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Javier de las Muelas talks about the Bartender

MAGAZINE - Dry Tips

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This profession requires, more than others, an apprenticeship of several years and extensive professional experience, gained from daily practices.

On occasions, it is believed that the profession of bartender can be done by all, and within hours of apprenticeship, anyone can become a sublime bartender. This could not be further from the truth.

This profession requires, more than others, an apprenticeship of several years and extensive professional experience, gained from daily practices. Not only should we learn about spirits, liquors, mixes and preparation, but what is more important: psychology, developing empathy. Listen, watch and be silent. Know the tastes of our customers. All of this is very well for professionals and students of catering schools. But if you want to cocktails to become your hobby, do not be intimidated by the severity and significance of your actions. With a little dedication and imagination you will become an exceptional bartender.

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My earliest beginnings were in childhood. I was four or five years old when I had my first contact with conversation and drinking, in the bodega in front of house, wine by volume and chunks of ice (my interest in the world of ice and everything around it must date from then), while patrons drank a small bottle of beer, a soda or a coffee, talking about various topics in a relaxed atmosphere. The wine-seller, upon noticing me, encouraged me to help him, engaging me with one of his best smiles (or rather, I should say he had the good cheer to allow a brat like me interfere in the running of his business).

The first time I walked into Boadas and discovered all that magical world of mixing represented, I felt dazed, but at no time intimidated. Watching Mª Dolores and all her team create their offerings, pouring elixirs and spirits from glass to glass or listening to the rhythm of the moving cocktail shaker was out of this world.

Some time after, I worked in the still existing Berimbau, a Brazilian bar in La Ribera district of Barcelona. I remember that there, I made my debut there with a cheat sheet –the caipirinhas and other Brazilian concoctions the owner gave us ready-made– where the formula of three classic combinations of the time had been written: Cuba Libre, Gin & Tonic and Raf. My lack of memory and experience found salvation in this.

A few months later, Gimlet opened, 100 meters from there, and I can assure you that the key to everything was the desire and dreams that we put into it. If not, how can one launch such a project without economic resources, except with small-large debts? During the first weeks we had no bar stools or platform and of course no air conditioning. What a luxury that would have been! Our most valuable asset was a clogged up cocktail shaker, we turned up the volume of the music that sounded thanks to a turntable and a small amplifier that I brought from home, and we shook it wrapped in a cloth and hit it on the ground with a bang so we could open and then clean it.

From the outset, our immaculate white assistant barmen jackets with golden buttons were most appreciated by our excited bar staff.

Our way of working, of moving the shaker, meant our cocktails were cheered, applauded by our faithful parishioner customers. The truth is that it was ground-breaking. It was the first modern cocktail bar, our intention, created and led by young, inexperienced people. It was always my intention to base this on classic knowledge of cocktails. Looking towards the future, with one eye on the past (one of my maxims). Our enthusiasm meant we learnt quickly. This is the feeling I want to convey most of all. Have the will and everything else will follow. Don’t forget to give it enough time for it to happen.

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