Goldilocks: Dread of Mixologists

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You put down a napkin in front of the guest. Then, with all the pomp and circumstance you can muster while dodging darting barbacks and whizzing shakers in a busy bar full of customers, you place your creation on the napkin. For example, the Expat: a drink made of two special vermouths imported from France, freshly squeezed lemon juice, real sloe gin, and a dash of Peychaud's bitters. You stare for a moment at the guest's reaction. You're expecting an epiphany. You walk away, wash a glass, make another drink, return to your stare and ask, "Well, what do you think?"

They ponder, sip, and avoid your gaze, all the while pensively stirring the drink as they stare directly into the glass, as if the insight from looking might alter what they think of the drink's taste.

"It doesn't have that 'cocktail texture'," they say. "It's too watery."

You start formulating the proper string of expletives to sum up your own response. After all, this was hand-crafted by you, and damned if they're going to insult you to your face. Then they add: "I only say this because the flavors are good, but there's something missing?" They push the drink back toward you, asking for your perspective on their perspective.

No amount of arguing can settle disputes of taste.

You take a sip. You calm your mind. It's wonderful--full of bright flavors, lemon, anise, plum, and blackberries. They're right, right? But they're also wrong in the sense that it's exactly the lighter, wine-like texture that has such a pleasant aperitif quality. Why didn't they get it? Goldilocks!

One of the worst possible feelings is to spend your days and nights gin-soaked from the outside-in via splashing, muddling, shaking, stirring, baking, steaming, saucing--whatever it takes to render your mixological creation--just to have someone, a two-bit amateur or pedantic colleague, declare your creation "just OK," or worse. (Of course, sometimes they may actually be right. Rarely, I must add.)

You smile; you pardon the guest and realize that the drink is just not for them. No amount of arguing can settle disputes of taste. So you back off.

As a bartender, our job is to satisfy guests completely, even though we start from the position that we generally don't know the guest. We have to find the drink that pleases them but also one that satisfies their tendency to judge. Within reason, of course.

One of the first celebrity bartenders, "Professor" Jerry Thomas, said it best in his Bartender's Guide from 1862:

"An efficient bartender's first aim should be to please his customers...In this way he will not fail to acquire popularity and success."

Then again, a bartender friend of mine--who swears that the long, baseball-shaped bottle of Galliano is used best for self-defense--takes the opposite approach: "Be grateful you've got me as your bartender, Goldilocks."

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Derek Brown is a writer, illustrator, bartender, and co-owner of acclaimed bars The Passenger and Columbia Room in Washington, D.C. He sits on the board of directors for the Museum of the American Cocktail. More

Derek Brown is a writer, illustrator, bartender, and co-owner of acclaimed bars The Passenger and Columbia Room in Washington, D.C. He travels throughout the country and around the world in search of great drinks, and the stories behind them. Derek's methodical approach to cocktails was profiled in the Wall Street Journal's "A Master of Mixological Science" and his martini lauded as the best in America by GQ. He's been in numerous media outlets featuring his approach to better drinking, including CNN, The Rachel Maddow Show and FOX. Derek is a founding member of the D.C. Craft Bartender's Guild and on the board of directors for the Museum of the American Cocktail.
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