Thursday, November 13, 2008

Am I (Bar) Smart Yet?

On Tuesday I spent the day at BarSmarts in San Francisco. BarSmarts is an advanced bartending course put together by B.A.R. and Pernod Ricard. The program involves four units of book and video training and culminates in an all-day event featuring lectures, classwork, written tests and a practical hands-on test of bartending skills.

Steve Olson unsuccessfully teaching Doug Frost the hang loose signSteve Olson teaching Doug Frost the "hang loose" sign.

The lectures were interesting, and a great opportunity to hear from industry luminaries F. Paul Pacult, Steve Olson, Andy Seymour, Dave Wondrich, Dale DeGroff and Doug Frost. The written test was comprehensive, and somewhat tricky. I tried to make a deal with Camper where he could take my written test and I'd do his practical. We couldn't come to an agreement though, and he probably did better on the practical than I did. He practiced the before the event.

I was confident about the practical test until I entered the room and was told I'd be making my drinks for Dave Wondrich. I broke into a cold sweat. I felt I knew a bit about Dave's taste in cocktails, simply from reading everything he's ever written about cocktails. I thought I'd try to throw an old-school twist to each of the cocktails I was asked to make.

Dave Wondrich watches a Daquiri being shaken (!) during the practical tests.

Dave told me to make a Martini, and Old-Fashioned, and a Daquiri. Great. I know all these recipes, and make them all the time. On Monday, I had even watched this video of Dave making an old-fashioned on TV. I thought my Old-Fashioned was going well, until I went for the pyro. Instead of this, which is normally what happens, the orange just kinda fizzled and blew out my match. Dave tasted the drink and said it was strong, but good. Which was similar to the response in the video, so I felt it was OK.

Making Martinis for Dave is different from making Martinis at work. At work, the Martinis are dry. A lot of people order a Martini, and are really looking for a cold glass of vodka. I tried to go a little old-school and askd Dave if he'd like a 4:1 Gin Martini. He mentioned maybe he'd like it a bit wetter than that. "3 to 1?" "ummm.. Can you make me a 2:1 Martini?" OK. So that's a little wetter than even I was thinking. I think the Martini turned out ok too. (Dave did give me the recipe, after all.)

For the Daiquiri, I thought I'd go for a little secret ingredient. Deviate from the recipe they gave us in the book. I asked Dave if I could add a little something special to the standard recipe and he agreed. I planned to use Maraschino as part of the sweetener in the drink. I added the rum, lime and maraschino to the tin, and started to look for the simple syrup. I couldn't find it, and Dave had to tell me where it was. Then I proceeded to STIR the daquiri. I don't know why, but for the daquiri I usually stir it. I think it gives it a nice texture and looks nice and clean. But for the test, I think this is the wrong answer. (Obviously they wanted me to build a drink, stir a drink and shake a drink.) There is a general rule of thumb for this too. If the drink has fruit juice in it, shake it. Simple.

Knowing the rules, and breaking them when you want to is one thing, but I think for a test, you should probably try to do the basics to show you actually know the rules. I think I got too caught up in trying to be fancy, when I should have tried to stick to the basics.

I won't know the results of the written and practical tests for a few weeks. I was impressed with the program and pleased to have taken part in it. I have to hand it to Pernod-Ricard for going out of their way to raise the bar for bartenders, and build a community at the same time. Well done.

More information about BarSmarts is available on the BarSmarts website. There are plans to move the program into several markets in the future, and also offer a "BarSmarts Wired" program for on-line bartender education.

When I find out the results of my BarSmarts tests, I'll post them here. Pass or fail, at least I can say "I made cocktails for Dave Wondrich. And he spit them all out."

4 Comments:

Blogger Lance J. Mayhew said...

Fucking brilliant Jimmy! And funnier than hell. I have faith that you passed.

11:56 AM  
Blogger camper said...

Oof. I had Steve Olsen, and I'm pretty sure he swallowed. Great hanging out with you all day!

10:42 PM  
Blogger Robert Simonson said...

Great story.

12:57 PM  
Blogger jimmyp said...

Thanks for the comments guys. I wonder if writers are the only people who read my rantings? Thanks for stopping in Robert.

1:02 PM  

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