Mixology Isn’t All Cocktail. Some Of It’s ‘Coyote Ugly’
March 10, 2016
Meet our latest blogger, Ian ‘Fizz’ Fišermanis – a Head Mixologist in BarTwentyFive at Cafe Vin Cinq in Rugby, U.K.
Having been in the industry for over 20 years, he has also worked as a consultant to the retail and hospitality sector with the company Brain Stormers.
So what do you need to do to become a Head Mixologist like Ian?
When a bar expert offers advice you should always take it, because the reality of working in a bar is far from what people expect. In this article, he sheds some light on the truth behind working in a bar.
How People Get Into Mixology
I am fascinated by mixology, and I am equally fascinated by the people fascinated by it. Having run classes and conversed over many a bar in my 20 years in the industry, it still alarms me how many people seem to think they can walk into a cocktail bar, shake a drink and be the next Brian Flanagan or Violet Sanford.
The truth is, there are a lot of difficult nights, bad backs, pulled shoulders and scraping gum from the underside of tables to deal with, before you get anywhere near the top. Like most industries, there is a ladder to climb, and like most ladders, the first steps are the dirtiest.
Most people tend to find themselves drifting into the job. It is rare to find someone who discovered mixology and sought out a career in it. More typically, there are those who started in pubs and taverns and were bitten by the bug of the wonderful world of spirits.
We started in part-time roles often collecting and washing glasses, hot, sweaty, back-breaking work which is as far removed from the movie world of cocktails as you can get.
We did the longest shifts and we got paid the least, but this is where we learnt our craft. We mopped, we lifted and we scrubbed. We got handed an experimental drink to try now and again and occasionally someone asked our opinion.
When finally a vacancy came up, we leapt at it.
No one gets on a ladder at the fifth step and no one should want to. Be thankful you learnt from the bar floor up, it makes you appreciate all the future decisions you’ll get to make.
My Career In Mixology
One of my favourite learning memories comes from bottling up – the process of restocking the mixers in a bar. Reaching into a badly organised and cluttered store, I sliced open my hand on a smashed bottle someone had left.
I learned the need to be tidy, organised and make safety a priority. Later, I also learned that when you work in a cocktail bar, and you have even the slightest skin graze, you will feel unimaginable pain when lemon juice touches your skin.
Recently, I’ve been recruiting. One candidate seemed to shine above the others, and although he had little to no experience, his knowledge was good.
He talked at interview of flavours, recipes and the bars he liked. He would have been a great trainee, but sadly I never heard back from him.
Simply put, he didn’t seem to want to start at the bottom; he wanted the best shifts, a high pay rate and a good title.
He didn’t understand that my current team have earned that. They all started at the bottom – as did I – and that’s what makes them some of the best in the industry.
It’s difficult (almost impossible) to come in to the industry in a full time, highly paid role, even if you think you have all the knowledge needed.
So you’ve read all the big selling cocktail guides? Great… now can you make this customer something exclusively for them, to their tastes? No… because you haven’t done the ground work.
How To Begin A Career In Mixology
When you learn, you make mistakes. A wise woman once said to me ‘those who have never made a mistake, have never made anything’. (Thank you Linda Tulley).
My advice to anyone looking to be a star player in mixology is to allow themselves time to make the mistakes. Let face it, a large number of new ideas come when the wrong ingredients are mixed together.
Learn the craft on the job, not just from a book or webpage.
A home bar is a great practicing ground, but it won’t teach you how a real bar works. In the end, it’s an industry, a business and it only makes cocktails so it can make money. You can’t learn that from a glossy cocktail book.
It’s far too easy to be a snob, insist you only make the classics, that the Vodka isn’t premium enough and the bar napkins are the wrong colour. Working your way up from the bar floor gives you an education on the waste, the costs and the physical labour involved in getting the bar open.
It’s a skill many potential employees forget to boast about. I would rather hear you tell me about those times than a new recipe from Dale DeGroff you read about. I worked hard to get here, I’ve paid my dues and I’m ready to shine and be the battle cry of a future mixologist.
Our current recruitment advertising campaign is based around the trend for all things superhero. BarTwentyFive – Where Mixologists Assemble is our current catch phrase.
The team all have their own print on the wall detailing their personal superpowers and skills in a comedy way. But in reality, we are looking for a superhero. It’s back-breaking and soul-destroying work sometimes.
You put your heart into everything you do when you are a mixologist, and rejection of your latest recipe hurts as much as real heartache.
If I’ve put you off a career in mixology, that’s probably a good thing. The purpose of this article is to tell you the truth, not sugar rim it and decorate it with a pink umbrella.
The industry needs stars, and stars shine brightest during the long dark nights. They are powerhouses of talent that can reap great rewards if they truly commit to tequila, vodka and their bedfellows.
If you can’t commit, you’re in the wrong career and maybe the home bar is better suited to you. But if you are now thinking ‘Where do I sign?’ get out there and find a bar job. There are millions of people across the world looking for you right now, and I am one of them.
Written by Ian ‘Fizz’ Fišermanis.
Twitter: @BusyMrFizzy @BrainStormer_UK @BarTwentyFive
Facebook: BarTwentyFive BrainStormersUK