Award-winning bartender Ash Bovey (pictured), who can currently be found behind the bar at Cerise at The Forbury Hotel in Reading, celebrates the legacy of bartenders past and opportunities for the future
In today’s world, the modern bartender has everything he or she could possibly need. From vast internet resources to the mass of books containing information on all things bar-related: ancient recipes, production methods, spirit history, bar equipment and so on. Looking at today’s essential books – How To Mix Drinks Or The Bon Vivant’s Companion by Jerry Thomas (1862), The Bartenders Manual by Harry Johnson (1882), The Savoy Cocktail Book by Harry Craddock (1930), for example – it is obvious that these champions of their day learnt their craft by themselves through hard work, or maybe through secrets shared between friends. They were not privy to the luxuries afforded to us today. We should count our lucky stars that they left behind a legacy for us to follow.
What this has led us to is an era where we are able to recreate and create almost whenever it is needed of us. We are a new breed, an all-encompassing generation. We are interested in everything from overall taste, to smells, to texture, to pairings, even down to the memory a drink may imprint on the guest. Some of the recreations may not be particularly honest to the original: if a key liquor may now be unavailable, there will be something “similar” to play with.
In regards to creativity, look at some of the wonderfully inventive bars and people we have around today: Nightjar, with their elegant garnish displays; The Artesian, with their drinks and presentations pushing boundaries; the lovely Ryan Chetiyawardana and his revolutionary ideas about ice and its total relevance to cocktails. It’s these forward-thinking ideas that keep our beloved industry fresh, keep it alive. As long as the creative juices continue to flow, there’ll be no stopping us.
Creativity has such apparent presence within any good bar team. It’s refreshing to see how many towns (let alone cities) now partake in local and national competitions. Taking part in competitions doesn’t immediately make you a great bartender, but it does give you the chance to show your skills and build on your performance personality – something I’m sure the bartenders of old would have enjoyed immensely. We are entertainers, after all.
It’s a blessing to be able to work within today’s bar industry. If you put in the hard work, your time, patience and energy, you may just one day find yourself at the top, and possibly one day be a source of inspiration for another generation of enthusiastic upstarts. Just make sure that, as well as doing all your research on other bartenders, on their recipes or on their methods, whether it is through reading books, watching television, or even YouTube, make sure you leave enough space in your brainbox to develop your own exciting personality and style. You are as important to the future as the bartenders of the past are to today.
A shorter version of this article appeared in the October 2013 issue of Bar magazine.