Renowned barman Jeffrey Morgenthaler’s new book, “Drinking Distilled: A User’s Manual,” intends to elevate the spirit-driven experience of those on the other side of the bar. The illustrated guide is a simple, concise four chapters devoted to the courtesies and social mores of dining and drinking.
Morgenthaler is the head bartender at Clyde Common in Portland, Oregon, and has 22 years of experience behind the bar. His book doesn’t come across as a crusty rant; it’s more a pithy and wry guide, and a correction of misguided drinking rules. He includes a dozen recipes, including his favorite, a gin martini.
Here are 10 out of 100 or so tips, followed by drinking advice to guests from pros in the business.
1.“Cheers” is not a verb; it’s a form of a toast. Keep it short and heartfelt, and never demand that someone “cheers” you.
2. “What’s good?” is not a drink order. Have something in mind before endeavoring to place an order — a spirit, a style or a flavor. “What do you like to make?” isn’t a drink order, either. A bartender wants to make what the guest enjoys.
3. Drinks and their vessels are not gendered. Men drink rosé and some women (like me) enjoy peaty Scotch. Drinking from a stemmed cocktail glass should not emasculate a man.
4. You have the right to get up and leave. This is a social contract you are entering. If your wait time is unreasonably long, leave and spend your money elsewhere.
5. Be patient. There is no need to snap fingers, wave hands, or shout out for service. Bartenders are looking out for you and want you to have a good time.
6. Drinking can be fun, but it’s not for everyone. Don’t harass others for not partaking.
7. Don’t ask your bartender to send a drink to someone. It’s creepy.
8. Want to save your drink/seat while you visit the restroom? Placing a coaster over the top of your glass signifies that you will return.
9. Using your phone is fine, the way patrons used to peruse newspapers at the bar, but, keep the volume off, and don’t take calls. This isn’t your office.
10. There is no rule for adding water or ice to a spirit. It’s a preference. Drink your whiskey how you like.
Greg Best, co-owner and bartender of Atlanta’s Ticonderoga Club, adds:
“Always be aware of the environment in which you are imbibing. Not every place can or should be able to make a (New York) Flip, or a Ramos gin fizz, or a frozen Negroni, for example. Use context clues, such as the products on the back bar, tools and equipment that the bar staff are using, and tendered drink menus to glean what a place is proud of or, perhaps, specializes in. This will save you the discomfort or discontent (of) ordering a drink and receiving something that fails to meet your expectations that you suddenly feel obligated to drink and pay for. Keep in mind that, ultimately, the house will want to take care of you, and this sometimes means attempting to do something they are not well versed in. Let’s spare everyone the embarrassment!”
Neal Bodenheimer, owner of New Orleans’ Cane and Table and Cure, this year’s James Beard Award winner for outstanding bar program, has advice on cocktail valuation:
“A lot of guests are price sensitive, but they are not comparing apples to apples. At a dive bar, a drink packed with ice may make them think ‘wow, what a deal!’ At a really nice bar, a drink with double the pour, with denser ice, seems expensive, when, in reality, you’re paying the same or more for inferior spirits. You just have to think about liquid displacement.” Small cubes nest more densely. “There’s a lot of thought to how ice machines made ice. You can get more in and pour less alcohol.”
From Bobby Eldridge, bar manager at Miami’s Broken Shaker:
“My advice to the guest, to be a better drinker, is to always try new things. Learn what you like and what you don’t. And, treat the staff how you would like to be treated.”
Miles Macquarrie is a partner and oversees Atlanta’s Kimball House bar. He advises:
“Be open to getting outside your comfort zone and trying something different. Think that Chablis and Sancerre are the only thing to pair with oysters? Think again! People can be really set in their ways … and that limits them. (You can become a) more educated drinker by trying something new. The amount of people that only want bourbon cocktails in the South is overwhelming. Try something with aged rum, Cognac or Calvados. Drinking the same thing all the time is like only having missionary sex.”