Under my byline

“I mix, entertain, host and teach”

Posted in Diet, Living, Q&A by Rrishi on 26 May 2007

Mixologist Sam Jeveons talks about the many sides of his profession

Award-winning British mixologists Sam Jeveons, Angus Winchester and Pete Kendall comprise Alconomics, a consultancy firm that provides quality bartender training and consultancy services. Sam Jeveons was in India recently as a judge for the Belvedere International Bartender Competition, hosted by Moët Hennessy. Thirty Indian bartenders competed to make the best cocktails, and three winners from Bangalore, Mumbai and Delhi will go to Hong Kong and London for a taste of the world of international mixologists. We met Jeveons at Delhi’s Shangrila Hotel.

Why are you in India now?

I am the brand ambassador for Belvedere, and at the moment we’re doing a regional Asian search to find the best Belvedere cocktail, and the best Belvedere bartender. We want to put the Indian bartender on a national and then an international platform. And then it’s fantastic to see, to taste, to experience all these ideas turning into cocktails.

Where do Indian bartenders learn their skills? Do they travel a lot?

They don’t need to travel. There’s an emerging infrastructure of bartending training academies in India. People are understanding that you can create and forge a career doing this kind of work

Do you have an academy? How do you do your training?

I don’t run an academy, but I train everything from bars to brands. When I’m not consulting with Moët Hennessy, I’m Hong Kong-based and I train hotel staff. The Asian market is still hotel-based. Creating a successful independent bar is a difficult thing. In the Western cultures, in Australia, in New York, in London, people don’t like to go to chains, or hotels. They like that niche environment. That is gradually happening throughout Asia. Give it five years, you’ll see a lot more independent bars making a success and a name for themselves.

I read a line on your website about the “evolution of martinis”. I thought the martini was a basic drink? Where does evolution come into a classic drink?

The martini is touching 160 years old, in terms of its recipe. But drinking trends and tastes change. So the martini transformed from the classic stirred vodka or gin cocktail to, say in the late eighties or early nineties, the cosmopolitan. And nowadays we have the fruit martini, or fruitini. From the classic strong cocktail to the cosmopolitan to the fruitini now, and through even further development, it just mirrors the change in society, in drinking culture.

How have drinks been changed by Indian fruits, Indian spices, Indian bartenders?

When I was in Mumbai (to judge this competition) I saw some amazing cocktails, and I knew exactly where the influences came from. The “capital” of cocktails is still London, but an emerging creative epicentre is Australia. India is placed between Australia and England and can pick and choose. It’s the best of both worlds. You can see the bartenders marrying it with their own infusions, their own spices, the flavours of India, and coming up with their own creations.

There’s a lot of physical activity that goes on in bartending, isn’t there? You toss things around, etc. Where does that come from? Why is it important to show, to move so much?

Well if you mean “flair”, I don’t do flair. This concept of flairing belittles the idea of a good-quality bartender. It’s something done by young guys or young girls behind the bar to entertain young people in a young bar or nightclub environment. You wouldn’t get it in a luxury bar.

Do you think a bartender should be a good talker?

Yes, definitely. It’s a classic cliché, but you do get people who come in on their own, they look like they’re going to burst into tears, and you have to be the shoulder to cry on. If the bartender’s got bad body language, bad posture, or a frown on their face, that person influences the entire room. So a bartender has to be social, personable, presentable. In London you get some destination bars, where people come just for the bartender. It’s all about reading people and understanding people.

What is a good bar space? When do you know that a bar is well designed?

As a bartender, when you don’t have to walk so far. Ice is in nearly 99 per cent of all your drinks, so the bartender needs to be stationed in front of the icebox. And you need everything around that person. If you have to walk a lot, you get tired, you’re bending down, your back hurts. In offices, people place a lot of emphasis on staff ergonomics. People forget about it in bars and kitchens.

What if a bar looks great but doesn’t function well? What do you say?

Hotels — and this is Asia all over — are designed by designers. They don’t know that I need six refrigerators, one freezer, two ice wells, three sinks. We can help you design the bar at the concept stage. It will help the bartender and it will help speed and efficiency, which means more people can be served at a faster rate, which means your turnover can be higher, which means I can generate more profit for you.

What about where customers sit? What should that space be like?

You need different heights to break up the room, to create privacy, exclusivity. Also, alcohol is still taboo in a lot of places, and even in Western places you don’t see bars busy at lunchtime. It’s a nighttime, social activity. So you don’t want to enter a brightly-lit, 7-11 kind of place. You want it to be moody and seductive and dark. Dark is better.

What kind of food should there be in a bar?

It depends on your concept. Ninety per cent of all outlets in Asia still focus on food rather than drinks, and it’s like pushing a very big rock uphill trying to change this concept. Bars and operators try and be everything to everyone. Really that’s very difficult to achieve — you should specialise.

What goes well with cocktails in Indian food?

There’s a big trend at the moment called the tapastini, which is basically a martini designed with certain spices and sherries, that goes very well with Spanish tapas, spicy food, sausages. With Indian food, you have so many big spices involved that a mouthful would kill and overpower the drink.

What is a mixologist? Why a “mix”-ologist?

Anyone can make a drink, and they call themselves a bartender. I mix drinks, I entertain and I host and I teach. It’s the modern, professional bartender, and the word now for that is mixologist.

On your website along with each recipe you have the name of the person who invented it. Why is this so important?

It’s a professional courtesy. You can’t trademark your drinks. It also creates the idea of bartending as one big family. I will demonstrate the great cocktails that I saw here at this competition in mainland China and Singapore next week, and I will say this is what India’s doing, this is Ravi’s drink, the one who won in Mumbai. It’s me showcasing their talent.

How many drinks have you invented? How do you name them?

A lot, 20–30. Most bartenders are looking to invent the new cosmopolitan. When you create a name, you want it to grab that universal attention. You want to create something simple but very good, something that can be transformed and transferred the world over. I think nowadays it’s very difficult to produce a cocktail that will have that length and legacy, because times have changed. But that’s basically what brands are looking to achieve, and what bartenders are looking to achieve at the same time.

(Visit the Alconomics website.)

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