Thursday, May 3, 2012

Two Years in Portland

Today marks the 2 year anniversary of my arrival in Portland. It's amazing to me that its been two years already, in so many ways the town is still new to me. At the same time it feels like home, like this is where I was always supposed to be. Looking back, my time in Chicago was bittersweet. I met people there that I consider life long friends and associates and gained insight into what my life's work would be. I take pride in having grown along with the likes of Benjamin Schiller, Matt Seiter, Danny Shapiro, Cody and Anne, and have great memories at the two bars I worked at in Chi. I have some less than positive memories there, too, but overall I look back fondly on my time in the windy city. I wouldn't be doing what I am today without those personal and professional experiences, so for that I am grateful.

I left Chicago on May 1st of 2010 with a Uhaul trailer loaded up and a crumpled mapquest printout pointing my way to Oregon. I had little idea of what I was going to do once I got here but I knew this was where I needed to be. After three days on the road(including a nice stop in Templeton, Iowa) I arrived in Portland with only the ambition to carve out a niche for myself in a new and exciting town. After two underwhelming interviews and two cold calls I wandered into the Teardrop lounge to drop off a resume. I owe a big thank you to Daniel Shoemaker for pointing me to Irving Street Kitchen, who hired me on the spot on my second day in town. I vividly recall walking up to the wrong door at Irving when I first dropped by in search of an interview and bumping into Tommy Klus, whom I didn't know, and chatting about bar spoons. Little did I know I would learn so much about technique from sitting in front of he and Ricky Gomez or that I would consider them both friends soon after. ISK was a great opportunity to grow and I am forever grateful they provided a platform for me to integrate into the community. I got to work with some pretty great folks there and had some awesome times behind that bar. I've learned a lot since that first shift at Irving, considering I thought I pretty much knew what I was doing when I started (boy was I wrong!), which has humbled me to acknowledge how much there is to know and how far I still have to go.

Today is significant in another way for me as it is also my one year anniversary of working at Beaker and Flask. I had heard of the place before moving here and it sat on the same pedestal as Clyde Common and Teardrop as one of the cocktail Meccas in Portland. I remember someone asking a TDL employee if it still had the magic once you've worked there for a while. I'm pleased to say that Beaker still has the magic for me and I couldn't imagine working anywhere else in town at this point. An eternal debt is owed to Kevin Ludwig, the best boss I've ever had, and to Dave Shenaut for helping make this opportunity available. I hope I've done justice to the bar program and the business behind it in my time here. I've certainly worked to build a culture that nurtures service, quality, and is a great place for employees to work. Each day feels like a step closer to our ideal and I'm fortunate to work with a team of professionals and with a product I believe in. I hope this ride doesn't end any time soon.

Looking ahead I can only hope the year ahead is as gainful as the past two. Having recently took over as president of the Oregon Bartenders Guild I'm proud of what we've accomplished in my two years of involvement. We recently took on office space and are poised for the biggest year ever with a monumental Portland Cocktail Week planned for October. In its third year we stand ready to again bring hundreds of bartenders into our town and provide a dynamic Portland experience. Without Lindsey Johnson this festival would not exist, and thanks to her I've seen what real community means. She is one of a kind and it's not lost on me how lucky I am to know her and work with her. If I ever won the lottery the first thing I'd do after buying my mom a new house would be to buy LJ a kickass Bentley. With a driver. She's just that rad.

On this two year anniversary I thank all of my Portland family for welcoming me with open arms into this truly special community. I'm honored to call you friends, peers, and am proud to work alongside you as we together raise the bar in our fair city. To my friends and family abroad I raise this toast to you as well: May the year ahead be as fruitful for you as my time has been thus far in PDX.

 Cheers, Brandon

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Cocktail Cartopia

This week marks a momentous occasion for the food and beverage scene in Portland, Oregon, as the Oregon Bartenders Guild opens the first cocktail cart in the "Cartopia" cart pod on 12th and Hawthorne.

With the help of the food cart co-op the OBG has put together a free standing cocktail bar amidst the bustling marketplace of food carts. Surrounded by the iconic Potato Champion, Perierra Creperie, Pyro Pizza, and Bubba Bernie's the cocktail cart features an ever changing variety of cocktails curated by some of the most talented bartenders in town. The initial run is sponsored by Pernod Ricard, who contributed some of their fantastic lineup of spirits including Beefeater gin, Absolut vodka, Avion tequila, Jameson Irish whiskey, just to name a few.

We're not talking about cheapo 'well' gin and tonics here, we're talking fancy cocktails with top shelf booze. Drinking on a budget? No worries, beer and cocktails are priced at $3 and $5 respectively. If you really want to get your cart on in style, play a little stump the bartender with a "Dealer's Choice" for 8 bucks or less. Proceeds go straight to the OBG, a chapter of the United States Bartenders Guild, and will allow for their educational and fundraising efforts to continue to grow.

For the past few years food cart owners have sought to acquire liquor licenses, and in the last year or so have been successful in gaining license for beer carts. None have been allowed to sell liquor, though. Concerns about noise and monitoring of minors have been amongst the cheif obstacles for cart oweners to date, but the Oregon Bar Guild's track record of responsible service have opened the minds of the OLCC to give it a shot. The cart operates on a short term event license, allowing for 7 days of operation within the calander month for each application.

The first month is dedicated to promoting Portland Cocktail Week, a series of events and tastings throughout the city showcasing the city's prominant role in the global cocktail community. Over 100 of the best bartenders in the world will arrive in PDX during the week of October 20-24th to share their love of all things boozy. The events coincide with the 8th annual Great American Distillers Festival and will share space with Portland Cocktail Week festivities at the Left Bank Annex. Events include a "Robots vs. Bartenders" showdown at the Jupter Hotel, legendary New York cocktail bar PDT @ PDXCW at Beaker and Flask, and a dynamic lineup of tastings and seminars at the Left Bank Annex.

The cocktail cart runs on donation, both in terms of product and revenues, and is staffed solely by volunteers. Tips are appreciated, of course, as these folks have taken a valuable night away from their paying jobs to check IDs, mix libations, and closely monitor the thirsty masses. Plans to upgrade the cart itself are underway with the revenues being funneled directly into acquiring a more permanant structure,which will allow for a more functional setup leading to more creative drinks and a more efficient work space.

Look for some of the most talented bar stars behind the stick from some of the swankiest bars in town, and expect to see guest bartenders from San Francisco and New York slinging drinks in the coming weeks. They're looking for volunteers, so if you want to be a part of the latest cocktail trend don't hesitate to contact to help out.

The Oregon Bartenders Guild cocktail cart is open from 6pm to midnight, Fridays and Saturdays through Portland Cocktail Week October 20th-23rd. Enjoy a crepe, a cocktail, and the roaring fire pit at the hottest food cart pod in town on Se 12th and Hawthorne.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Beaker Turns Two!


Beaker and Flask’s 2nd Birthday Party
June 17, 2011 PORTLAND, OR Beaker and Flask will be hosting a Birthday Party to celebrate their 2nd anniversary on Sunday, June 26th from 4-10pm. Award winning chef Ben Bettinger will be rolling out complimentary hors d’ouevres from the grill, and a special menu of dishes and cocktails from Beaker’s opening menu will be available. Along with Beaker bar manager and Eater PDX 2010 Bartender of the Year, Brandon Wise (hey, that's me!), look for special appearances from some of Oregon’s top bartenders (such as Dave Shenaut) as well as a DJ spinning tunes. The party is free to attend and no rsvp is required, however seating is limited so come early to get the prime real estate.


About Beaker and Flask
In the two years Beaker and Flask has been open, they have garnered such honors as WW Best Restaurant 2009 and have been featured in Esquire Magazine’s Best Bars in America two years running. Owner Kevin Ludwig and chef Ben Bettinger showcase modern American cuisine with French and Mediterranean influences along with innovative and classic cocktails in Southeast Portland.

For more information please find us at

Beaker and Flask
727 SE Washington, OR 97214

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Across the bridge with jigger, beaker, and flask

It's been a year since moving to Portland from the windy city, and what a year it's been! In that short time I've been lucky enough to have become a part of this incredible community and I have a lot of people to thank for that. First and foremost the crew at Irving Street Kitchen that I've had the pleasure of working with thus far. Yesterday I respectfully gave my notice to management that I'll be leaving Irving Street for an opportunity at one of the finest establishments in the northwest.

With that said I'd like to announce that I've accepted a management position at Beaker and Flask. I'm looking forward to working with Kevin Ludwig, head chef Ben Bettinger, and the rest of the talented staff of hospitality professionals. Sadly, as it was part of the reason I was so excited to become a part of the Beaker family, Dave Shenaut will be leaving for the new McMennamins Crystal Hotel. It's an exciting time at Beaker right now as the opening of Rum Club seems to be fast approaching. I hope to see a lot of familiar faces from across the bartop as we embark on what stands to be a summer full of good company, food, and drink.

I feel blessed to have been afforded the opportunity to help shape the bar program at Irving Street Kitchen, it's a really great group of people that I'll surely miss. It's a small town though, and with my involvement in the Oregon Bartenders Guild I'll be seeing most of those guys all the time. I'm sure we'll be on the same team again when the OBG gets its kickball league going this spring.

See you at Beaker and Flask soon!


Tuesday, March 29, 2011

top five worst bar personalities

“Hey! Chief! Hey, you!”

The patron leans over the bar waving a twenty dollar bill, snapping their fingers at the bartender.

“Lemme git a double vokka soda. Pint glass. Double lemon.” Waves money. Snaps fingers. Whistles. Curses.

Does this horribly obnoxious bar patron get their drink? More often than not they do. Bartenders reward bad behavior all too often. It’s unfortunate but most tenders want to keep their jobs and so refrain from handily throwing the worst patrons out on the street.

These people exist in every city and continue to holler and behave like children to the people providing them a service.

“Being called ‘boss’ and ‘chief’ makes my skin crawl,’ bartender Neil Kopplin says.

What ever happened to the days of etiquette and social graces? Only a few bars exercise house rules these days, with Milk and Honey setting the tone with rules like “no star fucking”. While some establishments do their best to dictate appropriate behavior it all starts at the bartop.

“A bartender that is capable of communicating,” notes Trevor Eastor of San Francisco’s Rickhouse, “is more likely to convert that customer into a proper drinking member of society.”

Try as we might there are just some people who bartenders dread seeing across the wood. In my years behind the bar I’ve encountered a significant cross section of scumbaggery. Here’s a broad, sweeping look at some of the personalities bartenders have to deal with on a daily basis. Or at least caricatures of them…

The Loudmouth
You just met this one. This character whistles and waves their arms wildly in search of attention. Other known habits of misbehavior include a rude and confrontational demeanor and a general disdain for the establishment and its employees. The Loudmouth commonly ignores the menu, calling out orders, and expressing a general disdain for the establishment, its employees, and its patrons.

The Tourist
I’m not talking about the tourists in floral shirts that take pictures of everything in sight, but the tourists that don’t know their way around a bar. These are easily identified by their requests for drinks from other establishments or ridiculously named shots. Tourists are typically the messiest kinds of drunks, more so even than Loudmouths, and can go from sober as a pickle to wasteyface in the lemon-drop of a dime.

The Know-it-all
While generally well mannered and somewhat refined the know-it-all can be just as uncouth as the sloppy Tourist on the next barstool. They love to play ‘stump the bartender’, quizzing the barman with innocuous details of forgotten cocktails or the secret ingredients in Chartreuse to flex their self proclaimed acumen. Ever wonder what the mash bill is for Black Maple Hill? Find yourself in a conversation with a Know-it-all and you’ll have answers to questions you never cared to ask. And if you forget any of these pearls of wisdom don’t worry, they’ll be blogging about it later.

The Creeper
Worst of the worst. They’ll sit right where the waitresses have to walk just so they can get creepily close. They hit on everyone in the bar, one by one, until their options are exhausted or they get lucky. Then they hit on the bartender. They’re at the same bar with a different partner each week, often with a spouse at home. And just because they’re far too old to behave this way doesn’t mean they can’t act lecherous and shameful. Keep your eye out for ladies in animal print and gents in Ed Hardy, they’re wearing the Creeper gear proudly on their prowl.

The Egotist
Ok, lemme get this right the first time: the moon revolves around the earth, the earth around the sun, and they all concentrically revolve around the Egotist. Who else would order four Ramos Gin Fizzes from a busy bartender at the peak of a Saturday night? One at a time, chain ordering drinks each trip to suck the time of other patrons and bar employees. When the check arrives they play slow draw with their wallet or dissect the tab to arrive at the maximum number of ways to split a check. And should you find yourself near an Egotist be sure to tell them that a verbal tip doesn’t spend the same as hard currency.

So what have we learned? The essential decency of beverage culture shall not be deterred by the indiscreet patronage.

As bartender extraodinaire Ali Tahsini says, “my skills as a communicator and as a "bartender" are my draws to successfully compounding positive stimulus that result in happy guests.”

A grand idea to be sure. While there will always be abusive and generally unpleasant guests adorning barstools surely the good outweigh the bad significantly. By providing a genuine experience bartenders can shape the experience of their clientele and thus positively affect behavior on the whole. And as bartenders continue to focus on providing exceptional guest service the trend will continue to shift to the utopian nature of peace, love, and booze.

The Dream of the 90’s

“Do you remember the 90’s? You know, people were talking about getting piercings, getting tribal tattoos; people were singing about saving the planet, forming bands. There’s a place where that idea still exists as a reality, and I’ve been there.” –Fred Armisen, Portlandia

Not long ago a fellow bartender recounted a little story about a guy who sat at her fancy cocktail bar. She tossed a cocktail napkin down in front of him and asked what he was drinking.

“How ‘bout a Blue Hawaiian?” the guy asks.

“Never heard of that. What’s in it?” she replied, reaching for her Oxo jigger and crystal mixing glass.

She proceeds to carefully measure out the recipe he recited and, using her 50cm Japanese barspoon, stirs and strains this classic party shot into a vintage coupe glass.

The patron proclaimed it was the best version of the traditional shooter he’d ever had, but led me to wonder what ever happened to the fun kind of drinking? When all that mattered was that your drink was strong, colorful, and tasted like candy. You know, the good ol’ days when flair bartenders ruled and Will Smith was still the Fresh Prince rocking a high top fade.

It’s safe to say that the spirit of 80’s and 90’s has been kept alive in Vegas and South Beach. But places like New York, San Francisco, Portland, and Chicago have gone through a booze revolution over the past five or ten years. Cocktail bars have become abundant and even the diviest bars have small batch spirits and a few house infusions hanging around.

Recently, though, bars adept at sophisticated libations have been taking us on a journey down memory lane.

Fatty Johnson’s hosted an event last month they called ‘The Night the Cocktail Died’ with a menu (link to ) of 70’s and 80’s bar staples like the Alabama Slammer. Party drinks were prepared by two of New York’s premier craft barmen, including Toby Cecchini who had a hand in popularizing the Cosmopolitan. He’s the bartender who started using fresh lime juice and Cointreau, in case you were wondering which character on Sex and the City he played.

Most sources credit South Beach, Florida bartender Cheryl Cook with the original Cosmo that she created around 1985 using Rose’s lime cordial and a splash of triple sec.

“What overwhelmed me was the number of people who ordered Martinis just to be seen with a Martini glass in their hand. It was on this realization that gave me the idea to create a drink that everyone could palate and was visually stunning in that classic glass,” proclaimed Cook.

To many of us this period is a forgettable, even shameful, time when our stone-washed jeans or hammer pants were only slightly less horrifying than the rounds of Purple Hooters we tossed back.

Blogger Robert Simonson called this period ‘the nadir of cocktail culture of drinks historians,” but for many it was a glorious and carefree time.

Dan de Oliveira of Chicago paid homage with a menu of Phil Collins inspired drinks at a Pops for Champagne industry night a while back.

San Francisco cocktail destination Heaven’s Dog had a party just last week to salute ‘The 80’s and the Drinks You Love to Hate”. My memory must be fading because I don’t recall house infused Madagascar vanilla bean vodka in the Birthday Cake shots I used to make. For that matter I can’t remember using peach-infused Old Bardstown bourbon in my Slow Comfortable Screw either, but I digress.

With Charlie Sheen all over the news and the flannel clad grunge look back in fashion it’s starting to feel like the 90’s are back with a vengeance.

Not everyone agrees in the bar community. Beginning in 2008 Tales of the Cocktail© has held a ‘Cocktail Funeral’ in memoriam of a drink’s death. The ceremony of retiring a cocktail so far has been devoted strictly to these 80’s and 90’s party drinks beginning with the Appletini, Red-headed slut, and last year’s Sex on the Beach.

So what gives? Are party drinks really experiencing a comeback or is the bar community just poking fun at our embarrassing past?

Hard to tell just yet, but for the moment let’s all enjoy this journey to a simpler time. A time when people rode skateboards, wore flannel shirts, slept till 11, and drank Flaming Dr. Pepper shots. What a magical time indeed.

“How to Gain Fame and Fortune as a Mixologist”

A video game guide to greatness

I grew up with video games. They were a part of my life since I opened my first Nintendo Entertainment System on Christmas morning when I was eight. We, of the video game generation, have sought the glory of saving a princess and collected a fortune in coins from question marked blocks. Imagine my surprise all these years later when I was informed there was a game where you are challenged to ‘gain fame and fortune as a mixologist’. Time for a trip to Gamestop…let’s just call it ‘research’. Here’s a rundown of what the brilliant minds at EA Sports and some folks in the bar business have to say about getting famous behind the stick.

Level 1: Read books on mixology to increase your skill level
Centuries of history shape the barmans’ legacy. In the Sims 3: Late Night Edition, one of the first opportunities to grow as a tender is by reading up on the subject. Books are available for your virtual character to purchase with your hard earned ‘simoleans’. Fortunately, so are classic cocktail books for us corporeal mixers. Learning the history of bartending can help to avoid some rookie mistakes along the way.

“It sucks when you realize your newest creation already exists. It’s even worse when a customer tells you,” says Mary Bartlett of the Teardrop Lounge in Portland, Oregon.

For me it was David Embury’s ‘Fine Art of Mixing Drinks’ that first opened my eyes to the rich tradition of tippling. From Jerry Thomas to contemporary scribes like David Wondrich there exists a living history in print of the evolution of cocktail culture from which to shape your path to greatness.

Seattle’s bar star Evan Martin of Naga Cocktail Lounge sums it up well, saying “Education is important because you can't know where your craft is going without knowing where it's been.”

Level 2: Attend mixlology classes
In the Sim’s virtual world there are mixology classes which will build upon your skill set and create some flashy career opportunities. Most of us ‘in the business’ agree that the bartending classes you see on the back of those alternative newspapers are bullshit. Well, I suppose if you’re not looking to actually bartend and just want to learn how to make a Slippery Nipple then those classes are just fine. There are, however, a few real life courses that can help you become adept at slinging drinks. Conventions like Tales of the Cocktail and the Manhattan Cocktail Classic also offer a slew of classes and workshops face to face with leaders in the industry.

“Events like MCC, Portland Cocktail Week and Tales have inspired me to want to be a better bartender,” says Mindy Kucan of Anvil in Houston, one of GQ magazine’s Top 25 Cocktail Bars.

For some hands on learnin’ Pernod Ricard sponsors BarSmarts, which travels to major markets and offers certification courses. There are also organizations such as T.I.P.S and Techniques of Alcohol Management (TAM) that preach the gospel of responsible service and provide their own certifications.

Level 3: Practice makes perfect
So you’ve read the books and studied up, but only perfect practice makes perfect. And without someone to show you technique all the recipes in the world aren’t going to help. If you want to be the best, you’ll need to beat the best, or at least study them. Mike Tyson’s Punchout taught me that.

“I’ve learned that the best bartenders are just as dedicated to technique and form as athletes,” says Ron Dollete of “What separates the average bartender from the cream of the crop is attention to technique.”

I recommend to all those in search of fame and fortune as a bartender, find a good mentor from whom you can learn. Just by sitting at good bars and striking up conversation with the bartender much can be learned if you know what questions to ask. Mindy says that when she was learning the craft she’d drive two and a half hours just to learn and absorb from Bobby Huegel. Now that’s commitment!

In the video game you can buy a bar for your home to practice making drinks. The real life equivalent I suppose would lead to blogging about booze. And lemme tell ya, there ain’t much money in that! A well stocked home bar is a good way to experiment on wastey-faced house guests at your next dinner party but it gets expensive buying hooch out of your own pocket. I might recommend in both the game and in life, if you want to get rich and famous as a mixologist plan on spending time behind a professional bar to back it up.

Level 4: Use better ingredients to make more tips and gain celebrity
In Chicago I did an event with Adam Seger, well regarded barman and proprietor of Hum liqueur, famous for using interesting ingredients and flavor combinations. He showed up at my bar with an effing kaffir lime tree that towered almost to the tin ceiling from the mahogany bartop making drinks with the freshly picked fruit. While I’m sure it was a pain in the pinstriped vest hauling a damned citrus tree around, using only the freshest ingredients is the difference between good drinks and swill.

The video game version of intoxicology agrees, allowing for new ingredients to be unlocked as your skill level increases. I’ve never mixed a drink at my bar with “life fruit’ or ‘flame fruit’ but you can impress all kinds of fancy folks in the game that way. And by making fancy new friends with your fancy drinks your celebrity level grows.

And let’s not forget about the booze! Just because of the glaring omission of alcohol in the game doesn’t mean that’s not what we’re talking about here.

“The more the bartender knows about their craft, the ingredients on the bar with which to play, all the tools at their disposal, the better they will be able to serve the needs of the patron,” attests Danny Ronen, representative of Fair Trade Spirits and artist of fine cocktails.

Know your product. Taste every day. Develop your palate by tasting London dry gin next to London dry gin, and taste those against Old Tom, Genever, New Western get my drift. The subltleties of each expression can help you bring out layers of flavor that often are masked in cocktails by dominant complimentary components.

Level 5: Complete mixlology challenges
In the virtual world one can rise to the auspicious designation of Master Mixologist through meticulous accumulation of knowledge, skill, and networking. Challenges like the ‘Cool Creator’ challenge exist where new drinks can be unlocked like the Glow Goo, Morcubus Molotov, Llama Head, and Woohoo on the Beach. I kid you not, those are actually drink names in the game.

The cocktail competitions that exist in the bar community are a great way for up and coming bartenders to get their name out there. Notoriety, prizes, travel, and going toe to toe with other talented bartenders are great incentives to hone one’s craft. And if there’s a way to better explore new flavor combinations than picking random ingredients on the fly when there’s a huge cash prize on the line I haven’t found it. Winners are often flown around the world and earn press and accolades for their libational creations, often providing their first intoxicating taste of the glamorous side of the booze world.

Level 6: Boost your star status by hanging out with celebrities
Impressing celebs with your drinks is the quickest way to entrée into posh society in the Sims. Master mixologists like Tony Abou-Ganim rub elbows with A-listers on a regular basis, but that doesn’t happen overnight. Once you know what you’re mixing with it’s a good idea getting to know the people behind it.

To each brand there is a face. Larger brands have brand ambassadors with big budget dollars behind them, an oft sought after job by many bar folk. Prove your worth as a bartender to these brands and they may be flying you around the world in style. Parties, dinners, and all kinds of excess will unfold before you. A cover story in Time and TV appearances are sure to follow. Welcome, young apprentice, to the glamorous world of mixology! Champagne wishes and caviar dreams are now part of your jet set lifestyle. Just don’t forget to break down your well and take out the trash before you turn out the lights.

Level 7: Livin’ the Dream
I’ve been making drinks behind a bar since before I could legally do so, certainly not in search of celebrity. Most of us do it because we love the expression of creating an experience for our guests, much the same as any chef worth his fleur de sel. Often the career chooses us, igniting our passion through the rich history of cocktail culture or the exhilaration of a three deep bar full of thirsty patrons. But to set out with the goal of fame and fortune as a bartender most of us do not. However, if that is your aim there are some notable parallels from this video game so you, too, can have success as a mixologist of tipulars. Bon santé!

“Dealer’s Choice”

What’s your favorite old school video game?

Dave Shenaut Beaker and Flask, Portland Oregon- “Contra. The Code that everyone knows. Never beat the game without out it..”

Ali Tahsini Bourbon and Branch, San Francisco “I have to go with table top Ms. Pacman....
you can set a pint (or several pints) right on the video game itself. I set high scores son!!”

Jenn Hegstrom Pope House, Portland OR “Super Mario 3... Best video game of all time:)”

Neil Kopplin Clyde Common Portland OR- “Doom, the first, first person shooter, with real life slayer gore”

J.W. Pascoe Pearl’s, Traverse City MI- “Mike Tysons Punchout-Nintendo. What made it fresh: let me count the ways”

Sal Corpuz Thatch Tiki, Portland OR-“Pac-Man, simply classic”