About Dina Kurachenko

A Bartending Paradox, or why Roots are so important for Ukrainian bar culture

A Bartending Paradox, or why Roots are so important for Ukrainian bar culture

Two hundred and thirteen years ago an editor of the American newspaper The Balance and Columbian Repository Harry Croswell gave a very first definition of a “cock-tail”. That small fact, as is widely considered now, heralded the birth of the cocktail. An era of the Cocktail phenomenon began which promised a new human pleasure, a new craft and even a new way to express human creativity.   

It is worth mentioning that historically, geographically and even culturally, the birthplace of the Cocktail is located practically in another dimension if viewed from the place where the International Barometer Show is happening, I mean Kyiv, Ukraine.

Since 1806 cocktails have been developed and perfected. This evolution had been fueled from the start and onwards mostly by Americans but later Western Europeans and even the Japanese also got involved. However, that process had few connections if any with the Ukrainian culture. In fact, we cannot find Kyiv in the I.B.F. List of traps; neither there exist classic honey-and-pepper-gorilka cocktails, or whatever.

Frankly speaking, a culture of the American Cocktail was introduced here in the Soviet realms only by “the men of the sixties” — a Soviet aspirational class of those times that was seeking new civilized pleasures. But (don’t miss that nuance!), it was the time of the forthcoming Cocktail Decadence – the darkest times in the whole cocktail history. So, perhaps, the American Cocktail was introduced to our society not at its peak.

Then came the demise of the USSR – those dark times of the 1990s with the process of building the worst possible type of capitalist economy based on fraud and deception. And the same dark times came for cocktails which were transformed into sickly sweet neon-colored highballs made of low-quality alcohol, cheep industrial juices or artificial sodas (sometimes even with a kick not only from alcohol but also from a batt, literally. If you don’t understand what I am writing about, please look up some YouTube videos about “Tequila Boom”).

So, when those dark times were gone and the Modern Cocktail Boom arrived, we, Ukrainians, had quite a mess in our heads concerning cocktails. And that was true of barmen as well as their guests. But times have changed.

I am glad to admit that this country has all the potential to become a new cocktail destination on a map of Europe. Abundant land, passionate, hardworking and hospitable people on a par with relatively low prices form a combination that has to work. But we should add another ingredient in the mix — Roots. We should connect our new fast-growing bar culture with all those incredible things that the cocktail has experienced for the last two centuries.

The Ukrainian bar culture benefits from the Modern Cocktail Boom quite well. Thanks to the Cocktail Rennaissance, a cocktail now is considered again as a genuine pleasure, as something that is worth spending money, as something interesting to invest our time, money, health in it. The occupation of a barman is considered as a prospective job with plenty of career opportunities. A bar has become a profitable business to invest in. Big and small alcohol companies (even producers of domestic gorilkas) cannot imagine their sales without promoting brand cocktails. The list of benefits can be much longer.   

We should also take into consideration that the Ukrainian economy has been growing for the last 14 quarters consequently and, as the things often go, the first industry, which benefits from this growth is HoReCa (including so popular craft bars). The industry now is creating a lot of new jobs constantly absorbing a lot of young people. That lowers the entrance level of the profession and, in fact, if you are hospitable enough and able to move smoothly you can enter the industry and be named as a barman and even a mixologist.

However, young bartenders should keep in mind, that in contrast to the low entry level, there are a lot of things to learn and know to climb successfully a professional ladder. That is what I call the Bartending Paradox. You are expected to be not only a mixologist but also a manager, a storyteller, a psychologist, a physician, an eco-activist and so on and so forth. And of course, you should be a proactive, creative, self-organized erudite. The profession of a barman has really become many-faceted.

To my astonishment, I can see that there is a deep understanding of such a situation among a new generation of Ukrainian bartenders – among young people who have been absorbed by the industry during the last 4 or 5 years. We all have been witnessing a huge demand for different educational incentives – courses, workshops and International Barometer Shows, of course, with their strong accent on education.

And that is, in fact, the key factor of our common success.  We instinctively understand the importance of Roots, the importance of education in this seemingly simple industry. And that sounds great!

This understanding of the importance of Roots is essential, even pivotal, for the development of the industry, for moving in the right direction. We should realize that the American Cocktail is a product of a different country, and we have to learn a lot not only from a cocktail history but also from the whole American culture. In addition, we should realize that we all are in a huge need of systematic and multi-disciplinary bartenders education. We should also acknowledge that there is no creativity without a versatile background and there are no innovations without a deep understanding of how the world teaks. You know, there are no fruits without roots.

So, please welcome this year’s International Barometer Show topic – Roots – and enjoy this new stage of our development. We have done our best to supply as much valuable information as possible through our new Barometer. We are ready to connect the Ukrainian bar society with the American cocktail culture.  We are ready to boost your erudition with plenty of knowledge about the world around us. And we feel enthusiastic to discuss new innovative ideas on how we can improve pros and mitigate cons of the modern bar life here and now.

David Wondrich: “A mixologist knows all the drinks. A bartender knows all the dirty jokes”

David Wondrich: “A mixologist knows all the drinks. A bartender knows all the dirty jokes”

If you’ve read a quality article or a book on cocktails history, chances are it was David Wondrich’s writing. The “Imbibe!” author, Esquire drinks correspondent and bar historian has been documenting American drinks industry for over two decades, thus becoming the most popular and the most trusted voice in the sphere. Mr Wondrich has won multiple Spirited Awards and co-founded the bartender training programme Beverage Alcohol Resource, he has also been named one of the the most influential people in bar world by the Drinks International rating. He was generous enough with his time to speak to Barometer about the 2005 cocktail revolution in the United States, the experience Ukrainian bar culture can use and three books every aspiring bartender should read. 

– What does it feel like – to be the most trusted voice in modern bar writing? Have you changed anything in your approach over the years? 

– Yikes! If that’s true, it’s quite humbling. For me, though, I’ve always done exactly the same thing I do now: try to find as many facts as I can about any particular topic, with special attention to primary sources (that is, things written back at the time), try to put them in context, and try to tell a story that fits the facts as I understand them. I’ve been doing that for 20 years now, and I haven’t really changed my approach. 

– Can you pinpoint the exact moment when you realized what responsibility your job entails? One could say that over the years you’ve not only grown the fan following, you’ve made the cocktails writing a big thing.

– When I first started, I didn’t think anyone was reading my stuff, and I might have made up one or two historical drinks. But I stopped doing that by 2002, when I realized that people were not only reading what I was writing, but were taking it seriously. I guess that was really when things changed; when I realized that I better act responsibly. 

– You’ve been recently named number three in the most influential people of the bar world rating by the Drinks International. What’s your take on lists like that? What do you think defines influence in the modern drinks industry?

– I don’t believe that such lists are in any way definitive, but they’re a pretty good indicator of who people have heard of; of who is traveling and meeting people and offering them something they find useful. I do a lot of traveling and a lot of lecturing, and write a great deal, so that gives me a strong leg up in these things. In this industry, I don’t think there’s any substitute for going out and meeting people. Writing, video or press coverage alone won’t do it. 

  • Cocktail Revolution

– You’ve covered the American drinks industry over the decades and basically there’s two different worlds – before and after 2005 and the whole cocktail revolution. What would you say is the main difference between these two time periods, culture wise? We have a particular interest in this period because we’re going through seismic changes in the culture here in Ukraine right now. 

– Back in 2005, the world of people who took both mixing cocktails and bartending seriously was quite small. There were a lot of career bartenders, of course, but few of them bothered much with the details of drink mixing or knew all that much about spirits. The few that did were either elder statesmen (and stateswomen), or the handful of young insurgents who were swimming against the current, and most of these people’s concerns were more with recovering the traditions, techniques and ingredients that had been lost than with moving the art forward into new territory.  Now, young mixologically-inclined bartenders are coming of age in a culture of abundance: almost everything that was lost has been recovered, and they can take for granted things that were rare or non-existent back then. For many, that means that much of their energy is directed toward novelty and innovation, while the now-older bartenders are directing their energy toward hospitality. 

– You obviously have quite a career and quite an experience. How do you learn to differentiate between short-term trends and the things that really do change the industry?

– There’s no rule. As you get older and more experienced in any field, your perception of time changes. Some things move very fast: trends, in particular, come and go like the seasons; you learn not to pay too much attention to them, unless they stick around for a good long while. When you’re younger, those trends seem to last a lot longer, because time is moving much more slowly for you. That’s how I see it, anyway.  

– What would you say is the most important event in the recent history of drinks?

– That’s a tough one. Maybe the opening of Pegu Club in New York in 2005, which demonstrated that you could do uncompromising craft cocktails at high volume.

  • The difference between a mixologist and a bartender

– You have this anecdote about the dream to be able to get a good cocktail any city in the US you come to. It’s a notion that seemed quite funny in the late 90s but is very much true these days. Would you say the country has finally got there? Can you get a good cocktail everywhere in the States now? 

– Yes. In any city in America you go to there is a now bar where you can get a proper Manhattan. There is even such a bar in a great many smaller towns. That is real progress.  

– Ukraine’s cocktail culture is gaining momentum but it’s mostly the big cities that lead the drinks revolution. Taking into consideration your experience, what would you say was instrumental in exposing the whole country to the cocktail boom? Can we use any American experience to build it up here in Ukraine? 

– The revolution worked in the United States because young bartenders went to the cities to work and learn and then went home to open bars, and when they did they found out that everybody likes a good cocktail if you can get them to try one. To do that requires charm and patience. From the Ukrainians I know, charm and patience are not a problem there.

 – You also have this great bit about the difference between a bartender and a mixologist. What would you say discerns the two terms?   

– A mixologist knows all the drinks and all the ingredients. A bartender knows all the dirty jokes and how to pour a pint of beer. It is possible to know all those things. 

  • Going forward (and back again)

– What’s the next big thing for the drinks industry? Is that the modern technology being implemented? Is that the baijiu culture or whatever making strides in the Western market?

– This I cannot say. One thing I’ve learned over the years is that I cannot predict the future. I don’t even try anymore. We’ll see, won’t we, whether we like it or not. 

– The low abv and non-alcoholic trends – are they here to stay and do they have any historical roots? It seems that every other major alcoholic brand has already launched either non-alcoholic beverage or a low-abv version of the classic drink. Where do you see this trend going?

– There are strong historical roots – look into, for instance, the history of the soda fountain. Will this last? I don’t know. In tough times like these people tend to drink alcohol. So I don’t think it will be dominant. At least I hope it won’t. 

– Can you recommend a couple of books or even whole roadmap on the drinks history that make for an essential reading for every young bartender? (We’re positive that our readers have already read your books.)

– Here are three of my favorites that you won’t find on every list: “Kentucky Bourbon” by Henry Crowgey is a wonderfully detailed history of the rise of bourbon. “Le buveur du XIXe siècle” by Didier Nourrisson is a wonderful piece of social history. “Fix the Pumps” by Darcy O’Neil – a great history and examination of the soda fountain. 

Whisky is an integral part of my life

Whisky is an integral part of my life

Interviewer: You are Global Scotch whisky Ambassador for the Singleton and now scotch is a very important part of your life. Do you remember trying whisky for the first time and how was it?

Ervin Trykowski: Yeah, it’s something that in Scotland is always around you. You can find it on occasions, at anniversaries, at birthdays, and you always remember the first time you smelled it … For me it was enormous and peaty and smoky. I can always remember the first time I smelled certain whiskies.

The first time I really remember cracking it, enjoying was when I started to work at bars. It was sweet and honey and citrus, not too challenging and that was the moment actually I really liked it.

It’s always around you. Scotch has amazing power to bring you back to somewhere just as soon as you smell it and it does for us being from Scotland. It brings you back quite a while.

I: You became a global brand ambassador in relatively young age. What brought you there? Was it your goal or was it just some lucky circumstances?
ET: Well, I worked behind the bar from the age of 17 and I worked for some smaller companies and I knew I always wanted to travel the world to talk about Scottish whisky. It’s a good job to do when you are relatively young. It’s quite a lot of travel. I did want to travel and it was definitely my goal. Doing it for the world biggest scotch company wasn’t a plan, it was quite lucky circumstance. It’s a massive honor to travel around the world and share national drink with people in different countries.

I: Maybe it’s kind of silly question but still — what does a global ambassador do? What are your usual every day duties?
ET: It’s a really hard question to answer. Well, it’s constantly like booking holidays. You’re talking with markets, you’re planning activities, you are making sure that when you’re at the market you do as much as you possibly can get in front of many people. And making sure it’s a right type activity for what you want to do.
It’s also talking to bartenders and hosting lunches and dinners and all different types. We do a lot of internal work like talking to people from Diageo about how they sell scotch as well as smth you don’t really talk about very often …something glamorous like coming to Barometer and talking on the main stage stuff. There is no really a normal day at this job, it can be very different. It’s a particularly strange experience, talking in very strange environment, it’s great. It just shows where scotch ends up. Scotch from a country with 5.5 million people is currently available in over 180 countries. It’s amazing. We’re very a small country with this massive global export and it’s amazing how every single country acts with it completely differently. So you truly find yourself in a very funny experience.

I: You have a quite impressive background as a bartender and mixologist. Can you tell your personal top three cocktails?
ET: Well, just three? Actually, I’ve pretty much to say (laughing)


I: Ok, top one?
ET: Highball. Both of my top two are there exactly for the same reason as High Ball and Old Fashioned. They both have this incredible ability to bridge the gap between experienced whisky drinker and complete amateur. But they show off whisky in a very similar way.
Highball makes scotch approachable. It makes scotch available and it makes scotch accessible to people because you drop it not intensive in alcohol, you’re revealing more flavors underneath. It’s cool because the pure is loved as well. Because it’s still seen as being an expression of a cocktail that shows off a single malt in a pure form. So you can serve a Highball to anyone, non–scotch drinkers or hard-scotch drinkers will enjoy it. 

The Old Fashioned does exactly the same. It takes the ages off the whisky, it makes it accessible, also for that home-drinker is so simple to make it. There are three ingredients. Anyone can do it.
The biggest compliment you can get as a bartender is when one of your guests comes back and says “I made that drink you’ve made me at home for my friends”. It’s the biggest compliment. It’s so easy explained over bar that why won’t people make it at home? And that’s the best thing for me.
You can take your Scottish whisky; you can take some bitters and sweetening agents and you can make an unlimited number of different expressions of the cocktail. As bartenders we want to have more people drinking cocktails.
So Highball, Old Fashioned and Pina Colada. Cocktails are supposed to be fun. Pina Colada is fun (laughing). I make up Pina Colada with Talisker, call it Buckthorn Coladas.
Cocktails are supposed to be fun.

I: Do you remember your first signature cocktail?
ET: Yes, I remember the first cocktail I’ve ever done at the cocktail competition. It was the World Class. I don’t think it was called a World Class yet. I made it to the Northern Final in the North of England and Jim’s Beverages actually have come to the competitions and judged them. Now they’re way too busy to judge cocktail competitions. 

It was Talisker, gingerbread and hazelnut, and cracked black peppers on top and it was not fashioned basically. It was served with smoked fish from Scotland called Arbroath Smokie — it’s very common fish in central Scotland. Yeah, that was the first cocktail I made at the competitions. I remember it was very sweet.


I: Did you win with this cocktail?

ET: No.  I think I came the 3rd in the Northern Final. But it’s the 1st drink I remember to make at a cocktail competition.


I: What’s the funniest or the strangest ingredient you’ve used in your cocktail?

ET: Judging world class, you see some pretty strange things, for example, smoked salmon in a cocktail shaker. In this pursuit of bartenders using cool flavors and sustainable ingredients you see some pretty insane stuff. 

There were drinks with oyster shells which I think is amazing but very odd.

Actually, I want people to be able to recreate what I do so…

Well, ok, there is a bar in London called Crucible which is owned by my best friend Stewart and we spent an afternoon making a drink that was wild. 

We took Singleton 18 and put fresh pineapple, redistilled which essentially took all of the itching characteristics of the whisky so all vanilla, all your rich dark flavors mixed with pineapple and in the end, you have the redistilled pineapple infused 18-year old whisky. We took the slushy stuff left over and made ice-cream so we had 18-old ice-cream.

We distilled part into Mary Pickford, it was half way between Mary Pickford and Scotch Martini, and we garnished the 18-years old ice-cream. It’s absolutely dynamites. It’s a really tasty drink. You could make it in market but it’s not so easy. Next time I come to Kyiv, I’ll bring it. It’s absolutely delicious. Insane but delicious.


I: Let’s have a question about Barometer. Sure, you’ve been there. First of all, what do you think about it? And how often do you attend such events? Do you think they are useful and for what: for inspiration, for work, for grabbing some tips from others?

ET: The 1st thing that hit me is the size of it. It’s enormously huge. It was amazing, like, people just go, turn up.

I gave a talk at the 2nd biggest room and it was just like 400 people in the room, 200 people in seats and people standing up in the back. And I like “This is insane, it’s enormous, talking to so many people.” There are only 2 of them at this scale. It’s great. It’s good for us to get to know what else is on the market because we usually see only our stuff 

My favorite part about Barometer is the actual bars, you actually can see what the top bars in the world are doing with their products. I think it’s very clever and it’s what we should learn from.


I: Do you often go to such events?

ET: Yeah, in Europe, sometimes in Asia, some whiskey-focused as well: for bartenders, by bartenders. Probably, 5 or 6 times a year.


I: What about work/life balance? Do you care about it? How do you keep it? If it’s possible to keep it with your work.

ET: Yeah, I’m very lucky to have support from my fiancée. We’ve just bought a new house so it makes your time home way more special. I’ve done 2 years when I travelled 50-60 % of the year which is heavy. Then I had a break of 6 month when we had our 1st child, it was good to recharge as well.

And then the plan is to come back but I don’t think I’ll travel as much again as this balance of work and life has shifted towards life and it’s great.

Well, there is no reason why you can’t do this, work and life at the same time.  You can actually travel 360 days a year if you want it but I don’t. So you find yourself prioritizing certain markets, prioritizing certain events like Barometer.

If you travel 360 days year, at the end you have nothing. And companies are realizing it as well that you are not a machine.

I remember 5 years ago people did this job for 2 years and then they went off, they had another one. We’re seeing more people now doing this longer which is good. 


I: Where do you find you inspiration? Maybe who is your inspiration or what is your inspiration?

ET: For drinks, when you talk about whisky inspiration, you’ve got a prepackaged product that has a buck of flavors and of stories of people and places and beautiful countries. When you make a drink, you want to take someone to that place. It’s about creating experience.

And there are so many good public speakers, people I enjoy working with and who formed my talking style.


I: I mean, for example, you definitely need some source of inspiration to create something new crazy and interesting.

ET: Yeah, when you get to travel around the world’s best bars, it’s very easy to be inspired by what these guys do, to make a tiny version of something, maybe a little slightly less advanced one of what people can get on board with and enjoy.

And it goes back to the old-fashioned idea that we want people — and I hope we do inspire them — to do something similar. All these wonderful bars and all these amazing people are experiencing a list of different cultures.


I: As you travel a lot, what tips do you bring from everywhere, what exactly did you bring to your own work from there?

ET: It’s something that a bartender will say or something that a bartender will do and you think “It’s f*** cool!” It may be a way he uses a piece of equipment, a way he got his bar set up. Just it’s so hard to give an example because there are so many things! Especially when you are judging World Class.

And it’s so nice when you work with these products, every bartender will give you cocktail ingredients, equipment, its line in cocktail presentation — all of these things inspire us, inspire me. It’s really easy to turn up with something cool when people are constantly feeding you information. 


I: If you could choose, what superhero would you like to be or what superpower would you like to have?

ET: I don’t know, something to do with going through time.

I: Back or forward?

ET: Forward. So many good ones to pick up from, I don’t want to get wrong. I can either be really fast so I can stop missing flights. I’d like to be speedy. And maybe really fast behind the bar. It would be very good! I’d be a superman, with a suit.