How is a Mixologist Different from a Bartender?
Anish Patel @ 2022-02-14 06:01:20 -0800
If you like to go to bars, chances are you’ve heard a bartender refer to themselves as a “mixologist.” The word has a very hip air to it, but it also gives a more serious impression than “bartender.” But “mixologist” does more than add a little romance to the air. It actually means something.
The two terms are often used interchangeably and understandably so. Bartenders and mixologists share many similar responsibilities. However, there are a few major differences.
Some mixologists also work as bartenders, and many bartenders are training to become mixologists. But many bartenders are not mixologists. Let’s take a look at what mixology is and how it’s different from bartending.
What Is Mixology?
Mixology is the in-depth study of preparing and inventing new cocktails and drinks. It’s the fine dining of bartending; mixologists deliver an elevated menu using innovative techniques, fresh ingredients, and cocktails that tell a story.
In other words, you’re not going to get a pre-mixed margarita from a mixologist.
One of the main ingredients of any drink made by a mixologist is their personal artistic expression. A drink made by a mixologist has their imprint on it; they assume the role of the artist, and they’ve studied their craft in order to do so. The result is a unique flavor profile and visual experience that you can only get from that person.
Mixology dates back to the 19th century. Cocktails weren’t popular or considered to be among the more serious culinary arts. But a surge of creativity emerged among bartenders who began working to perfect their craft and offer something of intellectual value.
These bartenders began referring to themselves as “mixologists” to reflect the mastery their discipline required and demonstrate to their guests that they were delivering an elevated experience. And in the end, mixology gave cocktails quite the glow up. Consumer demand grew as bartenders worked on reviving old, forgotten recipes with a modern spin and began thinking outside the glass.
Soon, consumers started to expect intrigue and quality rather than mediocrity from bartenders. This led to a demand for better quality spirits and other bar products.
Molecular mixology takes the craft one step further by taking a scientific approach to creating cocktails. Using specific equipment and techniques rooted in molecular gastronomy, like liquid nitrogen, powders, and emulsifying chemicals, mixologists create a drink and an experience that makes you feel like you’re in a lab of fun.
So, What’s the Difference Between a Mixologist and a Bartender?
Mixologists are the executive chefs of the bar. They create original recipes and orchestrate the bar program. Occasionally, they’ll work the bar itself, not unlike how a chef will occasionally hop on the line to support their cooks. Sometimes, mixologists serve as head bartenders or bar managers as well. Some mixologists work exclusively as consultants, helping bars elevate their programs and training staff. Some of them are brand ambassadors for spirit companies.
Or they may work as full-time content creators, influencing and educating their field via social media.
A mixologist has studied the history of cocktails. Making a new recipe is to join in on an ongoing conversation, one that dates back to the beginning of alcohol itself. In order to make a meaningful contribution to this conversation, one must understand what’s been said so far.
Every classic cocktail, from the martini to the French 75, is rooted in how humanity has evolved both socially and politically. Mixologists know the story of each cocktail and how it has influenced our world and vice versa. This allows them to have an appreciation for the discipline, not unlike a historian would.
Mixologists are interested in becoming industry leaders. They keep their finger on the pulse of their industry, engaging with trends, and influencing their own impression on others that work in the beverage industry. Their careers are shaped around a desire to contribute to their field in a meaningful way. This requires that they have a three-dimensional understanding of their trade.
If you’re sitting at a bar and want to spot a mixologist, look for whoever has a small notebook with them. Mixologists keep a working book of recipes they’re developing, and as long as they’re not slammed, they will often reference or write in them as they work.
Bartenders Are a Bit Different – But Don’t Knock ‘Em.
Bartenders, like mixologists, have a full understanding of classic cocktails. They have a more intimate knowledge of spirits than the average consumer, and they’ve probably started collecting origin stories of the cocktails they love to make as well. They know all of the classic recipes by heart and can make them to order without hesitation.
Bartenders work the bar, delivering the menu that the mixologist has created. They’re on the front lines of the bar, serving guests, working the register, filling orders from the servers, maintaining crowd control, being friendly with regulars, and sometimes acting as bouncers.
Needless to say, the ability to multitask and keep a cool head is essential to a bartender’s skillset.
It’s a high-pressure job that requires that you think quickly on your feet, be able to handle high levels of physical and mental stress, and know how to interact with all kinds of personalities. Because of this, bartending is a very psychologically demanding job.
Unlike mixologists, their job doesn’t require that they develop new recipes or immerse themselves in their industry, although for many, that is a professional goal. But it’s important to note that mixologists aren’t necessarily more talented than bartenders. Many bartenders are training to become mixologists, and many have just been working in the industry enough that they’ve learned enough to earn creative freedom.
A mixologist, having moved on from working on the bar, may become accustomed to going without the high pressure of a bartending job and may not possess the hospitality skills needed to do the job anymore. So while a mixologist has a very interesting job, don’t dismiss a bar for not having one. There is a lot of underground talent in bars, and you’ll just have to taste for yourself to see.
What Mixology Means Today
Cocktails weren’t always as fashionable as they are today. It took a lot of work from passionate bartenders to restore the reputation of spirits and introduce cocktails as a serious culinary discipline. The craft of mixology helped do that.
But now that cocktails are enjoying a golden age and the spirits industry is booming, the term mixologist isn’t used quite as often. There was a time when it was necessary to call yourself a mixologist in order to make that distinction for the consumer about what to expect from their experience. It sent a specific message to bar guests, one that said, “you’re not going to get the usual here. This is a unique experience.”
But many people do still refer to themselves as mixologists. And who can blame them? It’s the difference between “singer” and “vocal stylist,” “cook,” and “chef,” and tells guests immediately that they’re being served by someone who has studied their craft.