Bartender Brian Bothwell started his career in 1994 as a barback at Chevys on the river, and since then, he's hustled behind just about every notable counter on the grid. Earlier this year, he won the St. Patrick's Day Speed and Cocktail competition at The Golden Bear. The prize? Bothwell got to introduce the Shamrock Punk to palates everywhere. The frothy creation includes Jameson whiskey, Chartreuse, pureed avocado, prosecco and grapefruit. “No one ever did avocado before,” Bothwell said. Discriminating drinkers can now find him mixing up vibrant, seasonal concoctions at Hook & Ladder Manufacturing Co. (1630 S Street). Talking over a summery Angie (Plymouth Gin, fresh lemon juice, soda water, red Italian liqueur, with fresh bits of lemon, cucumber and cilantro) and flavorful Plum Foolery (bourbon, lemon juice and a slow-blended puree of homegrown plums, among other tasty ingedients), Bothwell shared some secrets of bartending—including what he's just itching to try next. Hope everyone likes dissolving balls.
What got you into bartending?
I liked the social aspect of what I saw guys behind the bar doing. I also liked how it was technical as far as hand-eye coordination [goes]. I liked that it was physical. The bar I started in was a really busy bar, and those guys hustled back and forth the whole time. They never stopped; their hands never stopped, their bodies never stopped moving. And so, I thought it would be a fun way to make money, where you could still make a game of it. It was almost like a sport.
How long did you bartend before you felt like you knew what you were doing?
I had a guy that was a really seasoned, great bartender, and he would come in and watch me, and I was nervous. He told me one time, “After five years, you can consider yourself a pro.” And I think he's right. I think it takes at least five years to not just gain cocktail knowledge, but to gain confidence and poise and fully be able to multitask and incorporate all your elements of service.
What was hardest about the job early on?
There's two things: The first is that in a busy bar, it never stops, so you're constantly struggling to keep up and not fall behind. Because the bar will not stop. It's the basic things that you learn barbacking, which is the most crucial thing you can ever do. The most crucial thing about being a good bartender is being a good barback, and having a knowledge of how to keep your bar afloat—the stocking, the pacing, the cleanliness.
Are you drawn to fresh ingredients?
Oh, absolutely. Living in California, I don't see how you can't be. I personally love to garden, so it's just right there in my backyard.
Is that commitment to seasonal produce common?
I think that it's more common now than it used to be. For me, especially with the chefs that I worked with and the roommates I have and the other bartenders around town, everyone's really into the farm-to-fork, local, sustainable movement. It's really cool right now.
Are there things you haven’t gotten to do yet that you want to try?
Yes. Just a style of making drinks. With stuff like [gastronomy], you can incorporate really cool liquors and change the molecular make of them. So, instead of something being liquid, you can put it in a gelatinous form. Let's say you take a sip of a cocktail, and there's this little ball on a spoon, and you put the ball in your mouth, and it's actually liquor. When the temperature of your mouth mixes with the ball, it's going to dissolve, and you get this burst of flavors.
I would like to do stuff like that. I would like to explore the possibilities of incorporating fresh fruit that's infused with liquor into ice cubes. For instance, something I've been thinking about is infusing a kumquat with liquor, freezing it and then cutting it into ice cubes. So, as you make your cocktail, that's ice that you would use. [As it] melts, the flavor expands from inside of the ice cubes out. I've wanted to play with that and see where that takes me. I have no idea where it would end, but I just want to see what would happen, what it inspires. It'd be cool if it all works out.
What’s your afterwork cocktail?
I usually like to get really fancy and have a can of Budweiser and a shot of Jameson.
I do like Boulevardier. Depending on what bar I'm at, I will order a Boulevardier with rye whiskey and Aperol. But typically, I just like a beer and a shot.