Monday, May 18, 2015


Chapter Two
Part Two: Tools

A bartenders tools are as essential as the techniques they utilizes to create the perfect cocktail for their guest. The following is a list of equipment even the home bartender can acquire to complete their bar set up. These are the essential items, and all of them are easy to find online or at local restaurant supply stores.

Jiggers - Measuring your ingredients is one of the most important parts of craft cocktailing. I prefer a 1 to 2 ounce jigger, but always have a backup of 1 to 1.5 ounce, and .75 to .5 ounce jiggers on hand. Some bartenders prefer the small plastic measuring cups for their measuring, and that's fine too. At least they're measuring. There are all kinds of jiggers you can purchase either online or in a local restaurant supply store. I've never had an issue with the squat hourglass shaped jiggers you find behind every bar, and I'll continue to use those as long as they maintain their reliability. My preference, however, is for the Japanese-style Jigger, which is taller, more slender, and gives me better control of my measure and pour. They take some getting used to initially, and are more likely to get knocked over as their center of gravity is much higher than a traditional jigger, but once you’ve mastered the Japanese jigger it’s hard to return to using the traditional styles. The Japanese style typically come in a 2:1 ounce measurements with ½, ¾ and 1½ ounce measurements etched into the inside of the cup. 
jiggers and Koriko tins

Shakers - Bartenders all have preferences for Shakers as well. My own preference is for Boston shakers, a large metal shaker with a smaller "cheater tin" shaker. If making more than two cocktails at once, I will skip the "cheater tin" and use a pint glass to shake my cocktail. Cocktails are built in the smaller tin, then capped with the larger tin and shaken vigorously. The other shaker many bartenders use is the three-piece cocktail shaker. It has a large tin just like the Boston Shaker, a cap with a strainer built in and another cap on top of that, which can double as a measuring jigger, to seal the entire unit. If you'd prefer not to deal with jiggers, strainers and shakers all separately, this is the shaker for you. I prefer a little of the showmanship that accompanies the strainer and jigger measuring, and therefore, once again, recommend the two-tin Boston shaker. From a bar perspective, it's also a lot easier to replace the Boston tins, whereas if you lose a top cap on a cocktail shaker you have to buy a whole new unit. Then there's the issue with getting the cap off when it's frozen (read: glued) onto the cap. Do yourself a favor and spend the extra money on a Koriko Shaker from Japan. It will, honestly make all the difference in your mastery of “the shake”.
Mixing Glass – Where ‘shakers’ are most obviously for shaking, not all of your cocktails will require a shake to mix them. That’s where the mixing glass comes in. A mixing glass is designed for any stirred drinks. A mixing glass can be anything from a beautiful blown glass work of art to a pint glass to a professional mixing glass such as offered by Japanese producer Yarai or Tony Abou-Ganim’s ‘Modern Mixologist’ line. The pint glasses are convenient because they can double as the second piece to your Boston Shaker and some bartenders prefer using the pint glass to the smaller ‘cheater’ tin as it allows the guest an unobstructed view of their cocktail mixing in the shakers. When it comes to straight stirring, most bartenders will agree that a professional mixing glass, which was designed specifically for the sole purpose of stirring cocktails, is the preferred instrument. The professional glasses allow for plenty of room for ice, an even full circle stir of the drink, and even room to build two cocktails at once in one pitcher. Not to mention they just plain look cooler, more professional and sleek.
double strainer
Strainers - There are three kinds of strainers that are indispensable to the craft; Hawthorne strainer, Julep strainer, and the fine mesh tea strainers. The Hawthorne is the most popular and best known, found behind even the most derelict abandoned bar across the U.S. While it's primary, most obvious purpose is to strain cocktails from the mixing tin to the serving glass, it can also double as an absinthe spoon, and the spring is often removed and used to emulsify eggs in any cocktail calling for such. Julep strainers are used for cocktails stirred with large cubes and mixing spirits only. A julep strainer could be used to prepare cocktails such as Bittered Sling, Sazerac, Martini, and, of course, a Julep. It basically has the same shape as a Hawthorne strainer but is missing the spring, has smaller holes for liquid to pour through giving it more surface area to retain ice and detritus like mint leaves. The third strainer mentioned is the Fine Mesh Tea Strainer, which is used for double straining a cocktail. We'll talk about double straining later in "Techniques". Tea Strainers, which are used for hard shaken cocktails, come in many different sizes. You want to make sure you don't get one that is too small or it will fill too quickly with ice shavings and citrus pieces overflowing into your cocktail. Too big and it will be unwieldy. You want something roughly the same size in diameter as your Hawthorne and Julep Strainers.
Bar Spoon - A bar spoon is a long, thin handled spoon that is used for stirring cocktails. Most are twisted along the handle to give the bar spoons bartender greater control as he stirs the drink. Some well-made bar spoons have come on the e-market recently that have thin, smooth handles, and I must admit that I prefer these newer style bar spoons to the more classic traditional twisted handled variety. Though both work very well, the smooth handled bar spoon is just a little sleeker. Don't be dismayed, however, if all you can find are the twisted handles. As I said, they work great, do their job admirably, and what I use 90% of the time.
muddlers, mixing glasses, julep strainers and bar spoons
Muddler - I recommend a wooden muddler for all muddling. Barb ended muddlers tend to do too much damage to the product being muddled. A muddlers purpose is not to break up the ingredients, but to extract the flavor from oils and juice of the ingredients. A barbed muddler has it's use, such as in the Faust Pact by Fred Sarkis, where you want to get all the spicy jalapeno flavor out of the pepper, and also use the muddler to keep the pulped pepper from going into the glass. I highly recommend a Pug! Muddler, which you can buy online at These muddlers are a little expensive, but are handcrafted by woodworker Chris Gallagher and designed with the craft bartender in mind.
Hand Held Juicers - There are basically three types of handheld juicers one each for lemon, lime and orange. The lime is the smallest and should be colored green. Next size is the lemon, which will be colored yellow. And the largest sized handheld juicer is the orange juicer. If you can only get one juicer to start out with, get the lemon yellow juicer. It's easy enough to juice limes in a lemon juice. Harder is fitting an orange into the lemon juicer, but it can be done if you quarter the oranges and squeeze the individual cuts into the juicer. Besides, all of your oranges and lemons should be pre-juiced before the shift? I highly recommend draping a cloth over the juicer while squeezing. They do tend to spray a little juice out the corners as you press the handles together. There is nothing more embarrassing than squirting a customer in the eye with a stream of lime juice while you’re making their cocktails for them. Recently Tony Abou-Ganim has released a juicer to the market under his label "Modern Mixologist". If I had only one juicer to buy for the rest of my life, this would be it. A little more expensive again, but it's durable, the paint won't peel and chip into your cocktails (which is a peril often found in the color coded juicers), and it's all around the best hand-held juicer I've ever used.
Electric or Manual Juicer and ExtractorFirst off; know the difference between a juicer and an extractor. A juicer can be electric or manual and is designed to squeeze only the juices out of fruit… like citruses or pomegranate. An extractor is used to centrifugally reduce your fruits or vegetables into whatever juice is available in the fibers. An extractor is always electrically operated and would be used for produce such as bananas, pineapple, carrots, spinach or ginger. Part of the bartender’s daily duties is pre-juicing. As mentioned above, I recommend juicing lemons daily with the juicer. If I have leftover lemon juice at the end of my shift, I will use it to make sours mix by adding an equal amount of sugar to my volume of lemon juice. I juice oranges and grapefruits 2-3 times a week, which will really depend on how many of your menu cocktails have both juices in them. With any citrus juice, they will last longer if you can keep them refrigerated or on ice during your shift. A manual juicer is also a great way to juice pomegranate or kiwi or anything with an inedible skin but a juicy core. With other fruit and vegetables the electric extractor comes into play. I use an electric extractor always for ginger to make my ginger syrup, but it is also useful for such items as peaches, grapes, leafy greens or vegetables. Some items, such as ginger, are better when peeled before being used. Pits and seeds should, obviously, always be discarded before adding items to an extractor.
Shaving Tools - I've included a number of tools into the "Shaving Tools" category. They all perform the same basic task at varying ratios. Some are even interchangeable. These tools all started out as kitchen utensils that have been put to good use behind the bar. Peeler, Zester, Microplane, and Nutmeg Grater are all tools used to shave small useful pieces off fruit, nuts, spices or just about anything. I use a big wide swathe of peel for my twists, using a  Y-shaped peeler. Some bartenders prefer a thinner long twist peel as a garnish, and in this case you'd want to have a zester. A zester, as well as a microplane, can both serve the purpose of zesting fruit for an attractive, edible garnish to your cocktails. A microplane can also be used for making shavings of anything from chocolate to cinnamon to spicy Tabasco Slim Jim garnishes. Nutmeg Grater is very similar, as well, to a microplane and indispensable for drinks such as Toddy’s and numerous punches. It's primary purpose is... you guessed it... grating nutmeg. Of course other nuts and hard spices can also be grated using this tool.
Knife - A good knife is indispensable. Knives are needed for cutting fruit, herbs and vegetables, peeling larger swathes of fruit peel for flaming fruit oils, and opening bottles with tricky packaging. Get a good knife that will be used solely for your bar prep and keep it ever sharp. The Korin brand can be purchased at major department stores and are relatively inexpensive. Behind the bar it’s important to have a smaller sharp knife to avoid any long strokes. In the limited space a bartender has to operate, you want to condense your movements as much as possible when handling sharp objects.
knife skills

Wine Key - A "double-hinged" wine key is the only corkscrew I will use. The double-hinge allows you to pull a wine cork straight up, out of the bottleneck, saving you from the embarrassment and subsequent extra cleanup of a broken cork. PA Wine & Spirits stores sell these, as do most restaurant supply stores. You will need a wine key obviously for wine based drinks, but also for "Beertails" since a bottle opener comes standard on every wine key.
Ice Bag – The standard for an ice bag is the Lewis Bag usually under $10 if found online. In a pinch you can use that Crown Royal bag inventory that has built up. The purpose of the ice bag is to use to crush ice with accompanying wooden mallet. It’s important not to fill the ice bag when using, otherwise the force of the cracking ice under the mallets onslaught will force itself through the seams of the bag and you will end up sewing the bag back together once a week. Fill the bag a ¼ way with fresh ice each time to avoid constant tailoring of your supplies. The ice bag makes nice, if not inconsistent, crushed ice for your cocktails such as swizzles or juleps. There is also a certain theatric to crushing ice for a guest with a giant oversized mallet… if the guest does not mind the clamor. For $20 you can forego the Ice Bag if you have a smaller more intimate space that would prefer to avoid the crashing mallet sound, and purchase a portable hand crank ice crusher which will do as good a job and produce more uniform pebbles of ice.
Ice Cube Trays – Obviously most bars will have an ice machine that produces ice for your cocktails. In most cases that ice will be pretty sketchy as far as what it produces as the final product. As bartenders, we make do. Some of the better bars invest in a Hoshizaki ice machine, which provides beautiful cubes for mixing and shaking. Others have an entire bar ice program where an employee dedicates his time to creating perfect cubes from large blocks of ice. At The Aviary in Chicago there is one employee who works all day prepping the ice for the two bars Aviary and The Office. At Bar Marco we had Giuseppe “Gypsy” Capolupo who would regularly break down large slabs of ice using a designated chainsaw and hot plate. If you don’t work at Aviary, or have a Giuseppe, you might want to invest in ice cube trays for presentation of your cocktails. I recommend Tovolo brand trays, both ‘King’ and ‘Perfect’ size. They provide a sufficient cube, which you can prepare ahead of time and store in a large container in your freezer when ready for use. It is imperative that you use clean, purified water for your ice cubes. Remember: dilution from the cubes is an integral component of many cocktail. Just as you want to use the best spirits possible for your drinks, you should also want the melted ice to improve, not detract from the cocktail.
a number of different bottles and misters
Syrup,  Bitters Bottles, Misters and TincturesYou’ll want a few of these glass vessels to facilitate perfect pours, dashes and drops for your cocktails. For syrups and juices I recommend a 16oz. olive oil dispenser bottle that you can add a typical liquor pour spout to. They are far more attractive than the plastic bar fruit juice dispensers that many bars carry. You should have a bottle each for lime, lemon, orange, grapefruit juices and simple, demerara, ginger, grenadine, orgeat, falernum and rich syrups. As you build your cocktail menu you’ll want to add more syrups and juices to this initial line-up. Also some spirits such as Cherry Heering can find a home in a bar top pour bottle. There are a number of  ‘bitters bottles’ available online. I prefer the bell shaped variety that are hold 3 liquid ounces and usually come with a handy ‘dash’ spout. Again, these offer a more attractive display for your bar top when compared to the original packaging that most bitters come in, which tend to get stained and look a little worn after some time behind the bar. Bitters bottles will be used to dispense dashes of Angostura, Peychaud’s and orange bitters as well as absinthe. Many bars, such as Death & Co. in New York City, will make their own bitters by adding a few popular brands together until they’ve reached the perfect balance of flavor that they are looking for. Should you choose to do this, as I have, these bitters bottles become indispensible. Mister bottles and tinctures are also a great vessel for absinthe, as well as other items you just want a single drop of, for perfuming cocktails without adding too much extra flavor. I like to have misters with absinthe, Green Chartreuse, Rose and Orange Flower Water, Scotch, Crème De Violette and most of the aforementioned bitters. In this way I can use these products more decoratively, enhancing the presentation of the cocktail without overpowering it with any of those flavors.
recycled liquor bottles for syrups and juices
Vacu Vin – Sherry, Port, Vermouth, and Wine can all be important ingredients for cocktails. Therefore it is equally important to make sure they are at their most optimum quality as you would for any other component of your drinks. Here is where you will want a simple Vacu Vin pump and stopper to preserve the quality of all of your wine based elements. As soon as a bottle is opened, air immediately starts to affect these mixers slowly degrading the full flavors of your vermouth and wine. A Vacu Vin is a small hand-held pump that will attach to an accompanying stopper. When you pump the Vacu Vin it extracts the air from the open bottle of wine through the rubber stopper which “re-seals” the bottle, thus preserving your vermouths and wines longer. It’s equally important to keep your vermouths refrigerated whenever possible, as this will also help to preserve them longer.

Most, if not all, of these products can be found online at either Cocktail Kingdom or

Thursday, February 5, 2015

The Rules

Chapter Two
Part One: Rules

There are basic rules to follow when embarking on craft cocktailing. The Golden Rule: “Approach this job as you would any other profession.” Take it seriously and you will be rewarded for your dedication. Craft cocktailing harkens back to the days of Jerry Thomas, when a bartender was as well respected as a Sheriff or Doctor on the frontier, and more respected than the Politician in “The Big City”. Rather than being a layover for your future vocation, Craft Cocktailing requires discipline, effort and years of honing your skills. If you are not willing to dedicate yourself to learning the skills associated with craft cocktailing, then there are always other bartending opportunities available which require much less effort. If you do not take your job seriously, but instead mimic the ideology of craft cocktailing without giving it its due effort, you do every other serious bartender a great disservice.

Here are additional rules that I recommend you endeavor to acquire if interested in following the aforementioned Golden Rule:

         1)    Basics.
         2)    History.
         3)    Spirits.
         4)    Ingredients.
         5)    Technique.
         6)    Use the best product available.
         7)    Measuring.
         8)    Attention to detail.

In more detail:
         1.    Know the basics! The path to becoming a great bartender is to know the “foundation” drinks, and to know them intimately. Only by learning the first generation cocktails and then studying their evolution into the modern classics we recognize today, can the student achieve a process for creating new cocktails. Too often I see up-and-coming bartenders attempt to make designer drinks that are simply unbalanced and lack any tolerable flavor. This is due to an absence of understanding the basic principles of flavor ratios that can be attained if that bartender had spent more time considering the cocktails that preceded todays. The last section of this chapter provides a guide that the learners can use to better acquaint themselves with how to properly build an appealing libation.
         2.     Understand your history. Study the history of each drink, recipe and spirit. An exceptional bartender does not only craft a guest's drinks, they are also teachers. The internet is a fount of information when it comes to topics ranging from Absinthe regulation to the monastic order of monks who distill Chartreuse to the rise of Tiki culture. It’s all fascinating history that your guests will appreciate you sharing with them. Nowadays, there are also plenty of books to read (see Appendix) and more getting published every year. Be prepared to fiercely debate the merits of using (or not using) Rose’s Lime Juice in your Gimlet… who created the Tom & Jerry… what is the best method for shaking an egg in a cocktail…
         3.     Know your spirits. Not just the difference between gin and whiskey, but the differences between every gin/genever and every whiskey/whisky. Your judgment will come through tasting, note taking, online referencing, brand sponsored industry events and personal preferences. Tasting is the most important aspect of learning these spirits. After all, it will be your memories of the spirits that you will be recollecting with the guests. It will be your words used to describe the different flavor profiles. The more comfortable you are describing the individual ingredients, the more comfortable the guest will be with your ability to navigate their evening.
         4.     Always use fresh ingredients. Always. No exceptions. No bottled orange juice, sours mixes, grenadine syrups, Roses Lime Juice (except, maybe in that Gimlet?). My own personal preference which I’ll expand upon later, is: fresh squeeze lime to order, pre-squeeze lemons daily, oranges and grapefruits should be juiced every 4 days depending on freshness decided by daily tasting. Sours mixes, Grenadine, Falernum, Orgeat are all significantly better when the bartender has had a hand in its preparation.
         5.     There are certain techniques that one needs to master in the art of cocktailing. Knowing whether a cocktail should be stirred or shaken should eventually become second nature to the accomplished bartender. The techniques themselves will, through continued practice, become easier to perfect. Nobody took a bar spoon and produced a perfect stir on their first foray behind the bar. These techniques take practice. Eventually, with proper guidance and continued training you will find a style that suits you, until your movements are seamless and your actions are performed without thinking. Stirring, shaking, straining, building, juicing, peeling, cutting, measuring… all of these techniques, will eventually look like a beautiful ballet to the customer, with continued practice.
         6.     Whenever possible use the best spirits available. Obviously as a bartender this is not always possible. There are pricing versus cost percentages to consider. Also not always an option for the home enthusiast where there are limitations on inventory. Better quality spirits will make better drinks. Also important to consider is that the spirit you’re using for the cocktail is a compatible match. Some whiskey’s are simply too light for a Manhattan while some gins are too strong for a Corpse Reviver #2. Keep in mind that “more expensive” does not always equate to “better suited” to each cocktail. As mentioned earlier, the more familiar you are with the spirits behind your bar, the better you will be at how to match each with specific cocktails.
         7.     Always measure your ingredients following recipes. When discussing this topic with new bartenders, I equate this rule to how a baker works. A baker follows a specific recipe, with accurate measurements, to acquire the proper result for his breads and pastries. So too should a bartender follow predetermined recipes and be vigilant in measuring exact amounts to insure proper ratios for each cocktail.
         8.     Attention to detail! Sometimes we need to remind ourselves to pay attention to every detail. Not only will it provide a better drink for each guest, but it will also give us a better understanding of each step in the process. This is where boundaries are broken and new frontiers are explored. How far do you hold a lemon peel from a glass when expressing the oils over it. How many stirs to reach the proper cooling temperature for a cocktail. To garnish or not to garnish. We should think about how every aspect of what we do affects the cocktail. Many of us have been shown a way to do a certain technique and never questioned the reasoning behind it. We stick to that approach out of habit until somebody else comes along and says we should do it another way. All the while we should be questioning and testing our theories on why we do as we do. Time and attention to detail are the keys to creating perfect cocktails every time.

These are my rules… the rules that I have chosen to abide by. The greatest joy you will achieve in this trade is when you have studied another person’s instructions and eventually, after years of following your predecessors’ guidelines, you create your own rules based on your experiences in the craft. This is how we all came to this agreement of knowledge, and it is how future generations will take craft cocktailing to the next level. Disagree with me! Please! Take anything I’ve said throughout this chapter… throughout this blog and say to yourself “This guy is full of shit! My preparation of this ingredient is better than the way he recommends making it.” The fundamental idea behind this blog is to share information with bartending brethren. Pittsburgh has a close-knit community where the sharing of ideas and techniques is essential to the growth in this market. I have always shared my knowledge with the team I worked alongside. I hope that you will also share your knowledge with the community wherever you see it as being advantageous. Discuss, debate, argue techniques, but also, always listen. Share them with your compatriots. Learn from them as well. Your fellow bartenders have much to teach you. Build this trade, which has only yet begun to make a name for itself.

The History of Craft Cocktails in Pittsburgh

Chapter One: The History of Craft Cocktails in Pittsburgh

Craft cocktailing is, in essence, a return to creating cocktails using freshest ingredients, highest quality spirits, precise recipes and attention to detail. The genre can include everything from using homemade ingredients to procuring seasonal, farmers market produce to employing hi-tech space-age equipment to create molecular mixology. It hearkens back to a pre-prohibition era style of making drinks, a skill that was, for all intents, lost when prohibition made true bar craftsmen's skills illegal. In the new century the craft has appeared in bars across the world. From New York City to India to the Ukraine and finally to the three rivers of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
In Pittsburgh we say everything happens 5 years after New York City. Fashion, music, technology, cuisine, all take their sweet time making the voyage from major metropolitan cities to "Da Burgh". This has also been true for the current "craft cocktail" or "pre-prohibition cocktail" trend.
By 2009 the new trend that had developed in the restaurant and bar world was finally taking root in Pittsburgh. Like so many other art forms, it has evolved with a distinct, Pittsburgh touch. Being so distant from other metropolitan areas, Pittsburgh gets very little outside influence to help it cultivate trends that other major cities have adopted. The bartenders who have taken up the cause have been forced to create a hometown cocktail culture primarily by visiting other cities or studying books, trade magazines and online resources to emulate the cocktail craze sweeping the country. Pittsburgh has, until recently, been neglected by outside markets while most corporations exercised their promotional input on our larger sister-city Philadelphia. Like our music, poetry or visual art scene we've had to improvise, and that improvisation has given Pittsburgh a very unique "sound". 
    I imagine in the 1880's, before radio, television or the internet, that trends reached Pittsburgh 20-30 years after New York? This might explain the lack of cocktail culture in Pittsburgh when the rest of the world was seeing the creation of this new style of imbibing. By the time the news hit Pittsburgh, the city was probably gearing up for Prohibition? Although we boasted a great heritage of rye distilling, of Monongahela whiskey and the rebellions to support the trade, there are no articles about Pittsburgh bartenders in local archives. The only evidence that there were any disciples of "Professor" Jerry Thomas to be found on the Three Rivers is a recipe for a Bronx Cocktail credited "a la Billy Malloy, Pittsburgh, PA". Even then, it was well know that Billy Malloy was not the creator of the drink, an honor arguably assigned to either Johnnie Solon or Joseph S. Sormani. Malloy is only credited with the 'first on record' in William T. Boothby's World Drinks and How to Mix Them. Furthermore, whether Billy Malloy was practicing his mixologizing in Pittsburgh, or more likely in some unnamed New York City grand hotel bar, is highly debateable.
    Pittsburgh is no stranger to a cocktail scene, but cocktails have always been overshadowed by Pittsburgher's love for beer. The strong Scot/Irish, Welsh, German and Eastern European immigration to the steel city fortified beers stranglehold on the imbibing population. In 1877 there were 17 breweries operating in Pittsburgh and Allegheny County. East Carson Street, the old main drag on Pittsburgh's South Side, has often been noted in the Guinness Book of World Records as owning the highest density of bars per square footage. Originally the number of bars were built to satisfy the steel workers who would end a shift and cross the street to the closest watering hole for a beer (or two... or three) before heading up the steep slope steps towards home (and to often stop at another of the numerous saloons that littered the hillside, conveniently located next to the slope steps). Presently, the bar proliferation serves to quench the thirst of thousands of students who attend one of the many educational institutions that reside in the 'Burgh (Duquesne University, University of Pittsburgh, Carnegie Mellon University, Carlow University, Chatham College, etc...). 
    Pittsburgh social archives are littered with cocktail parties and receptions... but almost all take place after Prohibition. While I certainly doubt cocktails were not being made during the great cocktail boon of the late 19th century, I could not find any written articles in my meager research (to that end, I would relish any information that a reader might possess). One interesting piece I did find was written in a 1932 Rochester Evening Journal article by a NYC traveller on a steamship headed for England where "The tall cedar of Lebanon, Sam Hellman, bumped into an enthusiast from Pittsburgh who insisted upon being joined in a Puddler's Cocktail - straight whiskey with a chase of beer." Reinforcing my Pittsburgh=Beer argument. Later bartenders confused by Puddler's Cocktail would soon realize that it is a simple Boilermaker, which coincidentally was created in Pittsburgh by the blue collar steel workers. Gary Regan writes in The Joy of Mixology "Indeed, the boilermaker was popularized by 19th century steel workers in Pennsylvania, who drank to wash away the taste of factory life. It's not a story with a lot of romance. It was such a horrible job, you'd just want to slam a whisky before you had your beer." 
Alongside it's many historic cocktail accomplishments, which include the Boilermaker and I.C. Light Mango, Pittsburgh is also known as the creator of the term "Speakeasy".
The origin of the word predates Prohibition by at least 30 years. Samuel Hudson, a newspaperman in the late 19th century, reported hearing the term used in Pittsburgh, PA in the 1880s by an old Irish woman, Kate Hester, who sold liquor without a license. Kate had a saloon in McKeesport where the licensing for owning a bar was raised in 1888 from $50 to $500. Rather than close up shop and forfeit her incomes, Kate ran the saloon without the proper licensing. She told her clients they had to "spake-aisy" if they chose to imbibe in her establishment and avoid detection. The Cassell Dictionary of Slang lists the word as coming into usage around 1890.
      According to local cocktail impresario Erika "Jiggerfingers" Joyner, that same old Irish woman had a whip she would crack every time she scolded her patrons to lower their voices. I can find no historical reference to support this embellishment... but it's too good a story not to be true.
    The History of Craft Cocktail in Pittsburgh should mention that the foremost authority on antiquated imbibing, David Wondrich, was born here in Pittsburgh in the early 60's. How much that affected his love for classic craft cocktailing, I'm wary to say, but certainly he grew up in a time when the bar was a very important part of the social structure in Pittsburgh. As previously noted, the workers from the steel mills would, without fail, visit the saloon closest to the gates of the mill that they exited and end their shift with a beverage. Many bars had urinals built into the bar so the patrons could relieve themselves while sipping on their pousse-cafes (read: Boilermaker). You can't get any more comfortable in a place than that!
    And so cocktails in Pittsburgh were primarily ignored for over a century. No mentions save for numerous high society charity events labelled "Cocktail Party" or "Cocktail Reception" or references to "Mrs. Anonymous of Carnegie was seen wearing this glamorous cocktail dress at the Governors Ball last weekend...". Police logs replete with a disturbing amount of news stories mentioning Molotov cocktails. News coverage was limited to "New Cocktail Lounge Opening!" but nowhere was there a mention of what the bartenders were creating behind the stick or if these "Cocktail Lounges" even served cocktails? Childs Surrey Bar opened in 1946 with the motto "Let's Hurry to the Surrey" and beautiful Jerry-Thomas-worthy illustration of a cocktail, but no corresponding news about how the cocktails were crafted, how they tasted or what was on the menu?
    The 1990s changed in Pittsburgh. Alternative weekly newspapers InPittsburgh (later InPGH), City Paper and Pulse targeted a younger audience and the drinking culture could not be overlooked. The larger daily newspapers followed suit. Big Burrito Restaurant Group were following trends in NYC and saw the impact NYC cocktails were having on it's dining scene. South Side entrepreneurs Scott Kramer and Steve Zumoff created the Lava Lounge from the remains of an old steel workers bar called the Liberty Bell with the dream of creating a great cocktail bar.
    In the late '90s Don Bistarkey was the King of Pittsburgh Cocktails behind the bar at Lava Lounge. Two time InPGH Magazine "Bartender of the Year" recipient, Don could not only create a classic cocktail, he could also share the history of the drink, as well as some jazz-infused footnotes to the cocktails popularity. Don was a soundman at Lava Lounge when originally trained by Joe Beckham who later moved to Philadelphia to open The Walnut Room. There were few people working behind the bar who took that much care and consideration in their craft. Not to say Pittsburgh didn't have any good bartenders who could make a delicious drink and make you feel at home, but Don took the guests experience to a whole new level. Lava Lounge was a temple to the cocktail while Don was behind the bar. People came to see Don and if he was working that night, chances were you were going to bypass your standard Guinness for an opportunity to have Don make you something you'd never order for yourself... because you'd never heard of it.
    I was bartending myself, down the street at Club Cafe and Cafe Allegro, but my knowledge of mixology was limited to Mr. Boston drink recipes and an outdated Harvard University Master in Mixology certificate. Don had engaged something deeper. A love for the craft. He could recite long lists of cocktails and techniques that had long since been thought extinct, drowned in a flood of Cosmopolitans and Lite Beers. Don was the Noah of the Pittsburgh cocktail world. It was no wonder that organizations such as L.U.P.E.C. would go to Don for recipes and histories behind endangered cocktails or to create new cocktails such as the Red Velvet Swing and Golden Kimono in honor of early 20th century actress/model Evelyn Nesbit. He introduced me to King Cocktail Dale DeGroff's writing. He gave me an appreciation for the bar and all it can aspire to be for a patron. He inspired me and other up-and-comers to the cocktail scene, including a starry-eyed newbie Lexi Rebert who gained fame as one of Pittsburgh's preeminent bartenders and songstresses.
    Alongside Lexi and Don was Amy Beatty who had also won the prestigious bartender of the year award, and also a young man who barbacked for Don, and directly trained under him, named Phil Ward. Phil eventually left Lava Lounge, travelled Europe, moved to NYC, worked at the best cocktail bars in NYC and eventually opened his own bar called Mayahuel which won Spirited Award "Best Bar in the World" at New Orleans annual Tales of the Cocktail.
    When I took over the helm at Cafe Allegro, I was fortunate to have Don come work our bar for a short time. He taught me the secret craft of bartending, the craft that skirted the Roses Lime Juice, sours mix from a bottle and Vodka martinis, and dived feet first into fresh squeezed juices, bitters and Gin cocktails. Where bartending was not about pouring, but about perfecting. The Cafe Allegro cocktail menu changed from a menagerie of flavored Vodka martinis to include the full spectrum of the spirit world. We started making infusions (then unheard of), house-made syrups and limoncellos, we stocked the best quality spirits for the specialty cocktails, and we added Whiskey, Gin, Tequila & Rum drinks to our Vodka heavy menu.
    Don left Cafe Allegro for the newly opened Tiki Lounge which again harkened back to an era of well crafted cocktails. When originally opened it boasted the greatest collection of rum ever to assemble on a back bar in Pittsburgh. Don and the staff took their time mixing beautiful Tiki drinks in appropriate glassware, surrounded by walls adorned with bamboo, thatch huts and cascading waterfalls. It was a glorious place when it first opened in 2002, but before long the shot-and-beer crowd required the bar to slowly allow the Vodkas to invade the rum shelves until all that was left were a collection of Bacardi flavored rum rubbing shoulders with Stolichnaya flavored Vodkas.
    But in all, these were small blips on the radar of craft cocktailing in Pittsburgh. While Big Burrito continued to push the envelope in their numerous specialty restaurants, and smaller independent restaurants were playing around with their cocktail lists, the majority of cocktail programs in Pittsburgh were over sugared, flavor Vodka laden mixtures that did nothing to "... whet the appetite... stimulate the appetite... be pleasing to the palate... be pleasing to the eye... have sufficient alcohol flavor to be readily distinguishable from papaya juice..." as noted cocktail author David Embury would recommend.
     In New York City Milk & Honey opened in 2000, Employees Only opened in 2004, Pegu Club opened in 2005, both Death + Co. and PDT opened in 2007. Violet Hour in Chicago opened in 2005. All across the world, from London to San Francisco, craft cocktail bars were popping up everywhere.
I first heard about a bar called PDT when, as Wine Director/Bar Manager at Soba, I found a recipe online for a Bacon infused Old Fashioned. Soon after stories started returning from New York about these new styled bars; the secret entrances, the reservation only cocktail bars, the mustachioed chemists behind the stick... but, most importantly, the comments about the cocktails themselves; "The best drink I'd ever had in my life!"
 Meanwhile, in Pittsburgh, a good cocktail was relegated to the pre-dinner crowd who had the good sense to show up half and hour early for their reservation to get a cocktail at notable restaurant bars like Eleven, Tamari, Yo Rita, Soba, Casbah or Dish. At each of these bars, and select others, bartenders were expanding on their craft, playing with new flavors and learning techniques from aforementioned books and now the more accessible internet. But it was all very elementary. We mostly muddled our way through recipes without the proper knowledge or training or prestigious genealogy that other city bartenders boasted. 
In 2008 most bars were still touting cocktail lists that were primarily populated with sickly sweet vodka concoctions. Craft cocktailing had taken off in New York, Chicago, San Francisco and other major cities across the U.S. In Pittsburgh we read about the trend in trade magazines and NY Times articles, but had no opportunities to see a craft cocktail bar in action unless we travelled to one of those cities.
The trend arrived in Pittsburgh at a most opportune time. I had just taken over the beverage program at Eleven with 2 of Pittsburgh's finest bartending talents; Maggie Meskey and Michel Mincin, who both were aware of the oncoming trend and enthusiastic to spearhead a Pittsburgh movement. At the same time local distiller Boyd & Blair were just starting up a vodka distillery which was eager to help support the Pittsburgh cocktail culture... and the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette had recently hired a young lady as food critic who had also been following the craft cocktail trend as she visited other cities, and was including the importance of cocktails in reviews about the local restaurants.
Pittsburgh dining critic China Millman had as much to do with the breakout of craft cocktails in Pittsburgh as any working mixologist. Constant criticism of the local restaurant cocktail selections raised the bar on most dining destinations. For years articles were being written regarding Pittsburgh restaurant wine lists. Very seldom, leading up to China's arrival, was a cocktail ever mentioned in a dining review. After China discovered what other cities were doing with cocktail programs her insight into the Pittsburgh cocktail scene helped open Pittsburgh bartender's eyes to the trends occurring in other cities, and show where a well crafted cocktail fit into the guests dining experience. Where most restaurants thought of the cocktail menu as a second class citizen next the wine list, it was now being considered an integral part of the meal.
And then China and Bill Toland (Pittsburgh Post Gazette's Spirits writer) introduced enthusiasts to Pittsburgh's 1st celebrity bartender...
Enter Fred Sarkis. To be completely fair, it was Bill Toland who originally brought Fred to my attention, but China was constantly comparing Pittsburgh cocktails against the masterpieces that Fred was creating at local bar Embury. Named for classic cocktail writer David Embury, the newly opened bar, on the 1st  floor of The Firehouse Lounge, boasted the very first craft cocktail bar in Pittsburgh. Almost overnight every cocktail menu in the city changed. Every passionate bartender visited Embury and brought a piece of Fred's craft back to their own bar to share with their patrons. Watching Fred working with fresh ingredients, measuring pours for specific recipes, sharing the history of spirits and cocktails reinvigorated the local bartender's "spirits".
At Eleven, our cocktail list went from vodka laden crowd-pleasers to gin and bourbon filled triumphs of flavor. Egg whites started appearing on lists. Round Corner Cantina in Lawrenceville offered a phenomenal savory cocktail called the Red Pepper Red Pepper. Better spirits were being used alongside obscure mixers, house-made bitters, fresh juices and house infusions. Everywhere in the city Fred's influence was being felt.
Fred held court at Embury, framed against a backdrop of unknown bourbons, amaros, vermouths, bitters, and liqueurs. Every night, select bar craftsmen from around the city would appear to watch Fred work and taste a little Chartreuse. Sitting at Fred's bar was a revelation.
Eventually I left Eleven and was hired by Spencer Warren (Embury owner) to apprentice under Mr. Sarkis. Everything I knew about bartending was thrown out the window. It was back to school, relearning new techniques and throwing out old, bad habits. I went back to the books, studying David Embury, David Wondrich, Gaz Regan, Jerry Thomas, Ted Haigh and Dale DeGroff. It was hours online learning about Carthusian monks, Absinthe, Bourbon, Gin, and following cocktails websites like,, and
Spencer Warren and Fred brought bartenders in from other cities and taught Pittsburghers the joy of mixology. The wealth of knowledge gained from Embury was priceless. Alongside Geoffrey Wilson and soon Summer Voelker we were making a name for cocktailing in the city of Pittsburgh.
Maggie Meskey was a frequent visitor to Embury and learning a lot on her own behind Eleven's bar. Nathan Lutchansky, Craig Mrusek and John Pyles all spent time behind Embury bar before heading out into the Steel City to spread the Gospel of Sarkis. I took on Eddie Riddell as an "apprentice" and when Fred and Geoffrey both left Embury, Summer and I trained a new crew of future local celebrity bartenders; Mike Mills (Meat & Potatoes), Allieson Contreras (Verde), April Diehl (Gooskis) and Skooby.
Both Summer and Maggie ended up heading to New Orleans "Tales of the Cocktail" on the apprentice program, studying under the nations top mixologists, and bringing that knowledge back to Pittsburgh.
I eventually left Embury and took a GM position at Mio Kitchen & Wine Bar in Apsinwall, but was back once a week to help out on Mondays and train newer staff. Mio closed that summer and I was back at Embury for a spell before heading to Andora in Sewickley as GM.
At each location I brought the precepts of Embury to the cocktail program. Mio worked well... Andora not so much. Harder than convincing the guests to buy-in to craft cocktails was re-educating the bartenders to take their time and measure pours at each bar. I had Eddie with me at Mio, so that was easier. At Andora I had bartenders who were too committed to their bad habits, but those habits seemed to work for them in a bar that was selling more Yuengling than cocktails.
In the meantime Kevin Sousa was busy opening Salt of the Earth in Garfield, and had hired both Summer and Maggie as his bar managers. When Salt opened in the fall of 2010 Pittsburgh had its 2nd Craft Cocktail bar. Summer and Maggie put together a limited cocktail menu that would complement Sousa's culinary vision.
I returned to Pittsburgh city proper as General Manager of Spoon/BRGR in East Liberty and immediately set to fixing the cocktail program there to reflect the craft cocktail education I had received at Embury. My bar manager Heather Perkins was enthusiastic to do more classic crafted cocktails as well, and with her help we redesigned the Spoon cocktail menu to complement Chef Brian Pekarcik's cuisine. Suddenly, there were 3 craft cocktail bars in Pittsburgh!
Due to issues with the landlord, Embury closed soon after I started at Spoon. Though in it's wake other restaurants were dedicating more time and enthusiasm into their cocktail programs. At Soba, Rob Hirst was reinventing classic cocktails to fit the craft trend. Mike Mills took over the cocktail program at Meat & Potatoes and re-educated his staff. Erika "Jiggerfingers" Joyner was accompanying Maggie & Summer behind the Salt bar.
In Pittsburgh local restaurant openings placed significant focus on their cocktail programs. Verde, Bar Marco, Legume, Union Pig & Chicken all sought to raise the proverbial bar with complex, well balanced cocktails.
Distilleries returned to Pittsburgh. Boyd & Blair Vodka was first and quickly gained a reputation, worldwide, as one of the finest vodkas on the market. Wigle Whiskey arrived a few years later bringing rye whiskey back to the Monongahela. In 2013-2014 rum returned to Pittsburgh with both Boyd & Blair and Wigle’s offerings as well as newcomer Maggie’s Farm Rum. In Homestead Stay Tuned Distillery offered local bartenders an uniquely Pittsburgh gin that was distilled using locally sourced, seasonal herbs and botanicals. Having these craft, artisanal spirits on hand, supporting local mixologists in Pittsburgh helped promote our blossoming scene.
In Spring of 2011 Maggie Meskey, Spencer Warren, Summer Voelker and I (alongside 30+ founding members) celebrated the founding of the Pittsburgh Chapter of the United States Bartender's Guild. After months of membership drives, filing paperwork and hosting "Punch Socials" the four of us, as acting founding officers, finally got notification from National Headquarters. The 25th chapter in the National organization brought credence to the Pittsburgh cocktail scene. Pittsburgh had arrived on the craft cocktailing scene.
Now Pittsburgh boasts numerous locations where a patron can get a great cocktail. From older established spots that have welcomed the trend such as Big Burrito Restaurant Group to Kelly's in East Liberty, to newer opening locations such as Harvard & Highland (Kevin Sousa & Summer Voelker), Acacia (Spencer Warren), Rowdy Buck (Phil Ward). More owners are looking to support the craft cocktail theme, such as Butterjoint, Cure, Tender, Butcher and the Rye, Industry, The Livermore, 1947 Tavern, Carmella's Plates and Pints, Sienna Mercato, The Independent Brewing Company, Dish Osteria, Franktuary which all boast classic American cocktails with classic American food pairings.
In 2013 Bar Marco, where I was running the cocktail program, gained national attention from Bon Appetit when it was hailed as one of the nations top “50 Best New Restaurants”. In 2014 Pittsburgh is named “The Next Big Food Town” by Bon Appetit Magazine. Both articles drawing significant attention to our cocktail programs. In 2014 The James Beard Foundation recognized cocktail-bar-cum-dining-destination Butcher and the Rye with a nomination for Outstanding Bar Program, an honor given to only 25 bars across the U.S.
In September, 2013 Pittsburgh held it’s first annual Pittsburgh Cocktail Week, a weeklong event with numerous seminars and networking events all over the city. That following March, Pittsburgh hosted the United States Bartenders’ Guild (USBG) Northeast Conference where bartenders from New England, New York City, Philadelphia and Washington D.C. all descended on Pittsburgh for USBG sponsored training, classes, seminars and tours of our city.
Through continuous communiqué with the United States Bartenders’ Guild, Pittsburgh bartenders are now more in-sync with forecasting our guests imbibing palates. A good example of this is the current Tiki cocktail trend. Alongside national markets we have ridden the Tiki revival with menus at Downtown restaurant Grit N’ Grace and back at the original home of Pittsburgh tiki; The Tiki Lounge. South Side’s Tiki Lounge returned to it’s roots, one night every week, with an event titled South Seas Thursdays where Lucky The Painproof Man held court. Pittsburgh bartenders now have a better dialogue with other city bartenders through USBG and other channels. Many of our bartenders travel to other cities’ Cocktail Weeks for inspiration. Some volunteer their time at bars in other cities to learn from their compatriots. Pittsburgh bartenders are chosen to participate at events like Camp Runamok or New Orleans’ Tales of the Cocktail to assist world class bartenders and network with the next generation of cocktailers. As the bartenders education and experience grows, so too does the quality of the product we can share with our guests. 
In 2015 I started an event at 1947 Tavern titled Admiral Enright's Carnival Intoxica where guest bartenders could share the stick with me for one night. It began as an opportunity to mentor up-and-coming bartenders who otherwise would not have the opportunity to be taught proper procedures, and for the cities top talents to educate me as well on new trends and techniques they've picked up. The following blog posts will be my own vehicle for sharing those techniques with you.
The proliferation of Craft Cocktail Bars and Bartenders shows the Pittsburgh public is not only open to the concept of craft cocktailing, but welcomes the newer bars with admiration, enthusiasm and a quivering liver.