Walk into any bar worth its shaker these days and cocktails are à la mode, mixed with flavors and ingredients with names whose etymology traces back to some remote mountain top village in Peru. Call me a philistine, but remember when you just ordered a Scotch neat and called it a nightcap? Even the word bartender has been “vogued.” Mixologist and Spirits Expert are the cool monikers now.
Which brings me to San Francisco award-winning bartender, I mean mixologist, and writer Jeff Burkhart who has not only witnessed the transformation of his beloved trade, but has also been mixing, shaking, and imparting boozy advice and trivia for the last 20 years, writing about it along the way. In his newly released book, Twenty Years Behind Bars: the spirited adventures of a real bartender, he irreverently and thoughtfully broods about cocktails, bar life, and the people who’ve frequented both over the past two decades.
“I get to see life up close and unedited (I do stand only 3-feet away), said Burkhart. “If there’s truth in wine, just imagine what kind of truths you get with liquor.”
Burkhart is the “Barfly” columnist at the Marin Independent Journal and San Jose Mercury News and has also authored a knowledge card series from Pomegranate Press (What’s On Tap, Name Your Poison, and Hey Bartender), as well as a popular What Do You Know About Wine desk calendar. Twenty Years Behind Bars is his first full-length book about the craft and culture.
“With all the articles and books out there about bartending and mixology, written by people who have never done it, I thought it was time for a real bartender to be heard,” he said.
Burkhart still works behind the bar, but prefers not to publicly name the establishment. I’m sure, however, with a little research (or a friendly email), you can find him. No doubt he’ll have a story to share, and can tell you the nationality of the ingredients in your cocktail.
The Foodie Five
1. What is your favorite food memory from childhood?
The first avocado I ever had. We had moved to California from Pennsylvania and I had never seen, or even imagined such a delicious thing could exist. As a result I have always looked for new and different things to eat and drink wherever I go.
2. You’re moving to a new bar in minutes and can only take one gadget along with you. What do you grab and why?
A Boston Shaker. Frankly, you can find peelers, knives, juicers wherever you go. A good cocktail starts with a good shaker. And with the half glass, half stainless steel Boston variety you can make any cocktail under the sun.
3. No one is looking . What is your secret food or drink fetish?
Canned corned beef hash. I know it’s disgusting but I just can’t have it any other way. Save the house made stuff for someone else and just slice me off a round!
4. Fill in the blanks: “I’d like to see more __________ on bar menus and please, for the love of figs, lighten up on the _______________.”
I'd like to see more seasonal fruit on bar menus and a lot less absinthe, chartreuse and raw egg!
5. Congratulations, you have carte blanche to drink and dine anywhere in the world! Where would you go?
Nara, Japan. I travelled through Japan a few years ago and the food was phenomenal. Even at the noodle stand at the train station! The Kaiseki (multi-course) meal that I had in Nara was the most memorable meal ever. Fresh seasonal food simply prepared but elegantly served. Sublime! Plus great Japanese beer and Japanese whiskey. What else could you want?
Read more about Jeff here
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