'10 Things I Hate' Mixology Edition: Eric Alperin

If you keep up with the ins and outs of the cocktail world like our very own Matt Rodbard, then you know Eric Alperin. Rodbard was actually on-hand to see his bar, The Varnish, take home the crown for Best American Cocktail Bar at Tales of the Cocktail in 2012. Last year, Alperin himself was a finalist for American Bartender of the Year. He's a big deal in Los Angeles mixology and if you've ever been to The Varnish, you know why.

Tucked away like a speakeasy in the back of Cole's (the disputed progenitors of the French Dip), The Varnish serves classic cocktails with classic style and that shouldn't come as much of a surprise if you know that Alperin came from Sasha Petraske's inner-circle in New York at bars like Milk & Honey and Little Branch. Now's he on top of LA's spirit scene and we're giving him the chance to let loose with 10 things he hates about mixology.

  1. Affected mixology

Your waxed mustache, expensive barware and cocktail book pontificating aren't that important. Bartenders are supposed to treat the patron as the star. Wait for the customer's question about the craft and respond accordingly.

  • Cocktails loaded with four or five different branches of muddled herbs
  • Your glass ends up looking like a compost lump from your lettuce crisper after a few sips. I prefer adding a liqueur like Strega or Benedictine that is packed with herb flavor and makes the drink easier to sip and enjoy. It's also easier on the bartender to prep and make.

  • When people assume I only appreciate classic cocktails
  • I always hear, "It must be so hard for you to go out drinking elsewhere." Why? Because I do one particular style really well? There is so much happening in bars that blows me away. I'm always curious about what other people are doing. I like a sage syrup infusion some days and a beer and a shot other days.

  • Disrespectful patrons
  • Imbibing alcohol is not an excuse for acting like a jerk or out of control in a social setting. We always want to create an ambience that allows our patrons to relax, drink and socialize without becoming upset or distracted by negative conduct.

  • When people generalize an entire category of spirits based off one bad experience
  • We strive to create a service philosophy and atmosphere that allows us to connect with the customer, get to the base of what they like in a drink, and recommend something that will open their eyes to a new experience. It's all about how the ingredients work together and bring out the different nuances of each spirit. I love being able to make a vodka devotee fall in love with a whiskey drink — and vice versa.

  • When a bar and its staff disregard the details
  • Everything from the measurements, pour, garnish, and ice affects the balance of a cocktail. Everything that's worth doing is worth doing right. Spending that extra moment chiseling a large piece of ice for an Old Fashioned. Checking to ensure the glass you're using is spotless. Making sure each garnish is as fresh as it can be, relighting candles, clearing dirty napkins and glasses. All of these elements amount to the overall taste, consistency and experience of a well-made drink.

  • Bad mood bartenders
  • Leave the bad mood at home. Hospitality, anyone? The customer is the most important person in the room. The end.

  • Bartenders who ignore a waiting customer
  • Even if you're slammed at the bar, acknowledge the customer's presence and say you will take the order as soon as you can. The customer will likely sympathize with you and relax while watching you work through the traffic jam — it's live theatre back there. Even if you're in the weeds, make a connection with your guest so they can feel like they're part of the show!

  • When bartenders think they are past the point of learning something new
  • I've learned so much from each person I've worked for and each person who has worked with me. The cocktail community is a unique space where collaboration and diversity are valued — these fundamental reasons are why we work in such an exciting industry. Explore and celebrate these relationships...and more importantly, learn from them.

  • Inconsiderate tippers at Jumbo's Clown Room
  • You think bartending is a tough shift? Try burlesque dancing. Those girls work hard.

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