Plus & Minus

Over the last year or so, I have been thinking a lot about what I did and did not enjoy about bartending.

I actually enjoy talking to strangers.

Medium level acquaintances aka “regulars” can be the tricky ones.

Best example I can think of was a regular couple I found amusing, even if they did drink a little too much, especially the guy.

They’d come in and ask for dealer’s choice vodka cocktails. They always pretty fun to hang out with, despite requesting vodka cocktail after vodka cocktail, and stipulating that I never repeat a cocktail. Hey, I like a challenge as much as the next guy.

Then they got pregnant.

They continued to come in, often with a friend or two.

The wife would not drink, rather grumpily, while the guy continued on his quest to get as plastered as possible on vodka cocktails. Eventually, the wife would retire up to their room, leaving him down there with the friend or friends. Eventually, you could tell, even the friend wanted to go home, but the guy would just plow on. “One more for the road!” after “Just one more!”.

I just wanted to shake him and say, “Dude, wake up! Your wife is mad at you and your friend here wants to go home. Give it up!”

Yep, that’s me, “Mr Spectacles Judgy Guy”.

To an extent, sometimes I see a certain sadism to being a bartender. Some bartenders seem to enjoy and encourage other people’s bad choices. And customers just LOVE that sort of bartender, but the wreckage left behind always bothers me.

Especially, since I was always the one who would end up cleaning up the vomit after Mr Startender took an early powder.

Bartending, Not Drinking

“I mean, there are some people who enjoy bartending and making drinks, and do it without drinking, right?”

It’s funny, the people I work with in Tech are far more puzzled over me retiring from bartending than the bartenders I know.

Anyway, there are different classes of not drinking bartenders.

First, there are bartenders who don’t drink while working.
Second, there are bartenders who don’t drink with customers.
Third, there are bartenders who don’t drink.

In the first and second case, sometimes it is easier to say you don’t drink, than to risk offending someone by telling them you don’t want to drink with them or try to explain that you are a professional doing an actual job and don’t want to get wasted while you are at that job. A lot of bartenders have fairly elaborate and complicated methods for appearing to drink that shot you really want to drink with them, while at the same time only taking the tiniest taste. Me, I’ve never been very good at turning down free drinks or resisting the social pressure to drink. We all have our faults.

In the third case, yes, there are some professional bartenders who do not drink at all. Though, to be fair, most of the non-drinking bartenders I know have moved on to be managers, consultants, or owners, and don’t do a lot of actual day-to-day bartending. But, there are a few unicorns among the herds of stallions, mares, and asses.

In fact, when I’ve managed to get away with it, I enjoy bartending without drinking far more than I do bartending while drinking. But, you still have to taste your drinks and the products you’re pouring. So, if you have weak will power, like myself, and enjoy drinking, it is a very slippery slope.

Finally, most of the “good stuff” the bartending life throws at you is pretty firmly in the “free drinks” or “party lifestyle” category of experiences.

As I’ve said before, as a happily married, middle-aged, fairly prudish, (hey, I grew up Lutheran,) now non-drinking male, there’s just not a lot that the drink industry comes up with that is targeted at my demographic.

Pretty much every educational seminar or sponsored event I’ve attended for the booze industry could be summed up as, “free drinks with snacks”. If you’re lucky, there might be entertainment. If you’re not lucky, you’ll have to listen to someone drone on about the intricacies of what supposedly makes the industrial process they use for creating their product unique. But, mostly it is the free drinks, and for most people, this is an excuse to imbibe copiously. Wouldn’t you, if you had to listen to a presentation on the nitty gritty details of industrial gin distillation while hanging out with a bunch of people you don’t know very well?

I am lucky that I have had several different careers in different industries and, if I don’t bartend, I have other jobs I can fall back on.

On the other hand, nothing is certain. Perhaps in 5 years, when the tech industry bubble finally bursts for good, I’ll be back to bartending (or even cooking).

Psychic Anaesthetic

“What’s with the Water?”

“Booze tends to take the edge off. I want to stay angry.”

Best quote I’ve heard from “True Detective, Season 2”

“Psychic Anaesthetic” or “Emotional Prophylactic”.

Whichever you prefer, booze often gets a rap as emotional novacaine.

Somehow, drinking seems to make the emotional stress of dealing with others less.

I don’t really buy this one, at least in the long term.

I think it just puts off dealing with processing your feelings.

And if you just keep drinking, you can just keep putting it off.

Mustard Ruminations

Over the years I have always used Dijon mustard when making salad dressings, etc.

I always assumed the fine grind of the mustard seeds would be the thing that helped with emulsion.

The other day I was out of Dijon and instead used an old school whole grain mustard (Maille Old Style) when making a salad dressing.

Weirdly, it worked as an even more efficient emulsifier than the usual finely ground Dijon.

Seems to indicate that it isn’t the fine grind of the mustard, but some other factor which is aiding in emulsion of fats.

Tales of No Cocktails

Haven’t done a status update in a while, so here goes.

I was working three nights a week at a restaurant called “The Coachman”. Had a few drinks on the menu. Good staff, good food. But, it didn’t take off. So they cut down bar staff and I ended up with only one or two shifts a week.

Then we were traveling for my birthday in October, 2015, and planned to be out of town with family for the December/January holidays. I told them to put my weekly shifts on hold, that I would just cover when people needed time off.

Shortly after we got back from the holidays, they decided to close The Coachman.

At that point, I was at a loss. I could look for more bar shifts elsewhere or I could try to find more hours in tech work.

I talked to my (Great! Excellent!) boss in tech and asked how likely it was that he would be able to find more hours for me at my day job. He said, maybe, but give him some time to shuffle things around.

I worked only part time at my tech job for a few months, then finally things started to work out with my day job and I got back to being a full time day walker.

So far, so good.

Which brings me around to the other thing.

As you’ve probably been reading, I’ve been ambivalent about the role drinking has had in my life for the last couple years.

But I just couldn’t get away from it while I was working in bars. You at least have to taste the drinks, wine, and spirits, which ends up being a slippery slope.

So, along with not working in bars, I decided to take this opportunity to take some time off from drinking. The first couple months sucked, but after hitting about the six month mark, with support from friends, family and the awesome Mrs Flannestad, I am becoming comfortable with it and feel better in my own skin than I have in years.

Haven’t decided whether I will go back to drinking and try to do “moderation”, but at this point…

So far, so good, why mess with a good thing?

PS. Perhaps you are thinking, “Yeah, that’s great Erik, but I don’t really give a flying fuck about you, what about the Savoy Cocktail Book Project and SavoyStomp website??”

Unfortunately, after one platform move and three hosting moves, the code behind the website had become unstable. Frankly, the database is corrupt, probably because of excessive spam comments or related factors. In any case, I took it down before someone really hacks it. Eventually, I would like to turn it into a static website, (Or a book! Illuminated Savoy Cocktail Book, anyone?) However, at the moment, I just don’t have the time (or the inclination) to revisit those 10 years of my life and dig through them again. If you’re looking for cocktail information, I’d suggest buying Martin Doudoroff‘s “Martin’s Index“. It’s an excellent app and most of the technical and drink information I uncovered over the years can be found there. You’ll just be missing my pithy personal insights and incorrect measurements. Maybe if everyone downloads his app, he eventually will be convinced to create an Android or web version. Ha!

Glu-Tards Harshing My Mellow

As someone who is not drinking in a town known for its drunk-i-tude, I am certainly sympathetic to dietetic choices, especially if they are for health reasons.

However, I was recently at the grocery store and it appears the only fig bars they now carry are “gluten-free”.

I don’t know what the decision math was.

Fig Bar buyers are also likely to be gluten intolerant?

Fig Bar buyers are not picky, so they don’t care if they have to eat food with weird gloopy textures?

Fig Bar buyers enjoy stale cookies that have been sitting on the shelf for too long because no one buys them they are so truly awful?

I really don’t want to learn to make my own glutinous fig bars, but it may come to that.

The Wrong Drugs

My teacher was commenting on my somewhat quavery clarinet tone and I told her I had accidentally drunk too much coffee that morning.

Her reply was, “Coffee!? Why on earth would you drink coffee, you’re already highly strung?”

She went on to mention she drinks tea if she needs caffeine, but admitted that tea and coffee had different effects.

Anyway, she’s right, I am already highly strung. Why am I drinking something that makes me even more shaky?

Thinking back, I just thought coffee was cool and started drinking it as soon as my parents would let me partake. All the adults I knew drank it, so I figured I should be too.

Lately, I’ve been thinking along similar lines about alcohol.

I know for some people, alcohol makes them more outgoing, but for me, it makes me even less likely to engage with other humans, especially to talk with them.

Why have I been drinking all these years?

It’s the same. It sounded cool, I’d been reading about it. As soon as I was able, I taught myself to get used to the flavor. In the end, however, I really can’t think of much about drinking that takes my life in a better direction or gives me a good effect.

It is time to make some different choices.

Fine Pot of Potpourri

SHAN LIN XI WINTER SPROUT, Taiwanese Oolong, caramelized ginger, kettle corn, cotton candy — 6
GOLD PEONY RED, Fujian Red/Black, sandalwood, rose, fruit — 4
BUCKWHEAT, San Franciscan Herbal, cocoa nibs, licorice — 4

“Would you like anything else to drink?”

“I was interested in your teas, but I just wanted to check that the listed ingredients are flavor descriptors, not actual ingredients in the tea.”

“Right.”

“So, there’s no actual Sandalwood, Rose, or fruit, in the Gold Peony Tea?”

“Oh yes, sorry, there is dried fruit in the tea.”

“Thanks, I’ll have a bottle of sparkling water.”

Horn Players

I was watching last last Jazz Night in America with the Bad Plus and Joshua Redman playing tracks from their new album.

Bad Plus Plus Joshua Redman

Watching, I was struck by how funny it is, that in modern small combo jazz, the horn player often sits there and basically does nothing for what amounts to nearly half of the concert.

The piano, drum, and bass players play the whole night, but the horn player plays during the head and his solos and then just sits out the rest of the concert.

Related, listening to early jazz, Armstrong, Oliver, Bechet, I’ve been paying attention to how the clarinet interacts with the ensemble. It seems like the clarinet is most closely allied with the banjo. While the brass, piano, and drums play mostly on the beat, the clarinet & banjo play contrapuntally and interstitially.

While the horns play the main theme or motif, the clarinet will often play against the theme, or after it, or during breaks in the music. Sort of like the clarinet player is commenting on the theme.

Similarly, in early small combo jazz, the horns don’t sit out, they act as part of the rhythm section when they are not actively soloing.

It’s funny that that custom seems to have been lost in much of modern jazz.