Tuesday, March 29, 2011

“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 Lushangeles.com. “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 gin..you 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”

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