Living up to its billing as a conference organized by and for bartenders, Portland Cocktail Week (PDXCW) is placing heavy emphasis on bartender education this year. The four major courses of study being offered by the Portland Bartender Institute are Advanced Craft Cocktail Bartending, Beyond the Bar, Bar Ownership, and Product Development. Classes are intended to improve bartenders’ technical skills as well as help them plan their long-term career aspirations. The students take these classes seriously and take plenty of notes during the sessions.
On Monday, the Advanced Craft Cocktail Bartending track opened with a session titled “Advanced Bar Technique” that was a panel discussion featuring Derek Brown of The Passenger and Mockingbird Hill, Joaquin Simo of Pouring Ribbons, Sam Ross of Attaboy, and Angus Winchester, Tanqueray Global Ambassador. This session was interesting because it expanded the concept of technique beyond what most people think it is. Derek Brown kicked-off the class by proposing that technique is everything we do to create cocktails, and that we must keep four P’s in mind:
- People (including reading your guests, staff development, and interpersonal skills)
- Property (including bar design, Mis en Place (where you put the items required to make a cocktail), and equipment)
- Profit (we’re in this to make money, but how well you do on the other P’s will drive this one)
- Product (it is not just the craft cocktails you’re creating, it’s also the food and the ambiance)
The presenters were very entertaining (they are all bartenders, after all) and had plenty of tips and good advice for their bartender students. Here are some notes that stood out in the wide ranging discussion:
- Customer relations are paramount to your success, and it’s not just how you treat people, it’s also how you make them feel.
- Top level bartending is like a sport, practice is necessary.
- Everything in your back-bar should be there for a reason; to impress people is not a good reason.
- Many popular, inexpensive liquors are still around because they are good products that have amortized their physical plant, don’t look down on them.
- Mis en Place is important to efficient service and will ultimately drive profits.
- Customers are a lot more knowledgeable than there were ten years ago, and there are a lot more craft cocktail bars for competition.