Chef News

Charlotte Voisey: On Molecular Mixology and Being a Bartender

Chef Salad takes a detour this week and next, interviewing four of the country's leading beverage industry experts, all of them speakers at upcoming seminars held at the Hotel Valley Ho for the second annual Arizona Cocktail Week, February 16-22.

See also: --6 Don't Miss Events During AZ Cocktail Week -- Citizen Public House Plans to Unveil Carbonated Bottled Cocktail on New Year's Eve -- Dwayne Allen of Rum Bar Gives a Tasty Tutorial on Rum

Today, you'll hear from Charlotte Voisey, Best American Brands Ambassador and two-time Golden Spirit Award Winner at Tales of the Cocktail. If you missed Steve Olson's erudite list of trending wines and spirits -- and those destined to be hot in the very near future, read it here.

Charlotte Voisey may be a Brit born and bred, but she fell in love with America's cocktail culture after guest bartending at Aspen Food & Wine in 2005, moving to the States a year later to represent Hendrick's Gin. These days, she speaks at industry events around the world while managing the spirits portfolio for Grant & Sons USA.

You were in London when cocktails took off. Can you tell us about cocktail culture in England and then the U.S.?: Well, there's about 200 years of cocktail history in the US and 400 to 500 years in Britain, where punches were first made. But the modern-day resurgence in cocktail culture started four or years earlier in London than it did here in the States. Because I'd been bartending there for years, I just happened to be in the right place at the right time. When I came to the U.S., I could see what was going to happen because it had already happened in London. In 2006, things started to simmer up and then they just exploded. London's cocktail renaissance had begun in 1999-2000, but the U.S. has caught back up now, and that's as it should be. The cocktail is from America. It's an American institution, whereas England is historically known for its spicy, warm bowls of punch.

How did the U.S. get behind the curve?: When Prohibition hit, it damaged the bartender's skill sets in this country. All the famous bartenders left for Havana, Paris and other cities in Europe. Bartenders in Europe in the 20's were learning skills, while American bartenders were losing them. It took until the late 90's -- or later -- for all that to come back, for people to care. People are beginning to realize that a cocktail is so much more than a drink. There's sociology behind it; it's part of culture and human history.

Talk about garden-to-glass versus molecular mixology. Are they fads or here to stay?: Using fresh ingredients at their peak in cocktails isn't a trend, it's a movement. We've seen it happen with food. People are exposed to great ingredients, and once they've had that experience, there's no going back. But you can also see why molecular mixology is happening. Bartenders use whatever they have access to, and right now, they have exposure to many things, including technology. It's very exciting, but I don't know enough about science to do that. I won't freeze a cocktail or set it on fire to impress someone; I just want to make it taste good.

Is there a difference between a bartender and a mixologist?: I will always be a bartender. I love to tend bar, watch people having a good time and work in a sometimes-crazy environment. And I think most bartenders feel this way. Bartending is more emotive and represents a deep connection to people, whereas mixology sometimes comes off as cold and clinical.

You created the Punch and Judy cocktail, which won the competition and became the official drink for Tales of the Cocktail in 2008. Tell us about it: 90% of the cocktails I create are variations on classics. Classic cocktails are stepping stones that have stood the test of time. The proportions are good, and people like them. That's what makes them classics. When I made the Punch & Judy, using classic ingredients such as rum and Cognac seemed like the obvious way to go. It was July in New Orleans, so I wanted something fresh and bright, flavors that stood up. I put rum, Cognac, gin, orange curacao, pineapple, orange and lime juices, agave nectar, a dash of bitters and fresh mint in a tall glass with lots and lots of ice.

Enjoy this Chef Salad? Check out Nikki's previous interviews with: Charlotte Voisey of Best American Brands Ambassador Steve Olson of Valley Ho Dough Robson of Gallo Blanco Edward Farrow of The Cafe at MIM Greg LaPrad of Quiessence & Morning Glory Cafe Joshua Johnson of Kai Joshua Johnson of Kai Todd Sicolo of T.Cooks Josh Riesner of Pig & Pickle Lester Gonzalez of Cowboy Ciao M.J. Coe of Federal Pizza Steven "Chops" Smith of Searsucker Aaron Chamberlin of St. Francis Michael Rusconi of Rusconi's American Kitchen Chrysa Robertson of Rancho Pinot Lynn Rossetto of The Splendid Table Cullen Campbell of Crudo DJ Monti Carlo Pete DeRuvo of Davanti Enoteca Chuck Wiley of Cafe ZuZu Justin Beckett of Beckett's Table Bryan Dooley of Bryan's Black Mountain Barbecue Silvana Salcido Esparza of Barrio Cafe Jeff Kraus of Crepe Bar Bernie Kantak of Citizen Public House James Porter of Petite Maison Johnny Chu of SoChu House Neo Asian + Martini Bar Stephen Jones of Blue Hound Kitchen & Cocktails Chris Gross of Christopher's Restaurant and Crush Lounge Chris Curtiss of NoRTH Arcadia Payton Curry of Brat Haus Mark Tarbell of Tarbell's Josh Hebert of Posh Kevin Binkley of Binkley's Restaurant Lori Hashimoto of Hana Japanese Eatery Larry White, Jr. Lo-Lo's Fried Chicken & Waffles

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Nikki Buchanan