28 March 2012

Dan Priseman Interview

What was the first drink/spirit you ever tasted and what was your reaction?

I remember being allowed to have a sip of my mother’s margarita when I was very young in California. That would have been in the late 70s or early 80s and was almost certainly a blended margarita with some sort of fruit added. I remember wanting more and being told I wasn’t allowed to have my own.

What is the first cocktail you ever made?

Maybe I was inspired by that early sip, but the first cocktail I ever made was a blended margarita at a house party in Sacramento. I had to use a fake ID to go and buy cheap tequila and margarita mix… I hope my drinks have improved since then!

What was the first drink/spirit you really fell in love with and why?

I remember drinking Scotch when I was 18 and thinking I was very sophisticated, but in truth I didn’t really enjoy it, I just drank it under the false illusion that I looked cool. The first spirit I really fell for
in a big way was rum, and the more I explored the category the more I loved it. When I found my way to American Whiskey though it was love at first sip!

What is a flavour you have discovered recently?

I’m not sure there’s a particular flavour I’ve latched onto recently, every day I get to play around with whatever I feel like working with. I treat drinking the same way I treat cooking, I look around and see what ingredients appeal to me at any given moment, think about how to combine them in a way that I haven’t done before and see what I come up with.

What does the future hold for you?

Who knows? I’ve been doing quite a bit of travelling in Europe with Four Roses and look forward to hitting Spain, Italy and France soon. My blog Bittersandtwisted is on the verge of growing into a larger and more dynamic website about cocktails and spirits. So in honesty I’ll probably continue to balance the two of those projects as best I can, and see where I am in a years time.

Any industry predictions for the next couple of years?

I hope we’re going to see a slight diminishing of the trend of every bar making homemade bitters and tinctures. Don’t get me wrong, I think it’s great that bartenders are exploring new avenues of creativity, but I think maybe it’s gone to far. The other thing I hope to see more of is bartenders learning from chefs. There are lots of gastronomic processes that could easily be applied to cocktails if bartenders would take the time to learn them.

If you were to have a conversation with a spirit (and presuming it could talk back and tell you its past) what would it be?

I can’t picture myself having that conversation about a spirit, but give me the chance to talk a cocktail and find out it’s past and I’d jump at it. I’d be torn between a few, but if I could ask a martini about it’s history, especially who first made it and was it a variation on a Martinez that would be kind of cool (in a very geeky way).

Which to you is the most appealing spirit and why?

That’s such a difficult question. A lot of people know me as a Bourbon guy, or as a Rum man, but in truth I like most spirits and they all have different appeal to them. I guess if I had to pick a spirit I wouldn’t want to live without it would be American Whiskey, but I’d be sorry to see rum, tequila and gin go.

What are your 3 favourite cocktails?

The three I drink most often are the Manhattan, Boulevardier and Sazerac, but that’s partly down to working part time for a bourbon brand. I think the daiquiri is the most perfect summer drink, and the aviation is a favourite too… hell I just like drinking cocktails, I’m not sure I could be tied to a definitive top three.

If you could pass just one thing, on to a young bartender what would it be?

Watch and ask questions, it’s a simple as that. The moment a bartender stops being interested in learning they’re usually on the road to arrogance. A bartender who thinks they know it all is usually a bore to be
around. Oh and stay humble, at the end of the day we’re making drinks not curing cancer, so don’t take yourself and this industry too seriously. The moment you take the fun out of drinking you’ve missed the point.

What influences your drinks from outside the industry (i.e. art, fashion)?

I’m not sophisticated enough to be influenced by the likes of art and fashion, I’m just a simple guy who likes eating and drinking, so I’m going to say food influences me the most. I cook a lot, and I love experiencing new combinations of flavours, and I guess I look at cocktails in the same way I look at food. To me it’s inspiring when a chef presents food in an unusual way that makes you think about it, or brings flavours together in an unexpected way. That being said, don’t call me a bar chef, I hate that shit!

If you where to break a bartending golden rule what would it be?

There are rules to bartending? Who knew it? To be honest I’m not a bartender by profession so I probably break lots of rules without knowing it when I’m behind the bar. I just make drinks, try to keep tidy and have fun with my customers… maybe someone will give me the rule book for my birthday so I can find out what I should be doing?

Outside of flavour and the craft of the cocktail what in your opinion effects the appreciation of cocktails the most?

It’s a toss up between the atmosphere of the place where you’re drinking and the bartender who’s making your drink. Being in the right setting with the right people doesn’t make the drink taste any different, but you’ll enjoy it more if you’re in good company in nice surroundings. To me though a great bartender controls the room in which he or she is making drinks, if they are on good form then the buzz starts behind the bar and spreads to the customers.

If you where to champion a cocktail which would it be?

I champion the Boulevardier (2 parts bourbon to 1 each of sweet vermouth and Campari, stirred and served up with an orange twist). I’ve been talking about them for ages now, and it’s nice to see that in more and more bars I don’t get a blank look when I ask for one. That’s probably more down to Ted Haigh including the Boulevardier in his book Vintage Spirits and Forgotten Cocktails than anything else, but I’ll keep spreading the word.

What gin do you prefer in your martini?

I’ve always been a fan of Plymouth, or if I’m splashing out and can find it then Beefeater Crown Jewel is a good one, but recently I’ve been enjoying Monkey 47 as my Martini gin of choice. It’s so complex and flavourful that it’s practically a martini in a bottle. I usually like my Martini wet with a twist, but with Monkey 47 I use a little less vermouth as it already has a lot of those notes in it.

How did you find the move to brand work?

I think I’m the only Brand Ambassador who doesn’t come from a bartending back ground. I actually started out working in restaurants and moved into the sales and marketing side of the drinks industry. As soon as I got into the drinks industry though I started learning. As soon as I could I started picking up events work and then bartending shifts in friends bars. Next thing you know I had the bug and haven’t looked back since. So I tell people I’m no bartender, but give me a chance to jump behind a bar and make a drink and I’m there. I’m lucky that in my role I quite often get asked to ‘star-tend’ in bars when I’m travelling, so I’ve shaken and stirred in some of the best bars in the countries I’ve been to in the last few years.

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