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Expert Drinker

Photo credit to James Martin. Pic first appeared on his blog, The Sipologist.

Photo credit to James Martin. Pic first appeared on his blog, The Sipologist.

At this time two years ago, I was wasting away in an office job to make money. It was what I thought a career had to be — grunt work with a generous helping of boredom and convoluted power structures.

When I got the chance to bartend, I jumped on it. From the outside, it seemed both nerdy and glamorous, and I wanted to be part of that culture. To catch up, I studied drink and product flashcards every day. I asked bartenders I knew for book recommendations, andĀ read them all the time.

After a little while, I started writing about what I’d learned. It was easy and challenging all at once: I’d become passionate about cocktails, so I wanted to do their stories justice. It was a topic I’d come to know well, so it was sometimes hard to translate my knowledge into an accessible story.

But explaining product and cocktails are both parts of bartending, so I used every shift to refine my narrative about a certain drink or a technique or an ingredient. Once I started practicing, it became easier and easier to explain it out loud and in writing.

As an adult, I’ve had trouble owning up to what I am and what I want to be. It took me a long time to call myself a writer, and a few months of bartending full-time before I would call myself a bartender without a qualifier. Even now, I’m not a drinks expert. What I am is an expert drinker. I’ve developed a palate, know how to balance and re-balance a cocktail, and consult theĀ Flavor Bible enough to figure out what liquors play well with what flavors.

I’m still learning, and I’m still putting off reading the stack of cocktail books I keep by my bed. With writing, tutoring, and regular bartending shifts, I can make time to read an article or two every day, but I’ve had a lot of trouble keeping pace with my drinks library. To become a true drinks expert, I’ll have to dive back in, and soon. I’ll start on it tomorrow.

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