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The Fort Worth Weekly Stir competition has been going on once a month for about six months now, and naturally, because I’m the guy who writes the cocktail blog I’ve been called in a few times to be a judge. It’s been cool to see bartenders of all skill levels and backgrounds approach these events with enthusiasm. Everyone always shows up well prepared and it’s obvious that they’ve spent time thinking about what they want to present instead of just throwing a drink recipe together last minute. It’s becoming increasingly more apparent to me though that for all the enthusiasm that surrounds the cocktail culture in our city, there’s not a common understanding of the technique, logic, and ratios that are the cornerstone of a properly made cocktail.

I’m not saying that you can’t find a well-made drink in Fort Worth. In fact, I’m happy that I can go to a number of establishments, order a cocktail, and the bartender not only knows exactly what I’m talking about, but will make it happily. Even five years ago, ordering something as simple as a Moscow Mule would send bartenders running to the back of the restaurant to Google the recipe on their phone only to return and inform me that they didn’t have the ingredients to make it. As a bartending community, we’ve come a long way towards becoming familiar with classic recipes, but I’m not sure that a lot of bartenders fully grasp how the ingredients in those classic recipes work together to make it a truly great drink.

I know that for the first few years that I was making cocktails professionally, I struggled with a lot of the same things that I’ve pointed out. I sometimes look back at old recipes that I’ve created and say to myself, “What the hell was I thinking?” It probably took me about two years of making cocktails every night before I gained enough perspective to move out of my “knowing enough to be dangerous” phase and began to understand how all of the pieces of the puzzle fit together. It has taken me spending a lot of hours behind the bar, reading as many books on the subject as I could get my hands on, and most importantly relying on the feedback and knowledge of the bartending community that I was involved in to get me to a place where I now have solid grasp on how to both make and create drinks.

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I know that seems like a lot, but at the time I was cutting my teeth in the craft cocktail world there were only a few of us bartenders locally that were really trying to move in this direction. At the time, the amount of reliable information on how to get better at our craft was small and we had to spend a lot of time wading through the piles of misinformation that had built up for decades to find the few legitimate nuggets of information that we could use. The process of educating yourself as a professional bartender has become a lot more streamlined in the last few years, though. By streamlined, I mean that I’m currently staring at a single book on my shelf, “The Bar Book,” by Jeffrey Morgenthaler, that contains all of the information in 281 pages that I spent years tracking down and learning. By the way, if reading a 281-page book on bartending technique seems a little excessive, rest assured that there are lots of pictures in this book.

I think it’s time that Fort Worth bartenders who are interested in gaining a better understanding of spirits, cocktails, history, wine, and beer start meeting regularly for the sake of gaining knowledge and furthering our professional development. I’m thinking that if we could get 20 or 30 of us together in the same room at the same time once a month, we could attract people to speak about different aspects of the products, techniques, and problems that we deal with on a daily basis and collectively use that information to up our game. I’m not talking about forming a guild or a union, but rather an email list and Facebook group that we could use to coordinate a time and place for people who are experts in different fields of the service industry to meet with Fort Worth bartenders and share their knowledge. I truly feel that with a little more education the Fort Worth cocktail scene can make big leaps in a short amount of time. If you’re interested in attending, feel free to email me at fortworthdrinks@gmail.com.

For the sake of giving props where props are due, David Jennings of Bird Café and Thompson’s Book Store was the winner of this month’s Stir event. His drink was comprised of Bulldog Gin (thanks to Bulldog for sponsoring the event), thyme, black pepper-infused simple syrup, lemon, Velvet Falernum, and soda water. It was tasty, balanced, logical, and about as refreshing as you can get. Congratulations David. I look forward to seeing the work you do in the future.

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