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Arts and Crafts

August 10, 2012

There is a fine, almost undefined line between art and craft. Even more diluted can be the difference between artist and craftsman.  Try to define each without using the other word and you will find that the line is almost nonexistent.  It is hard to think of Leonardo DaVinci’s painting as the work of a craftsmen (imagine on the back of the Mona Lisa being a marker stating “1 of 54”). We think frequently of an artist as one creates something aesthetically above the ordinary and the craftsmen as a skilled laborer who can create the same thing over and over again.  Yet we call the chef an artist with food, and in all actuality it is not the chef who puts your plate out   but rather one of his line cooks sweating over the 150 degree sauté station cranking out someone else’s creation.

In the bar world, the term art-bartender doesn’t exist. However the term craft bartender does get used and defined as a bartender who’s drinks are aesthetically above the ordinary: referring back to the definition of an artist (see where is gets confusing?)

 But there is an art in the world of mixology.  Creating a drink that is appealing to all senses, and that transcends the mere desire to quench the thirst, is not an easy task.  It must be appealing to the eye, and match the atmosphere in which it is served, be balanced in all flavors, arousing each of the lounge’s senses, be effervescent and be unique.

.The craft bartender then taking his new creation must them be able to teach his fellow bartenders how to make this drink the same way with the same inspiration utilizing not just the ingredients, but the tools and techniques of classic and contemporary mixology where the drink is consistent for every guest.  It involves is a host of skills that supersede art. I would almost say the craftsman, who repeats his creation over and over again is elevated over the artist who only creates a piece once and is done.

The unique thing about the art and craft of mixology is that the cocktail, like cuisine, is something that experienced by many senses.  It is intriguing visually by color, presentation and garnish.  It excites the imbiber not only with its ascetic appeal, but becomes a part of the tippler.  It stimulates the sensations of sweet sour bitters salt and umami. It arouses as it is sipped like the first kiss of two young lovers.

The cocktail is not just a thrust quencher, or a ways to means of intoxication and (not that either is a bad thing).  It is liquid poetry.  It sings to the soul.  It enlightens every sense with its color, its smell, and its taste…even its sound. It stirs passion as the imbiber watches over the bar, and builds anticipation as the bartender performs the dance of cutting, squeezing, pouring, shaking, stirring, straining, garnishing and finally placing the drink on the napkin.  The imbiber sips and smiles, pleased and satisfied yet ready for more!

 The cocktail, unlike the single spirit, sings in harmony with each of its ingredients, and those cocktails like the Manhattan or Classic Martini are symphonic where each ingredient should be good enough to sing solo, but when the ingredients come together in perfect harmony, the whole becomes greater than the sum of its parts. A single violin playing is a beautiful thing.  Even more so when played in a quartet. The cocktail sings out in color and flavor giving one not just a drink but a drink experience.   

Painted on the walls of history are cocktails that have stood the test of time, and transcend time and space.  That, for these very reasons have appealed and been celebrated for generations.  Even as variations have come that were inspired by these timeless classics, they still stand as the cornerstone of everything past, present, and future.  That is beauty.  That is the art of the bar.

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