Remember that well-dressed man behind the bar, serving drinks to his clientele with a smile, listening to their problems and trying his best to muster enough empathy sohe can respond? Well, those times are over. While you may want to speak to your barman, I mean, mixologist, they probably won’t hear you because they are busy thinking of their next cocktail creation, one that will set them apart – and, in the process, make them one of the best in the business.
Such is the change in the bartending business that not only are these guys (and gals) professional mixologists, they are travelling the world and making mega bucks with their skills behind the bar. It’s a career now.
Julian Short is still ecstatic when I call to congratulate him for winning the 2017 Diageo World Class Bartender of the Year competition in South Africa. It’s the most prestigious mixologist competition in the world. Later this year Short will compete against the best in the world where bartenders from more than 60 countries will vie for the World Class Bartender title in Mexico.
“It’s still a surreal experience,” he says. “Especially because I have only been in the game for such a short time. “To win this competition is the greatest affirmation and confirms that I made the right decision becoming a mixologist.”
Short was a musician and sound engineer before he decided he preferred being behind the bar and coming up with interesting concoctions.
“I did the music thing, mainly producing. I actually got into bartending because I needed extra money and that’s when I started getting compliments for my drinks. I started paying greater attention to the cocktails I was making and the compliments just kept coming. I guess it also makes sense as I come from a family in the hospitality industry. But it was really unexpected how I would take to making cocktails the way I have.”
Short owns Sin & Taxes, a bar in Rosebank. A few years ago, bartending was only for students, looking for an extra buck. Short also got into the industry as a way to make extra money, but it has now become a career.
“It really didn’t make any sense why it wasn’t taken seriously as a career,” he says.
“Food is served with drinks. As a chef, you are required to know how to pair the right food with the right beverage, to bring out the flavours in both the food and the beverage. It’s a science. It’s the same with being a mixologist. It’s a science and it’s all about balancing the various flavours used in the cocktail. It’s very technical.”
His favourite spirit to use when making cocktails? “Even though I think you need to be adaptable when you’re a bartender, I’m a huge tequila fan. There’s a misconception that tequila is only for shots – it’s not. There’s so much that can be done with tequila.”
And Mexico? “Well, I’m the first winner who has been announced. I’m waiting to see who the other countries choose as their winner. I’m practising daily at my bar. That’s the only way to get better at being a mixologist, by practising. That, and having some fun while doing it.”