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Bartending - walk before you run

Globe-trotting cocktail enthusiast Andy Gaunt on negotiating ‘haute mixology’ and the ‘creative wave' in bartending

Barrel aged or pre-batched cocktails, avant-garde drinks with innovative foams and textures, more artisanal bitters than you could shake a stick at, and an encyclopaedic knowledge of 19th century cocktails or distillation and maturation techniques. All this and more are part of the everyday weaponry of the modern bartender.

I’ve been fortunate enough to have spent the last 10 years travelling the world drinking cocktails in bars for a living, and I love the fact that bartending as a career, and the bar culture that it brings, is as strong here in Asia as anywhere in the world. However, I can’t help but be slightly concerned that the speed of bartending expansion and the globalism of the bar industry, preaches a form of haute mixology that will inspire a new generation of bartenders to get creative, but without the base of what it really means to bartend and provide a flawless cocktail experience for the guest.

Taking a leaf from Japanese bartending basics

Much has been made about the Japanese approach to bartending, with its hierarchy and the steps that need to be mastered before more complex bartending tasks can be undertaken. In many cities across Asia, Japanese influenced bars were the foundation of the cocktail scene, but with the recent influx of international mixology experts, full of bartending creativity and experience, the opportunities for travel, and the sheer wealth of information provided by drinks companies, brand ambassadors and the internet, we are seeing the bartending industry transform.

Let’s embrace this bartending creative wave, but not lose sight of the most important thing – delivering a flawless cocktail experience for the guest– one that is profitable. Not all guests want a smoked rum old-fashioned, sometimes a delicious G&T is cocktail perfection.

Speed and efficiency, perfect customer service and rigorous but sensible operating procedures are the foundations of great bartending. It’s tempting to skip past the bartending basics, and master the ‘glamorous’ art of cutting edge cocktail creation, but let’s not forget there is just as much art and skill in the crafting of a consistent, great tasting (and looking) gin and tonic, served quickly and with a smile!

As Frederich Neitzsche famously wrote: “He who would learn to fly, must first learn to stand and walk and run and climb and dance; one cannot fly into flying”.

With over 15 years of drinks industry experience, Andy Gaunt has a unique and global perspective on the development of modern drinking culture around the world, and especially across the Asia region. Beginning his career behind the bar, before jumping to the other side and working in international sales and marketing roles for some of the world’s most respected premium spirit brands, Andy has established his own business - Source Consulting - specialising in the development and advocacy of premium wine and spirit brands, and of the drinks industry.