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Michael Butt: Going Forward

Sod the Mayan’s apocalyptic forecast. There are real reasons for bartenders to be cheerful in 2012


The world may end in 2012, but since Imbibe readers are probably more interested in Mexican agave distillates than Mayan apocalyptic hokum, I’m actually going to focus on areas of the industry which, based on my recent visit to Imbibe Live, show much promise for improvement in the future.

One of the modern bartending community’s biggest problems is career development: where do you go after cleaning a station loses its appeal? For years it seemed the only answer was to become a brand representative, exchanging the best part of the job, customer interaction, for the security of health insurance and daytime work. (The expense account and the glamour are also incentives; does Cushelle’s brand team do regular customer visits? ‘Let me take you round a tour of toilets that stock our products.’)

So I am happy  to see large numbers of bartenders choosing new and exciting ways of turning hospitality into a career. Sharp & Dapper by Johan Ekelund, bartender/purveyor of fetish/utility wear, is using his network of bartenders to popularise, promote and purchase a product with applications within our industry, while learning the ropes (straps and buckles) of a new one.

Adam Elmegirab, ‘Shaky’ Pete Jeary, Alex Kammerling and others have used their interests in recipe creation and drink production to launch successful new products in an age where getting recognition for creativity in the bar industry is hamstrung by the lack of IP rights and the plethora of supported drinks creation in the competition arena – The Aldiki (a budget version of Mahiki’s famous Treasure Chest cocktail, created by Aldi to mark Prince William’s 30th), anyone?

Competitions seem to be getting better, with programmes such as Diageo’s World Class and Bacardi’s La Legacia testing bartenders in ways that are both more relevant to delivering better drinks and service and also help bartenders to widen their global reach as an individual ‘brand’ and to develop promotional nous and experience.

It pains me to see that some competitions still base success on Facebook ‘likes’ and that the great drinks generated by the competitors and winners are almost utterly ignored by the bartending populace. But with the rise of material on the internet, it may be that people will try and recreate more of these drinks now it doesn’t involve sorting through a drink-stained magazine collection in the attic.

Elsewhere in the trade, good beer seems to be making a real comeback. Microbreweries are launching tasty beers in both traditional and new styles, with technology and marketing improvements allowing for wider ranges.

Small runs have also become increasingly easy to produce, meaning the expense of setting up a brewery is unnecessary – a good idea and a small amount of money is now sometimes all that is needed to get a product made.

‘Haute’ mixology has an almost wilful lack of understanding of what we actually do, which is sell drinks

Signature Brew’s recent success with Remedy, a beer produced in collaboration with Professor Green, demonstrates a convergence of the traditional drink production industry with other areas of entertainment, sharing promotional responsibilities to great effect without sacrificing the quality of the product.

Mostly importantly, though, it was very pleasing to see the seminars on profitability and the business side of the bar were hugely popular. One of my biggest complaints with modern bartending and ‘haute’ mixology is an almost wilful lack of understanding of what
we actually do, which is sell drinks.

With better understanding of how to convert all that skill and creativity into cold hard cash, every young bartender’s dream to open their own place becomes less pie-in-the-sky and more like achievable reality – a real reason to be cheerful.

Editorial feature from Imbibe Magazine – September/October 2012

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