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Like other trendsetters, these innovative bartenders are always on the lookout for new products to bring magic to their creations. DeSerio has lately begun designing drinks using Ripe, marketed as the first line of pure-squeezed, all-natural cocktail mixers (shown below). The product, created by Wallingford natives Michel Boissy and Ryan Guimond, launched just a year ago, but is already carried at Whole Foods and many other locations (drinkripe.com). “I was floored by the quality,” says DeSerio. Similarly, when one of Ginnetti’s purveyors mentioned a new maple syrup with a spiked edge and a French chardonnay vinegar with Egyptian lemon called Noble Tonic featured in the Times dining section, Ginnetti had to have them. “I can’t not have them,” he says, promising he’ll find a way to use both.
The spiked interest in mixology didn’t happen overnight. Bartenders and those who write about cocktails and spirits say it started about a decade ago and gained steam from shows like AMC’s “Mad Men,” in which characters always seem to have a cocktail or glass of scotch in their hand.And the more popular cocktails become, the more serious the role of the mix master.
Spend time with any of these bartenders and you appreciate how they thirst to hone their craft. Roth, for example, has been to Japan twice to learn more about sake cocktails from a world-leading sake expert. (“The first time I got to Tokyo, I felt like I was in Lost in Translation,” Roth recalls.) He and others enroll in classes in New York or rigorous online courses like BarSmarts, enter competitions to test their skills and learn from colleagues. And they carry around what they call their “bibles,” books like The Fine Art of Mixing Drinks by David A. Embury, from 1948; Jerry Thomas’ Bartender’s Guide (1887, reprinted in 1928); Dale Degroff’s The Craft of the Cocktail (“everyone has to have that one,” he says); and Gaz Regan’s The Joy of Mixology.
At one competition, Roth met Dimitrios Zahariadis, a former bar manager at Tao Asian Bistro in midtown Manhattan, who had moved home to Connecticut to help his Greek family’s restaurant business. Zahariadis, now bar manager at Waterbury’s La Tavola Ristorante, was a member of the U.S. Bartenders’ Guild in New York, but was surprised to learn that there was no chapter anywhere in Connecticut.
Not anymore. With Zahariadis as president and Roth as vice president, the state chapter can claim about 20 members in its first year. “It’s an uphill battle [enrolling members],” says Zahariadis, in part because the guild is new to Connecticut and bartenders tend to know other bartenders in the area where they work, but not elsewhere in the state. (Bartenders, check out Facebook page USBGCT.)
Yet Roth believes that will change as word spreads from one bartender to another, and as they realize the benefits: field trips to innovative bars in Boston or New York perhaps, a road trip to a Philadelphia microdistillery that makes American dry gin and absinthe, get-togethers to talk shop, and shortcourses on making cocktails using, say, Campari, or other specialized ingredients.
With colleagues supporting one another, with the Internet, with the ability to look up virtually anything on a smartphone, Roth maintains that bartenders no longer have an excuse not “to make the best damn drink possible.” He adds: “Make sure the perfect garnish with every drink is a smile,” an aphorism famous in the bartending culture. “If you’re in a good mood and you feel like you’re going to make a great drink, how can you not make a great drink? If you’re in a cranky mood, you don’t want that coming out in your drink,” Roth says, paraphrasing the philosophy of Kazuo Ueda, one of the best-known bartenders in Japan.
In the end, these bartenders say, it’s all about the magic, the spirit, the balance and the art. “A friend of mine once said, ‘The best feeling in the world is having a buzz and your favorite song comes on.’ You just cannot beat that feeling,” says Ginnetti. Perhaps more to the point, he adds, is the sensibility captured in a quote he loves from politico James Carville: “To me, the ultimate feeling in the world is to be about two-thirds of the way through my second martini with people I like. Anything seems possible.”