Interview with Warren Bobrow: The Cocktail Whisperer
Who is Warren Bobrow: Warren Bobrow is a brand ambassador for Stroh Rum, bestselling author on Amazon, Tales of the Cocktail Nominated Writer, and one American's biggest proponent of what he calls "indie spirits"--which he describes as focusing his career on showing how the little guys make the biggest splashes in flavor.
1) How did you start writing about cocktails?
I was writing about food and wine and I found it really difficult. Even though I’m a train chef, and even though I know a great deal about wine, the world of food writing and the world of wine writing are very insular worlds. They don’t take to newcomers easily. The first magazine I got published in, Saveur Magazine and I wrote about a Tuna Melt I had in Charleston South Carolina, a sandwich. But still it got me in Saveur magazine.
And that changed my career. It literally changed my career.
But where that went was, people were less likely to give me chances. Here I was first thing out of the gate I was in Saveur Magazine rather than coming out from the blogosphere. So for two years after that I blogged, and I never liked the idea of blogging. I really don’t like the idea of the word blogging. I think it’s trite and I think I’m more well known as a columnist and a blogger. But being a blogger got me a book contract. My publisher, the executive editor, found me because of my blog cocktail whisperer.com. You can’t make this up.
I was fascinated by mixology because of my time spent as a chef and I knew that I could do as well or better than anyone on the marketplace because I was a trained saucier. Because I understand food. Because I traveled the world. Because I’ve eaten great stuff and not so great stuff. Taking that knowledge, putting it into work my head made think:
Everyone loves to drink because they love to get intoxicated. That’s just the bottom line. They don’t drink just for pure flavor. They drink to get buzzed.
I wanted to make drinks that get people buzzed and taste great too.
I didn’t realize I had a talent until the major bartending figures in the world started paying attention to me. So I realized I had a talent and I started working and getting paid. Which I didn’t for a long time. I worked for free for a long time. Which is something that people want you to do when you’re a writing. They want you to work for free.
But my electric company doesn’t work for free and my mortgage company doesn’t work for free, so I don’t work for free anymore.
2) What do you drink when you’re by yourself that you find that other people that are not in the industry don’t know about yet?
I drink bitters and soda water. I love bitters and soda water. And I’m saying like Angostura. Angostura was originally invented in the 1830’s to cure Simon Bolivars troop’s stomach aches. They were down there in Venezuela.
They had dysentery. They were going to die. They weren’t fighting, they weren’t killing. They were squatting.
And that wasn't a good situation. An army on its feet was a much better army than an army that’s sitting.
So Dr. Benjamin Siegert an enterprising young gentleman, came down to Venezuela and he had his magical bitters in his hand. And these magical bitters were called Angostura bitters. They introduced these bitters to the soldiers and they mixed them with cool water. Within one or two hours of drinking this they were not squatting any more. They were standing. Then they could go out and fulfill their tasks of soldier.
Angostura is powerful stuff. I don’t use just for mixing cocktails. I use it for healing my gut. I guess it’s the jewish guys problem, I always have problems with my stomach.
Really, at the end of the day, Angostura with a cup of seltzer water is the best soda you can drink.
Tastes like nothing you ever had before.
It’s refreshing, it gives you great breath, it heals your stomach. It’s the best soda. Less expensive than soda.
3) Can you tell us a little bit about your relationship with Tales of the Cocktail?
Tales of the Cocktail is a yearly gathering of the tribes—like the rainbow festival for the hippies. This is a cocktail convention for all of us who are in the industry. For bartenders, for mixologists, for liquor companies, for restaurants and we all fly down to New Orleans for five days. It’s a lot of fun. I think it’s like summer camp and at the end of the event I usually cry.
But now I’m starting to travel a lot. I’m seeing people at more of a global basis than the New York Metro. About a month ago I was down in Miami for a rumfest and the rum that I’m brand ambassador for a rum called Stroh. And Storh is an Austrian rum and we won the gold medal of Rum XP for the best spiced rum. So I get to travel a lot more and it’s not as bad.
But New Orleans is the gathering of all things bartending and it’s not to late to make your reservations. It’s not too expensive to stay there. The tickets for the events are not inexpensive, but where else do you get to see people, interact with and taste drinks from creative bartending, unless you have unlimited access to airline tickets, train tickets, to visit bars, which most people are never going to do.
You can go down to New Orleans during and really enjoy yourself like I’m doing.
4a) What is your biggest pet peeve in the bartending world today? I know you've mentioned somethings about using simple syrups instead of using shrubs?
I like simple syrup. Don’t get me wrong, I love simple syrup. I think there’s room for every bar with any ingredient.
4b) You also mentioned using Rose’s lime juice instead of sour mix…?
It’s sloppy. It’s just sloppy. It doesn’t show that you care. I think the ingredients are the most important thing.
5) Where do you think everything (in the cocktail world) is going?
Ginger and apples. Apples are so hot. I mean you see cider, cider, cider, cider all over the television.
So look to the media, and see what they’re advertising and see where things are going. It doesn’t have to be necessarily sparkling apple cider in a bottle, because that’s everywhere. But also don’t be afraid of looking towards calvados or apple ice wines or all different types of amalgamations. With ginger we can make it into ginger ale, or ginger beer, or make it really spicy by keeping it concentrated.
6) What is your favorite Hangover Cure?
My absolute favorite (hangover cure) is Underberg. Underberg is magic. I always bring it down to Tales of the Cocktail with me. As much as I say I’m not going to sick this year… Well, I’ll see great rye, I’ll see great gin, maybe there’s some sherry over, there’s a tiki bar going and suddenly the room is messing with my head.
What Underberg does is make you feel right is right.
7) Do you have any advice for our students?
When I was in culinary school, and was ready for graduation they told me that there were two jobs that they were filling: Cruise ships and prisons.
You can get a job at a cruise ship like that. You can get a job in a prison like that because they can’t fill those jobs.
There are a lot of jobs that are just for shot and beer bartenders. That’s ok. That’s where a lot of people are making their money. Where those places succeed, is they succeed in numbers. Pure numbers. They don’t have time to be mixologists—they’re straight bartenders. They make a living, it’s a great job.
When you start growing up in the business and getting more creative then you branch out to higher level of property, places where you get paid benefits and allow you to be creative. Those places are few and far between, but with talent the skies the limit.
As I said there’s nothing wrong with getting a job as a bar back. There is nothing wrong with going in there and knocking on the door and asking, "I want to be a bartender, but I really don’t have a lot of experience. Are you hiring for a bar back slot? Do you have any bar back slots?"
Now, there is two answers they can say:
The first answer is no. Ok, go some place else.
The second answer is yes. And you’re in. And the in is worth more than anything else in the world.
I’m sure you know what’s going on in Philadelphia. I’m sure you know who’s doing what. There’s fabulous places to drink and they all need people who are not afraid to bar back.
It’s not easy lifting buckets of ice, fifty pounds a piece. It’s not easy being still the bar when everyone else is going home then having to do the floors. It’s not easy.
Listen to Warren Bobrow at Aqua Vitae Institute as he talks about Shrubs and other cocktail ingredients!
Here are some of Warren Bobrows books on Amazon.
Here is Warren Bobrow's Blog: The Cocktail Whisperer
Related: Learn to be a bartender at Bartending School