Cocktails and the art of mixology

Rachel Farrell

Like doughnuts and ramen, creative cocktails are a trend that Dubliners expected to come and go. Gone are the days of the humble mojito and strawberry daiquiri- the cocktail industry in Ireland is bigger than ever before.

Defined as ‘the art of mixing cocktail drink recipes’, mixology is both a hobby and a career. Bartenders all over Ireland are trying their hand at it to further their careers, but colleges in Dublin are popping up to teach classes in cocktail making.

One of those is the Dublin Bar Academy. With courses for both amateur enthusiasts and hopeful professionals, classes are taught by drink experts as well as the “best cocktail shakers in the business”.

Ali Hayes was just 16 when she fell into the bartender business. Four years and an award later, she now shakes cocktails at Opium- one of Dublin’s most popular nightclubs.

“I first started bartending in the Aviva stadium when I was 16. Back then I hardly knew what alcohol was at this point. It didn’t matter because legally I couldn’t sell a customer a drink. I could only make them and pass them to a cashier over [the age of] 18 who then sold it. They told me what to make and I made it,” she explained.

After a stint in a nightclub and missing out on a bar management course on the CAO by 10 points, Ali decided to turn to a more serious bar environment.

“I got a job in TGI Fridays and that’s where the mixology side really took off. We had an intense training programme that’s well known amongst other bartenders. We learned to free pour, had to memorise over 140 cocktails.

“I learned so much there and started practising and reading about it outside of work. I decide to enter some competitions and placed second in the TGI Fridays bar championship Ireland.”

Now, Ali works her dream job at Opium, home to six bars and a restaurant- but it’s not easy. From long shifts to scrubbing floors, the job comes with more than a cocktail shaker and garnishes.

“We infuse our own alcohol in my bar. House cocktails include pineapple rum, saffron gin and hibiscus and lemongrass tequila. We have a lot of freedom to experiment with things- for example, we make our own limoncello and we have a rotating cocktail of the month on our menu so bartenders have a chance to get their own creation out there.

“Don’t get me wrong, it’s tough. You’re serving so many people you’re constantly moving and sweating running around the bar. On your hands and knees scrubbing a filthy bar after a Saturday night shift. But I wouldn’t change any of it for anything. It started as a hobby and became an obsession.”

For cocktail expert Stephanie Shen, creating interesting cocktails is an “experience” in itself. “We design drinks so that they look pretty, so they are visually stimulating. We aim to engage as many of the senses as possible, touch, taste, smell, sight. This makes cocktails stand out from other drinks, pints, shots etc, which are one dimensional.”

A bar manager at Chelsea Drugstore in Dublin, Stephanie also got into cocktails when she left college.

“I found that learning about cocktails satisfied me intellectually as there were always new things to learn, and creatively as you can play around so much with flavours and ingredients. I love meeting new people, there are so many different kinds of people you can meet working in a bar.”

There’s never been a better time to become a cocktail expert or a ‘mixologist’. This year, the Dublin pub market is set to grow even more. Sales in Irish bars increased by 5.5 per cent in 2017, according to the Licensed Vintners Association.

Meanwhile, drink exports in Ireland increased by 8 per cent, as revealed by the Alcohol Beverage Foundation of Ireland (ABFI) last month.

“Ireland’s drinks industry is continuing to increase its exports as a result of innovation, more choice, high quality and a focus on building strong brands that resonate with consumers in export markets. We are on the right track to continue this growth,” explained director of the ABFI, Patricia Callan.

“A few years ago, there were just four whiskey distilleries and there are now eighteen, with a further sixteen in planning. Additionally, there are now over 100 craft beer brands in the country.”

While the money and booming industry might appeal some, for others it’s the love of what they do- like Ali and Stephanie.

“I love bartending because it’s about creativity and making something for someone that they genuinely love at first taste. It’s the same reason I love cooking, I love mixing and making flavours. It’s my favourite thing to do. It’s also about the experience, at the end of the day people want to come out to a bar and have a good time,” Ali said.

“I recently went to a masterclass with arguably one of the best bartenders in the world, Martin Hudak. He works in the best bar in the world as of 2017, the American bar at the Savoy in London. Meeting him face to face and hearing what he had to say was an amazing experience.

“He said to us, ‘as bartenders it’s our job to turn moments into memories’. Give someone an experience they will never forget. I’ll continue to try and do that as much as I can.”

Rachel Farrell

Image Credit: Zero