Whether she’s managing the wildly popular cocktail program at UVA or developing products for the line of Bittered Sling Extracts she produces with partner Jonathan Chovancek, the talent of bartender Lauren Mote is immediately evident. An ambassador of avant-garde mixology, she is considered one of Vancouver’s most talented bartenders for good reason.
Fresh off her “Bartender of the Year” win at last week’s Vancouver Magazine Restaurant Awards, Lauren offers up some helpful cocktail-making hints for rookie mixologists. Read on to find out what to stock your home bar with, the most common mixology mistake and the go-to drink guaranteed to wow your guests.
What are your top three tips for learning the art of mixology?
1. Buy The Savoy Cocktail Book and The Please Don’t Tell Cocktail Book, and read both from cover to cover.
2. Watch YouTube vids from the pros to see them in action. Liquor.com’s YouTube channel has the best ones.
3. Pick your favourite classic cocktail recipes and learn them inside out. It will give you a blueprint to start from, and then you can create your own varieties. That’s how the greatest bartenders in the world build their repertoire.
What are the liquor cabinet essentials everyone should have?
Start with a few high quality white and brown spirits, and then grab a bottle of something new whenever you go to the liquor store to expand your horizons a little bit more. Your best bets are:
-White rum like Flor de Caña white or Havana Club white
-Dark unsweetened rum
-Some type of vodka
-Blanco tequila like El Jimador, or a reposado
-A bottle of gin, whether it’s standard London dry gin, genever, or a new craft gin like Vancouver’s own Odd Society
-Whiskey in any form, from blended to bourbon to Irish
What about mixology tools?
It’s crucial to have a mixing glass (a Boston shaker is easiest for learning), mixing spoons, tasting spoons and a strainer. If you buy only one strainer, make it a Hawthorne. And always use large, high quality ice cubes. Ice is very important. Watch out for freezer odour with the cubes, too!
Most common cocktail mistake people make?
Muddling. It’s the dumbest thing in the world. I see this all the time with mojitos – the only thing muddling does is bruise the mint. Do not muddle! Then there are the little things: only use really fresh herbs and garnishes, remove seeds from your lemons and limes, and use organic pasteurized egg whites if you’re making a gin fizz or whiskey sour.
What is your secret to the killer drink combos you come up with?
I focus on surprising and unusual pairings like nutmeg and lavender, blended whiskey and Calvados, allspice and chocolate, cucumber and rhubarb, Campari and rose.
What’s a go-to drink that’s guaranteed to impress?
A stirred cocktail of some kind. You can be creative when you prepare something like an Old Fashioned because technically, you can make it using any spirit you like! It’s really versatile, and that gives a bartender a little more room for creativity.
Any last words of advice for budding bartenders?
Bartenders screw up when they make things overly complicated — they should be focusing on the simplicity of things. You don’t need to spend a lot of money building a home bar because it’s all in the way you use the products you have. Also, venture outside your comfort zone. Exploration is a necessary part of mixology.