Mixologist Vesus Bartender
What’s the Difference?
In my line of work, I’ve often been asked: What, exactly, is a Mixologist?
I usally explain that it is someone who creates drink recipes, but who doesn’t necessarily tend bar.
However, I've noted a little tension when using the term “Mixologist” around some bartenders. While one group of bartenders it as something to aspire to, others bitterly jeer at anyone who calls themselves a Mixologist, particularly if that person doesn’t serve drinks for a living at a commercial establishment.
During a recent email exchange with my new pal, Rick Dobbs at Martini Groove, I used the term Mixologist and got this response:
Rick: "Did you use the term ‘Mixologist’ on purpose? That term needs to be banned from the lexicon.”
“Really?” I wondered. So, I asked him why. This is what he said:
Rick: “I remember the first time I heard the term. It was in 1987 or so and I was watching Jeopardy and the guy was doing pretty well. They take a break, Alex asks what they do, and he says "Mixologist." Then he says "Well, I'm a bartender, that's just a better name.
“I think ,now, anyone who knows the two terms sees the differentiation and if you call yourself one, you're definitely going to see the differentiation, but it's still seems like it's a silk purse out of a sow's ear. Bartenders were coming up with new and unique drinks a long time before the term, but they still called themselves ‘bartender.’ It comes across to me as a rather elitist term. Maybe it helps out there in the general public, that's not for me to say, but if everyone stopped using it, no one would miss it. The folks I know at places like Absinthe and Bourbon and Branch who are world renowned for coming up with new and interesting drinks still call themselves bartenders, they're just *really good* ones.”
I thought about that for a minute, and this was my reply to him:
TLM: “I use the term ‘Mixologist’ because I'm not a Bartender, but I do create drinks, not because I think a Mixologist is better than a Bartender. I don't have a lot of the speed skills and recipes readily available the way a working bartender may have... I mean, they make drinks all day / night long!
“However, I have enough of an understanding, and yes, I will say a certain expertise, in creating a balanced cocktail. I mess around with new combinations all the time. But, I do it at home. (Alcoholics Anonymous, here I come). I get paid for it from time to time, when someone hires me to do a cocktail presentation or create a themed drink for an event, but bartenders get paid on a regular basis for their drinks. “I think all bartenders are Mixologists (at least the ones who are passionate about it and create their own recipes from time to time). But not all Mixologists are Bartenders... ya know what I mean?”
I have worked in just about every aspect of restaurants and bars on-and-off since I was 15. Busgirl, cashier, hostess, server, cocktail waitress, cater waiter and event bartender are all on my resume. I have also been an event planner and my last “real job” before becoming a freelance journalist with a passion for spirits was as a restaurant publicist. I respect a skilled bartender. I used to promote them. I interview them regularly. I also don’t feel I’m any less of a Mixologist just because I don’t clock in at a bar four nights a week.
Rick and I decided to open this discussion up to our buddies in the drinking / blogging world. How do you all feel about Mixologist versus Bartender. And, how do you define yourselves?