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Master Mixologists: Bar Lab's Elad Zvi and Gabriel Orta Part 2

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If you missed Part 1 of the interview with Bar Lab, click here to catch up on the conversation.

Cocktail Mia: Where do your ideas come from?

Elad: From chefs. We find so much inspiration in food. We love the classic cocktails, we respect classic cocktails, but we’re trying to do something different, something cutting edge. We love to use Floridian ingredients, of course, as well as Asian, Latin, Middle Eastern flavors. And we love food, maybe more than cocktails.

Gabriel: We love to try new restaurants, new chefs. We love to find inspiration from that. You see a dish and it’s like: Wow, look at that! What’s in it? How can we make something from that? We love the classic cocktail culture, it’s a foundation, but we’re from all over. I’m from Columbia; Elad is from Israel. So, we have a wide background and come in with different palates. We 've brought that into the Bar Lab concept.

Cocktail Mia: You make a lots of things at home, too?

Gabriel: Yes, we have a little warehouse.

Elad: (Smiling) It’s our lab.

Gabriel: Yeah, we cook all kinds of stuff in there, bitters for example. You see this whole wall (he motions to the long row of small delicate bottles above the back shelf); it’s all different flavored bitters, so we can add other notes of flavor in cocktails.

Cocktail Mia: At this point, Bar Lab has received quite a bit of recognition. When did you have that moment where you turned to each other and said Wow, this is really moving?

Elad: It was The New York Times article, definitely. If The New York Times notices you, it means you're doing something right. And also when people started recognizing us in the street.

Gabriel: You know what, though? It’s great, but it also keeps you humble. (Elad nods in agreement). You don’t want to get too big about it. We find that it keeps us on our toes; it makes us work harder. We don’t want to lay back just because we got an article in The New York Times. We look at it like this: Now we have to bring it up a notch, now we have to go further. It’s cool, but it’s also more pressure, which is good because it keeps us pushing forward.

Cocktail Mia: Do either or both of you go back home and see what’s going on?

Elad: Yes, we travel all the time. (Pointing to Gabriel), he travels a lot.

Gabriel: I do a lot of things in South and Central America. It's weird because they all have so many fresh ingredients, so many interesting flavors, but nobody really knows what to do with them. There’s no cocktails. I did a couple of trainings with about 30 or 40 bartenders in Mexico City for a week. I came back the year after, and level was amazing. They were doing all this stuff that I don’t even know how to do. It was really incredible. It’s becoming a worldwide thing; it’s spreading. People are really starting to appreciate it. (He pauses.) I'm going to make you a bourbon drink.

Cocktail Mia: What are some of your favorite cocktails?

Elad: That’s a tough one. It really depends on my mood. Tequila cocktails all the time. When I'm sad or in New York, bourbon. And mezcal, of course, I like to drink all the time. And gin, but gin makes me crazy. (He laughs.)

Gabriel: For me, everything agave: tequila, mezcal, almost everyday. Then bourbon and gin.

Cocktail Mia: Bar Lab also focuses on bartender education. Have you seen any transformations after your education program, any bartenders who've gone from slinging vodka and cranberry to really seeing the craft?

Gabriel: Yes, absolutely, all the time. When we first come in to do a cocktail menu, there’s often mixed feelings about things changing. You’re entering their bar, so they wonder: What are you doing in my house? Once they get involved, start seeing the difference and that it can be a career or a craft, everything changes.

Elad: (Pointing to one of the other bartenders.) Like him. He started just as an overnight guy, didn’t really know a lot. Now, he’s better than me; he’s really good. It’s amazing; he learned everything in seven months.

Cocktail Mia: What do you hope to see over the next five years?

Elad: (As he's speaking, he takes a bundle of thyme, lights it and begins smoking a highball glass) I hope it keeps growing, but it is really up to the managers and owners. If they get on board with the cocktail concept, then it can grow. And also, it is up the consumers. Once they start asking for cocktails lists, fresh ingredients, it’s set. Once there is demand for it, there’s no stopping it.

Gabriel: Five years ago, none of this existed. Now, we have so many great restaurants, and cocktail lists keep growing. When we first opened, people were coming in to drink things like vodka soda, vodka Red Bull, but now they want cocktails.

Elad: We want people to begin to learn about cocktail culture. The whole idea is about great quality but also about being cool [as in tranquil, laid-back], about relaxing, enjoying. Really sitting back and enjoying.

Cocktail Mia: Have you made any cocktail converts out of people coming in for simple drinks?

Elad: All the time.

Gabriel: (Laughing) Elad refuses to make people vodka Red Bull. He convinces them: Are you sure you wouldn’t like to try something? Yes. Yeah I’m sure, they say. No, no, no, let me make you a cocktail.

We want to keep pushing cocktail culture. (Gabriel pours a cocktail into the smoked glass.) Try it.

Smoked thyme, herbaceous and aromatic, perfumes the whole sip. Although its dark red color makes you think it could be sweet, it's actually savory, clean and palate-cleansing. Ordered with a medium-rare filet mignon, you would never regret opting out of a glass of wine.

Cocktail Mia: This makes me crave steak. What's in here?

Gabriel: The glass is smoked with thyme, then bourbon, apples, lemon juice, bitters, really simple. And yeah, it's perfect for steak, brisket.

Cocktail Mia: What are your favorite cocktails that you've collectively or individual created. (They each point to the other.)

Elad: He made one of the best I’ve every tasted. He made it for me and my wife, it was amazing.

Gabriel: It’s hard to decide, but Elad made one of the best I’ve ever tasted.

Cocktail Mia: Do you two ever fight? (They start laughing.)

Gabriel: Every day.

Elad: Yeah, like 18 times a day.

Gabriel: But that’s part of it. We agree often but there are times. That’s just part of it, but it’s not like big fights

Elad: We agree like 99.99% of time, but then we have that other part where we disagree and then a few hours later one of us comes back and says Oh yeah, you were right.

Cocktail Mia: When you walk into a bar, how can you tell your going to have a great cocktail? What do you look for?

Gabriel: For me, it’s the back shelf. If they have a good selection of rums, gins, bourbons, that shows me they care about it, they took the time. There are places in Miami that only carry the major brands and not much else. They’re going to charge you for it and they don’t really care about the product they carry.

Of course, there are major brands that you have to carry; that’s the business side of it because the consumers are going to ask for them. At the end of the day, it’s a service industry. You sit down at the bar to have a great time. It’s not my show; it’s your show. If you want, I’ll make you the best drink you ever had in your life. I want you to have a good time. I’m not going to come in with an attitude like Why are you drinking that? With cocktails, it's easier to educate a person [than with wine]. They participate in making a cocktail. We ask them What do you like to drink? What flavors do you like? So, people feel that they’ve made the drink themselves. They feel that they have ownership of the drink.

Elad: For me, the attitude of the bartender. If they have a great attitude, even if they make me a bad drink, I’d come back. If the bartender has a shitty attitude and makes an amazing cocktail, I still won’t come back. I can get another great cocktail, you know. Cocky is good, but it’s a balance. It happens in New York, you go and get a great cocktail, but if they make you feel uncomfortable, why would you come back? It’s all about the attitude.

It is, and the Bar Lab boys have attitude down proper. Gracious, grounded and wildly creative, cocktails with these two aren't just drinks. Like a great meal, they are experiences, great nights out, stories to tell your friends. They are Miami drink culture at its finest.

To view the Bar Lab slideshow, click here.

To stay updated on Bar Lab, follow their Miami Beach Cocktail Culture segments on Plum TV or visit them at The Living Room. For expert cocktails at your next event, you can drop them a line here.

Drink well, Cocktailian!

For more master mixologists, follow Cocktail Mia on Twitter.

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