Posted by: Matt Browner Hamlin | December 17, 2008

An Energy Exchange

Erik at Underhill Lounge has a post up about his experience bartending and the search for good cocktails that really resonates with me. While discussing his recent opportunities to work behind the stick at some of San Francisco’s better bars and his love of crafting cocktails, he concludes with a great summation of what he enjoys about making drinks.

That’s one of the cooler things about San Francisco Bartenders.  Their openness with their ideas and interest in the ideas of others in the industry and outside it.

It’s a situation which feeds itself.

Sure, bars and bartenders need to make money.  But if they’re interested in cocktails and bar culture at all, they also want to make interesting drinks for people who are interested and appreciate what they are trying to do.  Whether it is other bartenders or us crazy Internet Cocktail Geeks.

If the only way for me to get a good cocktail is to make it myself, that is what I’ll do.  I’ll order beer or wine when I’m out, not cocktails.  Well, sometimes, I do just feel like wine or beer, but if the bartender is interested and engaged, I’m more likely to chance a drink.  And if it’s good I’m likely to come back another time.

And that’s the other side of what I enjoy about cooking, and what I enjoy about making drinks, whether at home or at a bar.  Not to get all new agey, but it’s an energy exchange.  It’s simple.  I make something I care about and give it to you.  You like it, maybe more than you thought you would, and give back.  That smile and that, “Wow!  That’s really good!  What is in that?”

First, I hadn’t even realized that Erik wasn’t a full-time bartender or owner of a bar. His work through the Savoy Cocktail book is so comprehensive that I assumed he was working with a professional bar at his disposal. I’m even more in awe of his project now.

Secondly, Erik’s captured pretty much exactly my take on how I experience cocktails. I prefer to go places that I know have good bartenders who make good cocktails. If I end up somewhere where I don’t think I’ll get a good cocktail, I’ll usually stick to beer. If I think I might be somewhere in between, I’ll go with a very basic drink – an Old Fashioned or a Manhattan. I’m lucky that where I live in DC has a number of great bars in easy walking distance to me, so if I want a cocktail I can usually get it with ease. And, as with Erik, if I really want a good cocktail, I can always make something for myself at home.

I don’t think I’m as far along as a bartender as Erik is, but I too am starting to think about expanding beyond blogging about cocktails and making drinks for friends when they come over. I have a couple holiday parties coming up where I’ll be doing some bartending, as well as possibly consulting on an inauguration party. I have the most fun when I have friends over and I can make cocktails for them, which makes me think it’d be a good idea to try to find some sort of semi-regular opportunity to bartend. But I haven’t really thought it through too much yet. We’ll see what happens.



  1. Shucks, thanks for the kind words, Matt. Best of luck with the holiday parties!

  2. Thanks Erik! You too…

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