Daniel Hyatt, who writes at The Alembic’s blog, has quite a different take from most I’ve read about Tales of the Cocktail. He laments how crowded bars were, making it impossible to get any well-made, fancy cocktails. Instead he reports an over-emphasis on getting sauced and paying in to expensive workshops sponsored by top brands of spirits. Not surprisingly, this experience wasn’t one he loved, leaving him questioning the state of the cocktail and cocktailian bartending culture.
I return with a real sense that this “cocktail thing” may just be a bit out of control. We’ve stopped being servants and craftsmen and become authors, artists, chefs, and technicians. Do we need degrees or crowns?
Some of the best things in life, as in gastronomy or mixology, require little hermeneutics or decoding. They just present themselves as they are, satisfy, and then resonate. The way a walk in the park might stick with you better than an art history exam.
For my part, I still appreciate immensely the hard work and rich creative resources of my colleagues. I maintain a deep respect for experimentation and innovation, love to be challenged, and wholeheartedly give credit where credit is due.
That being said, I come back humbled, wishing only to throw some thick chunks chilled melon into a glass with a small sprig of fresh herb and a healthy dose of blanco tequila and a twist of lime, set it carefully on a cocktail napkin on a clean bar top, smile and be smiled at. Either that or a shot and a beer. It’s your dime.
I wasn’t at Tales of the Cocktail. If I was, there’s probably a decent chance I would have fallen into the hedonistic revelry that Dan found objectionable. But I can also, from afar, read his critique and perfectly imagine what caused it and why it has produced such a strong (and thoughtful) response from him. His words definitely resonate with me, especially given that while it’s not a side of contemporary cocktail culture that I’ve seen at all, it doesn’t surprise me that it might exist. The bartenders I’m friends with or ones I’ve only briefly met as their customers have pretty much always been friendly, down to earth, purveyors of satisfying and interesting cocktails. I haven’t seen many egos or people that sought celebrity. But put a few hundred people in a bunch of seminars and that dynamic may well change for some.
I’ve never been to The Alembic, which is by all accounts one of the Bay Area’s top cocktail stops. But I do read their blog and respect their work a great deal. To wit, Dan’s conclusion that a simple and tasteful cocktail can be matched up alongside a beer and a shot, depends solely on the mood of the person partaking it is something I can relate to. Love the fancy and the fine, love the simple just the same.
I’ll be curious to see what some of the non-pro cocktail bloggers have to say about this side of Tales.