Booze Banter

Banter with Bartenders: The Bearded Alchemist


Last fall I was “on assignment” to take some cocktail photos for a client and was told it would be at a bar – The Jeffrey

Alchemist-6with a bartender – The Bearded Alchemist

Alchemist-8They told me his name, but when you hear the moniker “The Bearded Alchemist,” you don’t remember anything else that precedes it. I approached The Boss (aka G-LO) with the idea of maybe doing a post about my visit – perhaps even create a series of posts (since I post so often and clearly creating a series would be no problem to bang out) about different New York bartenders. Shockingly, G-LO agreed and blasted out five excellent questions for me to ask as an interview.

I was slightly intimidated to do a shoot with a bartender who had a “handle,” but Jacob Tschetter (say that five times fast) gave me no reason to hang on to those fears. I entered the part of The Jeffrey that they call “The Cocktail Lab” and was immediately put at ease by his warm personality and true devotion to the making of craft cocktails. It was 4pm and Jacob was busy getting his mise-en-place, in place. And yes, it was indeed mise-en-place. I have been in the kitchens of some very high end restaurants and truly felt that Jacob puts as much care into his ingredients and service prep as some of the best chefs.

Fresh ginger juice, fresh squeezed citrus, agave and bottles with handmade infused syrups were lined up on the bar. The back bar was stocked with some of my favorite whiskies and more bitters and amaros than I have ever seen in one place. His organization skills were impressive. Talk about multi-tasking! He not only set up the bar and briefed the staff on the special cocktails for the night, but also entertained me and created a beautiful cocktail for my photo shoot…

After my shoot, I took a few moments for my first “official” interview to which Jacob kindly obliged:

Q1: What was the first cocktail you ever made?

It was a Manhattan, a Perfect Manhattan. No! Wait, it was a Negroni. I was working at a bar at the Best Western in Madison, Wisconsin. That was in 2003, then I took a ten year break from bartending.

Q2: Bartender or Mixologist?  Which do you prefer?

My title is mixologist but I call myself a bartender.  No, I call myself a Banger and Shaker! I want my customers to feel at ease. It’s important to stay humble and remember there are a lot of talented people out there who know a lot more than you do.

Q3: How do you know when a customer has had too much to drink and how do you tell them that they’re cut off?

It’s about knowing how to read a person. Sometimes it’s obvious – boisterous, stumbling, falling asleep at the bar. But it’s also about knowing the moment RIGHT BEFORE they have had enough by reading the indicators like repeating the same question over and over. I had one guest who’s “indicator” was she would always start to call me “beard-o.” And the random drunken attempted yanks at my beard are a pretty good “over the top” indicator.

I’m pretty straightforward with people when I tell them they’ve had enough. Generally, people like to know you give a shit and that you’re looking out for their well-being. Then, there’s the opposite kind of person who makes a scene if you say something, so that type needs to be handled with a bit of tact. There’s one guy who I start to pour ginger beer for when I see he’s had enough. He barely notices and the next time he comes back he always says “I don’t know why, but when I end the night at your bar I never feel that hung over the next day!”.

Q4a: What do you drink when you’re off duty?

Penicillins. Islay Scotch. Teeling Irish Whisky.

Q4b: What’s in a Penicillin?

Blended Scotch, lemon, honey, ginger and a float of Islay Scotch. I usually use a float of Ardbeg.

Q5: What are five things you think every home bar should have?

A quality vermouth like Carpano Antica. Gin. I like Barr Hill Gin to mix in cocktails. 2-3 Whiskies. One should be a Rye. Campari – I really love Cappelletti too.  Angostura Bitters.  Wait, how many is that?  Actually a home bar really should come down to the person’s particular palate.

___________________________________________________

Since I was “on assignment” the first time we met, I didn’t have a chance to try The Bearded Alchemist’s “off duty cocktail,” the Penicillin, so I went back to The Jeffrey a few weeks later to evaluate his drink of choice. I think it’s a really cool idea to get to know someone by what they like to drink, especially when that drink is a craft cocktail.

It was a very crowded night and I was far from the bar. Well, as far as you can get in the tiny space that is the “cocktail lab.” Jacob went with the classic version of the Penicillin using Laphroiag as the Islay topper which added to the intricacy of the cocktail, and of course, as any good mixologist knows, the ice you use does make a big difference. He used one big cube. The Penicillin is aptly named since it definitely had a medicinal quality with the combination of Islay scotch, ginger and honey. This is a seriously flavorful drink and I enjoyed it. It’s not something I would want all the time, but I will definitely keep it in the rotation.

As it turns out, that was Jacob’s last weekend at The Jeffrey and I’m sure the locals will miss him. He is now tending bar at The Up and Up in Greenwich Village which is a bar where I had one of my favorite cocktails ever, called Peat’s Dragon. I hope to meet up with the creator of that cocktail and do another interview soon. Work! Work! Work!

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