This article written by Naren Young was published in our recent print edition Mixology 04/2008 (available since 07.08.08).
Naren Young is a successful bartender, who has worked all over the world and is currently based in New York. During his stay in Germany as a speaker at the Bols Bar Coaching 2008 he visited several bars in Germany. This is what he thinks about the bars he’s been to:
By Naren Young
Travelling the globe as a bartender is certainly one of the great jobs of the world. Perhaps most interesting, however, is seeing the different styles of bars and bartenders in various cities and countries. Cocktails, and indeed particular drinks, are made in a myriad of different ways, and this is where recipes can get confusing.
On a recent trip to Germany for the Bols Bar Coaching seminars, I was extremely impressed by the quality of bars and bartending, especially in Berlin, where I spent most of the time. I would have loved to have seen more bars in each of the other cities – Hamburg, Frankfurt, and Stuttgart – but we were on a tight schedule.
I will say from the outset that Germany has some of the most passionate and technically proficient bartenders – coupled with very intelligently designed bars – that I’ve seen anywhere in the world. Many of you were quite surprised when I mentioned this. Either you’re being too modest or you don’t understand how far ahead you are.
Due respect is paid to the world’s classic cocktails, most of which are made correctly (save for the grenadine in a French 75, which appeared to be the norm, probably thanks to Mr. Schumann’s recipe). But it was nice to see the likes of the Scofflaw, Monkey Gland, Seelbach und Pegu Club being listed on several menus. You guys could certainly teach the Yanks a thing or two about the proper recipe and technique of forgotten classics.
Let’s start with ice. As we know ice is the most important ingredient in any cocktail that uses it yet so many bars I come across have such poor quality ice. Germany is the first place I’ve been that has so many bars using good ice: hard, large cubes that are double frozen! And it certainly showed in the quality of drinks.
It’s also nice to see not just beautiful glassware but also appropriate in size. Martinis served in proper sized glasses. Too many bartenders forget – well they do in America – that bigger is never better in a cocktail. Cocktails, especially aperitifs, should be short, sharp and ice cold. I never saw the point in serving Martinis in 12 oz. glasses. All I have is a warm glass of gin (and I’m smashed!) by the end of it. Point to Germany.
Pretty much my only criticism (there had to be one) is that the cocktail menus are far too long. Some seemed like novels and indeed one (at Becketts Kopf) actually was. Long cocktail lists are intimidating and more importantly unnecessary. Most customers are intimidated enough when they get to a bar (especially in this day and age when they are over saturated with choices) so we need to decrease this in every way possible to heighten their experience.
Speaking of wonderful experiences Ollie and Cristina at Becketts Kopf (picture) made some outstanding drinks including a Ramos Fizz and an Alexander made with Corenwijn. Both great hosts and lovely people. I hope to see you both again soon. Mike from Trio brought me here and he also has a great bar that I only saw when closed. No matter, I tried some of the rarest liquor in existence so mate I thank you for this kind gesture. It was a great lesson and great times.
Bar Windhorst had a beautiful array of classics which were made perfectly by Tom Tschoner. A Georgia Julep was especially memorable and the best I’ve tried. A gorgeous back bar stocks a huge selection and this place seemed like a real bartender’s bar. I could sit here for many an hour.
Victoria Bar was a great find and while their Vesper was way off, my Booth’s martini was spot on. Do not miss the roast beef either. It’s amazing!
I found another gracious, passionate and always smiling host in Thomas Pflanz at the gentleman’s club-like Lebensstern, a very civilized series of rooms that has a particular fondness for gin and American whiskey. A New York Sour was just the thing.
Green Door (picture) was jumping when I arrived. Dark and cozy it had tonnes of atmosphere and my Manhattan with Wild Turkey rye and Antica Formula vermouth was perfect.
Tausend is most definitely a scene and everyone needs to lighten up. And the lights need turning down. The crowd relaxed somewhat when
the band came on but it seemed like everyone was waiting for something to happen. But this is definitely a cool spot and the drinks are much better than they probably need to be in this busy lounge environment. I definitely didn’t need those shots of vodka between each cocktail. Cheers Mario!
We also checked out Greenwich (very cool and intimate scene) and while it was early it was one of the few bars we went where they get the lighting right. Very important but regularly ignored. Weekend was the final stop although it all gets a bit hazy there. Great view though.
I must also mention a couple of bars outside Berlin (basically the only two we had time to visit). Le Lion in Hamburg was a wonderful venue that several people had suggested I visit. One was Dale de Groff and of course if he recommends you visit a certain bar, you go, no questions asked.
Joerg Meyer and his deputy Gonçalo de Sousa Monteiro were gracious hosts and made some unbelievable drinks for us. We had a very complex Blood & Sand made with Laphroaig 10 year, a perfect Crusta, a mind blowing Royal Sloe Gin Fizz and they were even nice enough to let me behind their bar, which was awesome.
I made a simple martini of Plymouth gin and vermouth stirred with fresh cucumber and a few drops of celery bitters from The Bitter Truth. Again the bar design was perfect – all the glasses frozen, huge dry ice, excellent products and an inspiring attention to detail. Guys thank you and I look forward to our
next cocktail together.
Biancalani Bar (picture) in Frankfurt was just opening when we arrived but bartender Philip Bischoff made us some wonderful drinks. They have a great selection of rums and tequilas and it’s obvious that former manager Bastian Heuser’s influence and knowledge is still felt. Nice place that I would love to see when it’s jumping.
Thanks to all the bartenders for a great experience in Germany.