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What is a Mixologist?

a bartender poring drinks from a pitcher

Foodie Speak is a series where Taste It Tours breaks down a common word in the foodie vocabulary to explain what it means, where it came from and why it’s an important part of keeping your foodie card.

If you’ve been to a high end bar or restaurant in the last five years, you’ve undoubtedly heard the term mixologist. But before you start calling these folks bartenders, it’s important to understand how the growth of mixology has changed the quality of cocktails around the world.

It’s All in the Ingredients

Just as food preparation has become so reliant on quality ingredients over the past decade, our libations are starting to focus more on a recipe of unique flavors. Many of these flavors also happen to lean on the sweet side, such as ginger, grenadine, and honey.

Ironically enough, these flavors are not at all new to the bartender handbook, as many of the popular prohibition era cocktails of the 1920s used these flavors to cover up the taste of alcohol. With the rise of speakeasies nationwide as a 100 year reminder of prohibition, it’s no surprise that these drinks are making a comeback.

But one of the most important roles of the mixologist is to craft the perfect recipe, making a drink that will stand out on the bar menu. Anyone can make a Cuba Libre (rum and cola), but mixologists are tasked with figuring out alternative ingredients to make mouths water.

The Rivalry Exists

While there are plenty of courses and programs out there to get you mixologist “certified,” the names bartender and mixologist are largely self-appointed. Mixing them up is even worse than confusing left and right Twix.

Some may think that bartenders would embrace the more prestigious label of mixologist, but for many that is not the case. Reasons for this include mixology only accounting for a small percentage of a bartenders’ role, and bartenders must be more flexible at pouring what the customer wants instead of creating their own concoctions.

The use of mixologist will often be tied into the image of the bar/restaurant, and with the price of craft cocktails on the rise, we may see more restaurants opt for mixologists in the future to justify those $15 cocktails.

It’s worth noting that one of the most popular television shows in history (Cheers) was about bartenders, and the TV show Mixology only lasted 13 episodes. The jury is still out on whether Tom Cruise was a bartender or a mixologist in Cocktail.

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