry now as opposed to when I started in 2 B.C. (two years before cranberry juice). To quote English Prime Minister Harold McMillan “we have never had it so good” – we are in the midst of perhaps the greatest Golden Age of bartending since the late 19th century and here is why.
Firstly we are seeing a meta-trend among our consumers for three main desires. On the main our people are searching for Authenticity in their activities and their consumption. No longer do we want instant coffee when we can have espresso; no longer do we want boy bands when we can listen to real musicians playing real instruments; no longer do we want package holidays where someone else tells us where to go and what to be impressed by and no longer do we want mass produced products. Increasingly people are searching for products and experiences that seem more ‘real’ and have heritage. Nextly we are seeing a rise in Connoisseurship whereby we want to be seen to be discerning in our choices of products, services and experiences: we want to show our sophistication and knowledge to explain why we are drinking our brands or where we drink them. Finally we are seeing a desire for increased Flavour in our food and drink – we want slow food and not fast food and we want big, bold and flavoursome experiences. All three of these together give us as bartenders a willing audience to show of our skills to.
And our skills are being developed as never before. Again firstly shows like the Australian Bar Show, Tales of the Cocktail, Bar Convent Berlin, Paris’ Cocktails and Spirits and several others exist where 10 years ago Trade Shows were dull conferences where sales reps mingled with sales reps. Now the cream of the industry pontificates and educates and inspires and what’s more bartenders from around the planet are travelling to see what other nations are doing. Secondly Brands are training bartenders in increasingly large numbers where in my day they relied on cool T-shirts and branded bar tools to convince us to sell their products (tho’ I have to say the loss of the Bar T Shirt is a great one that I miss dreadfully). Finally the rise of the ‘Academic Bartender’ and the increased availability of bartending books both old and new means that old skills are being revised, histories are being learned and the profession of the Bartender is being revived and understood.
Finally as I referred to in my opening with the BC comment the average bartender of today has a back bar that most older bartenders would have killed for. Twenty years ago when I started behind the stick if we had two ‘brands’ of vodka, gin, bourbon etc we were smug bastards. Yet now there are a wider array of brands and also whole categories that we never dreamed of like Anejo Tequilas, Agricole rums, Rye whisky, Old Tom gin and the like…never before has the back bar offered such opportunity and such choice and thank god because of the above trends we get to use them.
Yet we must be extra careful with our position as nothing lasts forever. Yes it may be nice to have a choice of 20 tequila brands in 3 styles of each and yet if we do not sell them regularly we will go out of business. Yes it is nice to be called Mixologists in the media and yet if we can serve the wine drinker and the beer drinker and even the non drinker and make them feel welcome and important we shall disappear up our own collective backsides. We must still remember to be humble and understanding with our guests, be business-like in our whims and also give suitable respect to those that have gone before us and seen times when they were not as golden as today… like me for example!