When I stared bartending in Fall 2008, I was lucky enough to land a job as a glass collector at one of the premium bars in Newcastle in Northeast England. I’d been living there for over three years and had just graduated from the University of Sunderland with Journalism degree not only at a stage when the print media was starting to downsize, but also in an era when the Great Recession started to impact on those coming out of higher education.
Popolo Bar, Lounge and Kitchen, as it was known at the time, was one of most visited and talked about bars in the city, and gained a reputation amongst those both living and visiting Newcastle in a time when MySpace was the most used social media platform.
I was extremely fortunate to be introduced into a style of service and beverage education that included decent spirits and mixed drinks; my mentors at the time has been bartending for over ten years, and came from a bygone era when fresh citrus wasn’t always the norm and triple vodka cokes were a standard call at most bars in the city.
The late Naughties, as well call them in certain parts of the UK, was also around the time that cocktail blogs had started to become a prominent influence in both online discussion, specifically from the US, especially in an online environment when people could sign up to forums and chat with one another. This concept – that of instant and fairly free communication and the exchange of information, all of it fairly immediate and very affordable – was unparalleled in our time, and is generally lauded for being one of the main reasons why the bartending profession became more of a, well, soon-to-be respected again profession.
Some of the earlier pioneers of cocktail writing and blogging include Jamie Bourdreu,Jeffery Morgenthalerand Kaiser Penguin (amongst others),although it doesnt take a lot of effort to find out other influential bloggers online who also had a huge impact on the bartending and cocktail landscape. All of these guys, as well as others, played an important role not only in my bartending upbringing, but in the resurrection of taking care and consideration in a profession and craft that had been eroded through the sugar-laiden disco drinks of the 1970s and early 1980s.
A decade on from the birth of cocktail blogs and you’ll notice that it’s a very different scene, albeit against a very familiar backdrop. Instagram rules the internet waves, especially in the world of food and beverage, to the point where individuals are displacing advertising and media companies in terms of how they reach a specific audience. Twitter is used as a form of instant communication in a way to reach thousands and millions of individuals, all through the use of the hashtag and a set amount of characters.
And while Facebook may be showing signs of aging, it’s still generally seen as one of the most authoritative (if not aggressive) ways to communicate views in the form of updates and statements.
The international cocktail and spirit culture have benefited from this immeasurably, even to the point where their existence has outpaced the once popular cocktails blogs that were once updated on a weekly or monthly basis.
So here’s the question; are cocktail blogs really relevant anymore?
Before I started writing this, and before this website launched, I’d often thought if the word-heavy cocktail and spirit blogs were still relevant, and wondered if they had become a dusty and potentially outdated source of cocktail reading material online. Reading a blog post a year or two back, it was noted that if the reason blogs were updated less and less, it was only because what was speculated and talked about online was slowly started to be seen and practiced in bars across the world.
When I pondered this topic, I hadn’t actually thought of a suitable answer to end with. The only evidence I had that drink blogging was going in a different direction was based on the evidence of those on instagram who had managed to make a living through short videos and images and the inevitable increased following that ensued (check out my friend Natalie Jacob @arseniclace or the mega visual @bad_birdy for example).
And so it seems fitting, if not poetically coincidental, to answer the question and end this first post on the following note.
Unable to give a satisfying answer to the this end this post, I was at the Cocktail Kingdom headquarters in New York a few days before this post was published, where I go on average once a year to top up on bar ware that seemingly gets blunted or lost during the five/six day week I usually work. And there, out of the corner of my eye, was a printed version ofThe Cocktail Chronicles, a book printed back in 2015 to commemorate the blog of the same, written by Paul Clarke and with a foreword by Jim Meehan.
Numerous cocktail books have been printed before and since The Cocktail Chronicleswas released, and many influential bartenders, content creators, influencers and the like have also come to fruition since then, some of whom may not have even heard of Paul or his blog, or indeed anyone else affiliated with the great online literary cocktail and spirits movement of the early 21st Century.
But during my early bartending days when creativity struck and there was a hunger to learn more about what was going on outside of the city I was living and working in, it was a huge pleasure to be able to be one member of an online audience that could read what was being talked about, experimented and drank by enthusiasts all over the world, and to be able to try some of these things either at home or in a bar environment.
With this being posted in the run up to International Scotch Day, it seems fitting to drink something to commemorate not only one of my favorite spirits, but also to celebrate the work that was pioneered by a group of online individuals who had a huge impact on the trends and tastes of cocktail etiquette in the first decade of the new millennium.
The Montgomery Old Fashioned
- 2.25oz Scotch
- 0.5oz Orange Curaçao
- 3 dashes Chocolate Bitters
Add all ingredients to a rocks glass. Add a single large ice cube, stir a couple of times and garnish with an orange twist.
Tom Walker, Fresh Kills, Brooklyn, 2017
NB: Use a blended scotch or a single malt from the highlands; nothing smokey, as this is aimed at those trying scotch or old fashioneds for the first time, or both. The orange curacao is cut 1:1 with simple syrup for a silkier and smoother texture. Using a normal 80-proof or so will yield a drier and stiffer and, in my opinion, less desirable drink.