© BCB/Gili Shani
23 June 2022, by Peter Eichhorn
Bar Education – Avenues to a perfect Cocktail Experience
The bartender community has a plethora of exciting options for continuous education and inspiration at its disposal these days. Peter Eichhorn provides us with an overview of how the importance of further training and exchange has developed in this community over the years and which points of contacts are really valuable for inquisitive bartenders.
Albert Einstein once said: “Imagination is more important than knowledge – for knowledge is limited.” At the same time, however, he refers to two essential components for mixing wonderful drinks. Creativity at the bar counter brings a host of delights and diversity. Nevertheless, knowing about the bar basics and finding out about advanced techniques and facts should serve as the backbone for bartending.
A host of continuous education options for bartenders
Just consider the fantastic possibilities for continuous education and inspiration that the bartender community can tap into today. The older ones will probably remember those rather sparsely “populated” bookshelves with the ‘Lehrbuch der Bar’ by Harry Schraemli and later ‘Schumann’s Bar Buch’ presumably used by every barmaid and bartender in the 1990s to prepare their recipes. Only some eccentric old hands owned a ‘Savoy Bar Book’ or a copy of the ‘Krönlein-Beutel’ dating back to the 1920s, let alone the ‘Lexikon der Getränke’ (Dictionary of Drinks) – the original volume by Leybold and Schönfeld from 1913.
Upswing in the 2000s
The 2000s provided fresh momentum for bartending especially because people remembered the early days of this profession and the historical development of beverage genres and famous recipes. Books like “Imbibe!” by David Wondrich from 2007 and “Vintage Spirits and Forgotten Cocktails” by Ted Haig from 2009 had a strong impact on bartenders and bar concepts. Suddenly, Jerry Thomas and Harry Johnson – known in the bar community not only as the forefathers of cocktail art but also of pre-prohibition cocktails and classic short drinks – were given a new stage. New bar concepts were geared to this shift and variety increased, albeit moving backwards in time. However, this view in the rear mirror of history instilled long-forgotten drinks with new life so that Aviation, Hanky Panky, Martinez and Vieux Carré featured on many drinks menus again. And even the Cosmopolitan recipe of 1934 proved an exciting alternative to ‘Sex-and-the-City’s’ favourite drink. Numerous customers were pleasantly surprised by so many innovations at the bar and enthusiastically followed bartenders on their new paths.
Urge for knowledge and exchange in the sector
The bartender community itself developed a need for continuous education and expert exchange. This is why the Mixology Magazine for Bar Culture saw the light of day in 2003. The small-format first edition (also referred to as the Cranberry Edition) marked the beginning of an important, innovative and provoking medium accompanying the beverage sector. First core themes and calls to action read: “Squeeze fresh lemon juice!” Hard to believe today, but this was not taken for granted 20 years ago.
In various cities and regions bartenders formed networks such as the Vienna Bar Community or “Münchner Barzirkel” to jointly ensure exchange and further training. With the launch of Bar Convent Berlin in 2007 a possibility for supra-regional networking finally emerged. Back then it was held as a micro event in a building next to Arena-Berlin. Today, it is a significant international bar trade show showcasing thousands of products and staging hundreds of speakers.
Professionalism is a must
There was a longing for more professionalism. Bartenders were no longer students working part time. Bartenders became bartenders to be bartenders. Further training became more urgent by the day; all the more as the subject of spirits and/or mixed drinks was and partly still is quite neglected in the curricula for hospitality or restaurant experts.
At that time, the Internet had, of course, also made inroads into the bar community and the blogosphere enriched it. Many bartenders were eagerly awaiting the next entry in Jörg Meyers’ Barbaublog, which is also still worth reading today as a historical document. Rated one of the most informative and charming cocktail blogs on the history of drinks is the ‘Bar-Vademecum’ blog with all educational drinkers ever wanted to know.
Beverage industry supports continuous education and exchange
The beverage industry also recognised the need for networking and continuous education. Since then and to this day, bar people have had access to a great range of training and educational opportunities. Some of these options are ideal for newcomers to the profession while others offering specialised knowledge are good even for old hands. In addition, there are exchange programmes and trips offering unparalleled experiences that make a lasting impression on participants.
Bartenders always report enthusiastically on their experiences at such events as the Campari Workshop, The Blend by Beam Suntory, Hubertusrat by Jägermeister, Havana Club Academia del Ron, Learning for Life by Diageo. Not to mention the countless seminars by brand ambassadors presenting and promoting their products. At times, the masterclasses prior to Covid showed such signs of overheating they almost seemed tiring. Today, after countless Zoom events, everyone looks forward to the personal meetings and exchanges at face-to-face events again. This was most recently demonstrated by the Bar Symposium Cologne, which developed networking and professional exchange from within the bar scene.
German Barkeeper Union injects a fresh breeze
The Deutsche Barkeeper Union e.V. (DBU) is currently also repositioning itself and recognises the demand for continuous education in the community (see our report on this). Considered a milestone here was the 2017 Initiative when the DBU published the “Das Barhandbuch für Einsteiger” (The Bar Manual for Newbies) to impart at least consistent cocktail recipes for the classic education at vocational training centres. It really meant a breath of fresh air for white bar jackets. Gone are the days of the old-school guild members sporting the cock’s crest. Using various formats and employing a fresh, committed team the DBU is developing into a helpful and friendly player. Not tied to products and with an endless pool of experts, be it on design, sensorics, concepts or technologies.
So, training, tasting, networking and celebrating are as important as ever. What a wonderful four-part harmony!