The Modern Bartender: Michael Butt on the changing of times

Michael Butt

23 March 2018

The internet has come of age – and so has the modern professional bartender

Twenty years ago, the Modern Professional Bartender (MPB) barely existed. Or, rather, he/she existed, but was far rarer than today. Likewise, there was almost no internet to speak of.

The late great Dick Bradsell is our profession’s equivalent of the clip-on phone modem – a pioneer who broke the doors down for others to follow. Now, both have come of age, and they’re ubiquitous.

I would argue that the simultaneous growth of the internet and MPBs is no coincidence either; indeed, that the two are very definitely linked. Bartending resource material has grown to encyclopedic status with instant access. Gone are the days of writing out ‘spec decks’ of recipes for a bitters-stained box of index cards – instead you can have a cheat sheet on your phone, one that contains every recipe and version ever published.

I recently downloaded a Daiquiri league table spreadsheet for a blind taste test

The number of MPBs has hit critical mass, being of a sufficient size to fund innovation, foster companies built to satisfy their specific needs and, most importantly, allow headroom to develop careers within the industry.

They have become progressively well connected, and it is this connection of ideas between bartenders, increasingly in real time, that is the final requirement in the creation of a body with real potential power. This power can be good, bad and stupid.

Power for good… I recently downloaded a Daiquiri league table spreadsheet, a shareable template for a blind taste test. Data can then be combined from any number of online participants to provide an exhaustive insight into a category, without incurring the expense to liver and wallet that the research-based consumption of thousands of Daiquiris would entail.

It allows the collective bartender network to make sense of the explosion in numbers of products – which shows no sign of abating. Gin leagues, world-spanning taste-offs… we are, by nature, a sharing community, particularly of our opinions. And thousands are keen to participate.

People will, no doubt, remember my column of November 2013 clearly, but to remind you, it was about money. Since then, unfortunately nothing has changed. Sorry, lots of things have changed: rent has gone up, food has gone up, transport has skyrocketed so much you’d think actual rockets were involved. The only thing that hasn’t gone up, in fact, is bartender wages.

Although pessimistic about the potential effects of Brexit, I believe that the increasing commitment of hospitality workers to their craft is creating a union of sorts, just one without subscription. Judging by common sentiment, its first mission will be to sort out transparency and suitability of pay.

As our increasingly skilled workforce becomes ever more irreplaceable, so our collective bargaining power increases – and shouldn’t be underestimated.

Power for bad… Just as the swirling starlings turn as one, the power of the alliance of members of the service industry can be awe-inspiring, achieving immediate positive change through social-media outrage.

As this realisation develops, the frequency and breadth of these changes will increase. Unfortunately, the speed and immoderate nature of the medium, combined with a mob mentality, can lead to bullying, unthinking commentary and all too many popcorn gifs.

Power for stupid... Bartending is as prone to fake news as any other sphere. For every great video demystifying flair moves, there is a tobacco Old Fashioned recipe; for every syrup-making workshop, there’s a person doubting the creator of the Pornstar Martini about his original recipe.

If developments in computing power follow Moore’s law, doubling in power every two years, and the appetite for integration of information technology shows no sign of abating, we can only hope that the MPB continues to advance alongside it.

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