Friday, May 5, 2017

Know your niche, when it comes to career bartending

The title of this article could perhaps be interpreted as a reworking of my favorite maxim from antiquity "know thyself". That's not far off from the truth -- however, it also needs to be stated that Tim Ferris of 4-Hour Work Week fame has repeatedly presented the concept of being aware of and reaching out to niche communities you belong in. This is something that you can apply to almost any serious avenue in your life. With all that being said, take a step back and consider that a couple of ways you can improve the direction of your bartending and hospitality career (or any career really) is to employ self-promotion campaigns in niche communities to which you belong.

I use this photo on all of my bartending and hospitality
related social media. The weird glasses make me easy to
remember, and also using the same photo makes it so
I'm easier to recognize between social media accounts.
The Vancouver mixology and foodie community is perhaps the most relevant thing that comes to mind, for me, and as such, I run a strategic foodie Instagram account, and this blog. Like Tim Ferris, I try to take part in three communities, however I'm a bit lazy with the third -- which happens to be Yelp. Through these online communities I have made a number of connections; expanding my network and finding new opportunities that don't just present themselves to the quiet bartender who doesn't seek out community. Having these different online tools which I can point to from my resume has done me a considerable amount of good as well -- this blog is a written record of my thoughts, goals, and aspirations. It proves how serious and passionate I am about my work, and shows that I not only take my work home with me, but I really go through that extra bit of effort to break down and analyze things. My Instagram similarly functions as a picture proof record about my passion for all things food and drink -- it's a catalog of my food adventures, and a personal showcase what I'm doing as far as mixology.

I've taken a lot of excellent photos at the Union, and shared
them on Instagram, Yelp and Twitter. Businesses always
appreciate when you promote them on your social media.
And now the Union is going to know that I mentioned them
in a blog post too!

That niche is pretty obvious though, and for some people it might be too obvious, to the point that they've already been going through the motions in a similar way. It doesn't hurt to take a step back and analyze other areas that you find yourself passionate in -- even if they don't seem to be relevant or beneficial at first. Using another personal example as a case study; I'm a huge fan of Pokemon. I take part in the local Pokemon Go community, having made a number of good friends through Pokemon. I also play Pokemon on the Twitch streaming service, where I've made connections with people in different cities and countries. And thirdly, I remix Pokemon music which I share on Soundcloud and YouTube

Find ways to mix and match your niches too. I'm not the
only foodie in Vancouver who is a fan of Pokemon.

The relevance of all this may seem nominal to someone looking to expand their hospitality horizons, however, let's think a bit deeper about it. First of all, think back to the earlier example, where I said I have online records to prove how passionate I am about bartending. Well, now, if I were to apply for a nerd or gamer bar job, I would have a number of things which I could point to on a resume crafted for that position as well. Furthermore, you never know what kind of people you're going to meet in these communities -- there are a number of hospitality professionals in the groups I frequent, who would go out of their way to be a reference for me if I were to apply at their restaurant. The name of the game here is "networking". Every interaction you have is some form of potential networking; it's just a matter of whether you can see the network value or not -- maybe the person you're talking to isn't directly associated with what you're trying to achieve... however, you can almost be guaranteed that they have some connections somewhere.

This has nothing to do with anything, but I usually post funny
captions under photos. This article is severely lacking
funny quips....
The last thing regarding niches, that I wanted to talk about, is your niche as a bartender. Now, I can go into a whole separate article about this, so I'm just going to touch on it at this point in time. What's your thing? Are you a sports bar gal or guy? A mixologist? A beertender? Do you want to stay in that niche? Do you want to move into another one? Are you trying to get more experience in one area so you can bring it back to another, later? These are all questions you should think about regarding your niche as a provider of libations and imbibement. Know your niche -- but more than that, know what you want to get out of it.

Thursday, May 4, 2017

Lose weight by being conscious about what you drink

People all over the modern world are concerned about one thing, and one thing only. Weight loss.
Or a six pack of beer... as it were.

Okay, okay. Hyperbole aside, weight loss is actually a huge concern for a lot of us out here in the real world. For me, I stopped having the "eat everything you want and take names later" mentality a couple of years ago, when I turned 29. For me, the issue was that I had a slowly accumulating mass around my love handles -- but what I was hoping to do was achieve the mythical six pack that I hear so many stories about. One of the obvious things that I could do to achieve the six pack was to cut out another type of six pack. It's not news to anybody that beer contains a lot of calories, right?

Something which you perhaps have not thought too much in depth about is where the calories in alcoholic beverages come from? Typically there are two answers to that question: sugar and alcohol.
That's pretty much how I look any time I get an
opportunity to geek out. Hold onto your butts for
impending Wikipedia links!

Here is a quick break down of the science:

The way that alcohol is formed is through ethanol fermentation -- fermentation is another, less efficient way that organisms can generate energy when their normal method is exhausted. Animals actually engage in a process of fermentation as well, called lactic acid fermentation. Normally your body meets its energy demands through cellular respiration, where sugar is converted into usable chemical energy (ATP). The secondary process kicks in when you can't get enough oxygen to process sugar, or when there is a backlog of sugar -- this is where fermentation comes in. It is a less efficient method of generating ATP, which leaves the waste product "lactic acid" -- or in the case of yeast, and ethanol fermentation, the waste product "ethanol." Ethanol and lactic acid are fairly complex compounds compared to the waste products formed out of cellular respiration, ergo they are loaded with a ton of stored molecular energy. When those compounds are broken down, the energy of the molecular bonds is either released as heat, or converted into other molecular bonds.

This is exactly the kind of thing you want to avoid if you're planning
on cutting weight off of your gullet. OMG WHY IS IT SO GUD.
What you need to understand here is that molecular bonds store energy, and through the magic of simplification, we measure our energy input and output in calories. How this translates to the calories in the energy you drink is that alcohol is actually a chief source of calories, because of all of the energy in those molecular bonds.

I already touched on the fact that sugar is part of the fermentation process -- you don't have to rub too many brain cells together to figure out at this point, that high sugar content foods are normally used for fermentation. This comes out as the heavily starchy potatoes, and grains, or the high fructose grapes used for wine -- even honey is used for the fermentation of mead. Aside from the ethanol being a major source of calories, the left over sugar from the fermentation process is also high in calories.

After spending this whole time talking about how bad beer is
for you, it's on natural that I put tantalizing photos of what
you'll be missing out on, once you stop drinking beer.

The TLDR of this is that beer is high in calories. White and red wine are actually much better for you, in terms of calorie content. And spirits such as whiskey are even more forgiving. There are two things you have to take into consideration when watching what you drink, however. The first thing is more on the food science side of the equation -- higher alcohol content means less sugar, and sugar has more calories than alcohol; therefore higher alcohol content is going to be less calories. The second thing is that if you are going to be conscious of calorie intake when drinking, you also have to consider how much farther the effects of higher alcohol content beverages go. To seasoned drinkers, this isn't that big of a deal, but even if you have been drinking for a long time, and this whole time it's been mostly beer, you might be shocked by how much quicker wine or straight whiskey hits you.

I was able to lose a considerable amount of fat around my waist simply by switching to whiskey -- which wasn't that hard. I was already becoming somewhat of a whiskey snob, so it was just a step away to entirely drop beer as my go-to drink. I also did not have to worry about the progression of severe alcoholism, because I had made considerable cut backs to how much I'd been drinking well before I made the switch to whiskey. Now, in my case, I discovered the glorious app known as Untappd, so I ended up getting back into beer as my go-to drink when outside of the house -- but that being said, I think it needs to be restated just how effective switching from beer to wine, or beer to whiskey can be.

If straight whiskey isn't your style, you can always mix
with tea, a bit of lemon and a bit of sugar for a Hot Toddy.
I wouldn't recommend it because I hate Hot Toddies, but
it's all you man/woman! 

A single ounce of whiskey contains as much alcohol as a pint of beer. The difference in calories is pretty shocking. Your average pint of beer contains 260 calories, while a single shot of whiskey has only 70. If you were looking for something with meal value more similar to beer, a five ounce glass of wine contains roughly 125 calories. By switching from beer to whiskey -- among other things -- I was able to make considerable cutbacks to caloric intake, and this translated into me losing 3 waist sizes over a period of one month, while still gaining around my biceps and chest. That should be a pretty attractive incentive to men such as myself, who want to hit the gym and see positive gains without putting on the fat that often comes alongside it. And then of course there's the other side of it: aside from looking better because of the change in your body, you'll also look better because you're delving into more sophisticated territory!

Saturday, April 22, 2017

Drinking your meal -- an introduction to food in cocktails

Milestones dipped its hands into the "Caesar
with a whole lot of crap on it," market.
Sadly, it is already off the menu!
The "Caesar with a whole bunch of crap on it" trend is beginning to wane -- the novelty is wearing off, and the competition to pair a Caesar up with the most ridiculous garnishes is not as trendy as it once was. Nevertheless, Caesars are still Canada's staple cocktail (although, I have complained about that at length.) One of the takeaways from this trend could perhaps be novelty of solid food in cocktails. Without further ado, this article will be yet another vague response to novel trends!

Caesars are not the only drink to commonly feature solid food particles. There are of course, the two very obvious classics; the Martini and the Manhattan, both of which are commonly garnished with edible food. There is also a tendency to put intricate lemon, orange or lime twists on the rim, or directly into the glass. While not edible per se, they are still solid food particles which alter the quality of the drink. However, I won't discuss these zesty twists TOO much here, simply because I to focus more on edible solids in this article.
A dirty Martini. I gotta be real with you.
I'm not a fan of dirty Martinis. However,
I had a lot of fun making a little
asparagus raft on this one!

Being that I'm not really a fan of dirty Martinis, I would shy away from them in the first place. However, drinks of this quality that feature olive or pickle juice do give the opportunity to get a little bit creative in the same way that you would with a Caesar; ie. loading it up with pickled goodies. This is great for the type of people who drink dirty Martinis -- they generally aren't connoisseurs of spirit, which is why they want to mix it down with the olive juice in the first place. While they obviously do have a certain level of appreciation that falls somewhere closer to the "most interesting Man in the world" end of the spectrum, there is an indication that they would appreciate fancy garnishes.

Fruity cocktails also give a good opportunity to add edible foods; namely fruit! I've seen drinks garnished with almost any kind of fruit you can imagine. Seriously, even a lot of those esoteric ones (although, I've yet to see a durian or jackfruit cocktail....) Strawberries, lychee, and orange are all easy options to include in fruit flavored cocktails. But really, if you tend towards more exotic fruits like Dragonfruit, Starfruit, or Papaya, you can generally create a more unique cocktail, and also get practice pairing with more uncommon flavors.

Love the addition of Lychee, in this
Lychee '75.

There are quite a bit more things you can do with food in cocktails too. A common trend a few years ago was to mix foods into different syrups, which had quickly evolved into the infusion of solid foods in spirits. For the last year or so, using solid food directly in the cocktails has really taken off though. While I've only briefly touched on the topic in this article, there is really quite a bit to talk about on this subject, and there will be future articles about different ways to incorporate solid foods in your drinks.

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Learning From Asian Non-Alc Drinks and Mocktails

My Icy Berry Cocktail. Exploding with
a molecular Port foam.
It's no small secret that I'm somewhat of a sinophile -- everyone around me knows it, and most people familiar with my writing or online work know about it too. I'm always looking for ways to integrate what I like about Far Eastern cultures with what I like about the west. The countries of the Far East have a fairly broad non-alc beverage culture, which we simply don't experience to the same degree here in North America. With the exception of course, of Asian bubble tea cafes, or similar. While we do have a fairly strong coffee and tea culture, we simply do not experience the broadness of variety that Asian cafes do.

A pitcher of watermelon flavored cocktail, served
in at a Japanese Izakaya restaurant in Vancouver, called Suika.
Mocktails at most western restaurants are fairly limited as well -- virgin Caesars, virgin Mojitos, virgin Coladas, and Shirley Temples. My opinion about many of these drinks is already littered all over this blog, but perhaps I have been just a little bit too harsh. They are all attempting to emulate the experience of cocktailing, but just happen to mostly fail miserably at it. Of course, my point of contention has always partially been the over the top fruitiness or lack of depth created by alcohol -- that alcohol free drinks should not be created as just the same thing minus the booze. That last point is also why I've gone through quite a bit of trial and error to craft different types of alcohol free mojitos, that stand on their own, or have a distinct character separate from a real Mojito.
Some kind of 'Lattea' something or other, at the
Taiwanese Pearl Castle Cafe in Burnaby, British Columbia.
The foam layer is quite thick, and rich.

There are a few dimensions to these Asian drinks that I try to emulate from time to time:

  • The inclusion of solid ingredients, such as tapioca, grass jelly or barley.
  • The mixing of nonstandard ingredients, such as coffee and tea.
  • The coordination of bright or contrasting colours, with exploding garnishes.

As somewhat of a classicists, or prohibition cocktail snob, these points can be a bit of a hassle for me to wrap my head around. Nevertheless I have done quite a bit of experimenting in the realms of mixology and molecular gastronomy, with an eye toward Asian styles. What I've been having even more trouble with is trying to hybridize classic cocktail styles with the above principles.

Oolong Milk Tea with Grass Jelly, from Mr. Mustache in
Vancouver. In the words of Trump, "The Best!"

I would also like to take a step back from trying to emulate those points in proper cocktails, and return to mocktails. Mocktails are often boring, bland, or at best two dimensional. There is a lot to be learned from the multi-dimensionality of the bubble tea culture. Perhaps that last statement will make some laugh, however, I think it holds true.

blogger widget