It was that last Pierce Brosnan Bond movie that did it.
For those who are lucky enough to have forgotten Die Another Day, it saw 007 up against a Korean baddie played by a ginger Englishman (don’t ask) who has some sort of plot involving diamonds and a big laser. A key component of foiling this plot is, for some reason, having sex with Halle Berry.
From what the film would have you believe, the best way to seduce Halle Berry is to drink mojitos. The public apparently bought this fallacy hook, line and sinker, because for the next couple of years, mojitos were everywhere.
What started out as a sudden upswing in the popularity of a middling cocktail rapidly became the bane of bartending life. Everyone and his dog wanted a Mojito, until the point where the very sight of a bag of mint will send bar veterans of a certain age hissing and cowering away like a vampire in sunlight. We grew to hate Mojitos the way Donald Trump hates minorities. Or women. Or logic.
Over time the craze ebbed away, but I was reminded of it by an excellent and sobering piece by Al Sotack in which he pointed out that bartending snobbery – something I’ve always hated myself – is a form of drinks-based victim blaming. We shouldn’t judge the non-bartending public for not being cocktail experts, especially as they’re the ones that pay our wages. Sotack in particular singles out the reticence on most bartenders’ parts to make yet another Mojito.
Whilst I broadly agree with this point, it rather ignores what generated a lot of the frustration about people incessantly ordering Mojitos. I once had a guy ask me to make him a Mojito, and when I explained that I had run out of mint he shrugged at the naked stalks left behind, picked clean of all leaves, and said ‘Just use those.’
Mojitos, at the absolute height (or nadir) of the fad, were being ordered by people who didn’t know what they were and didn’t particularly care. They weren’t ordering them because they liked Mojitos. They were following a trend in the most naked, slavish and infuriating way possible, force us to crush ice and pick mint for something they didn’t remotely appreciate or, most likely, even enjoy.
This is why bartenders are wary of Mojito drinkers. Because we suspect that they don’t know what they’re talking about. Yet, once again, this is not the fault of the layman. The real question is not ‘why don’t people try to learn more about drinks?’ so much as ‘whose job is it to educate them?’
On the one hand, it would be laughable to expect every local pub in the country to offer an extensive cocktail menu and knowledgeable staff. Most hospitals don’t have enough staff, and most schools don’t have enough money, so wishing for every local to be peopled entirely by human Difford’s Guides should probably be way down the list, in terms of national wish fulfilment.
At the same time, fully-trained cocktail staff risk coming off as patronising if we attempt to sway the minds of customers. There’s nothing more irritating than being asked what you want, and then told with imperial certitude that you actually want something else. ‘What’s your favourite colour? Blue? Nah, you don’t want to like blue, mate, you should like yellow instead…’
This assumes, of course, that knowledgeable bar staff even have time to make recommendations. Try stopping on a busy Saturday night shift in the average city centre bar to have an in-depth conversation about flavours with a customer and see how long before the other seventy people waiting to get a pint decide to kick your head in.
This, as much as anything, is why the public order boring – or at least familiar – drinks. In a busy bar, it’s a case of speed, and in quieter, fancier cocktail places it prevents embarrassment. Imagine trying to hold your own in a room full of particle physicists with only a Lego level of knowledge and you’ll start to understand how daunting cocktail bars can be for the novice.
In an ideal world, there would be some sort of intermediate level between bog standard pubs and swanky cocktail lounges that would build a customer’s knowledge slowly. There should be a way to educate people about drinks so that they don’t feel intimidated and aren’t, ultimately, depriving themselves of better drinks than the ones they are familiar with.
Maybe it should be taught to them whilst they’re growing up, like sex education.
Yeah, that sounds about right; I blame the parents.