A glass of art and science, please.
Posted on July 29, 2013
When did a drink get so complicated?
Gone are the days when my idea of a mixed drink was a rum and coke or a gin and tonic. There’s a new bar in the ‘hood and mixology has been spreading faster than you can say, uh, mixology. The term itself eludes me. I mean, the last time I checked, the person behind the bar mixing me some rum, lime juice, and mint leaves was called a bartender. So, when does the guy behind the bar earn a license to be called a mixologist—if there’s a license at all? To be a professional bartender, the one responsible for managing everything behind the bar and ensuring that customers are happy—and behaved, often entails completing a bartending course.
Many professional cocktail mixers are uncomfortable with the label mixologist. Regardless, the fact remains; mixology is complicated. And no mixologist in their proper mind would say, “I’m just mixing things along, I really have no idea what I’m doing.” Nobody just takes the classic margarita and hands it over in foam/gel/mist form without trained calculation and a creative imagination. Mixologists go beyond the aesthetics of a pretty drink; they dive into the human experience by digging into the chemistry (especially in molecular mixology) of spirits, playing with flavour, touch and texture, and provoking a myriad of senses that are often roused by memories and emotions.
On top of the world’s highest open bar and the tallest in Bangkok, I had the opportunity to learn about the art and science that goes in a glass. After years of honing his craft all over Europe and Dubai, Philippine-born Ron Ramirez is back in Southeast Asia and is the resident mixologist of lebua’s Sky Bar at Sirocco. As he blended one spirit with another and traced glass rims with herb-infused salts, Ron shared his creative inspirations and gave a peek into a regular workday of a mixologist.
How did you get into mixology as a profession?
(Laughs) I could probably blame my parents for this. My father is a proper drinker, and perhaps growing up surrounded by fancy handcrafted carafe to infuse his whiskies and rums with all sorts of fruit probably did it. Back home, we would have a garden of mint leaves and I have good memories of my father mixing his own mojito with lemon mint on family Sundays. I remember the best part of the house was the living room because this is where we had my father’s own designed wood-carved bar. In addition to this, my mom has a farm in Bavaria, Germany, where I grew up learning the ropes in farming, harvesting the best hops for fermentation to produce a good weisbeer. I fell in love with this career as it took me all over, geographically and in the world of senses. I started as a bar back in an English pub and worked my way up to being a flair bartender — yes, throwing bottles in the air — then decided to lay low as a beverage manager, studied more about spirits, eventually became a bar developer, and here I am now, designing and conceptualising cocktails.
Being the mixologist of the tallest skybar in BKK, what’s a regular day like?
I am married to my job. My daily routine starts by checking the mise en place, conduct training for bar staff that I had prepared days before, make sure that everything is properly set up and ingredients are complete, and when the sun goes down and people start trickling in — the magic begins!
Where do you get your creative inspiration?
I am inspired by different things: my experiences while travelling, memories from childhood, the people around me mostly — their favourite food, flower, or even their personality and character. When I am inspired to create a drink specifically for a person, I try to figure out the person’s character traits and use ingredients that best embody these.
Describe your creative process.
Before I create a cocktail for a specific F&B establishment, I usually taste their food and figure out a suitable pairing. I need to make sure that the drinks match with the cuisine and feel like a collaboration of flavours. To implement everything, it must go through a panel of judges comprised of CEOs, managers, and various consumers. I need to ensure that my drinks are accessible and acceptable to a variety of palates. As a business, costing and menu engineering are very important, so before I launch or even create a drink, I need to identify my target market and this market’s character.
What is your signature or trademark concoction?
As a trademark, I combine culinary and chemistry techniques into my drinks. You may see cotton candy hanging on a rock glass or a popping candy on the rim of a martini glass. I play around with my drinks based on my childhood experiences. My signature drink is called “ice”. It is the ice cube inside the cocktail that contains the flavour and spirit. In conventional drinks and cocktails, when the ice melts away, so does the flavour of the cocktail. In this drink, the more the ice melts the more flavour you get. The inspiration for this traces back to my childhood in the Philippines; nostalgic memories of iced candy.
What’s it like being a mixologist in Asia as compared to Europe?
Personally, I am enjoying the convenience of life in Southeast Asia, as living in Europe is comparably more expensive. Being a mixologist by profession could be more respectable in Europe than in Asia, but somehow being Asian seemed to work to my benefit and propelled me to break through the European mixology industry. I guess having an Asian palate made my drinks more exotic and unique, and just enabled me to stand out more. The interesting thing now about being back in Asia, is that there is a global focus on Asia and everyone’s flocking to this part of the world. My experience in Europe has helped me a lot in understanding the Western palate so I can easily play with flavours and senses that can be appreciated by both East and West. What’s your ultimate drink? My favourite cocktail would be the traditional Macerated sangria of Spain. I manage to include always sangria in the concepts I come out with.
Regardless of what one chooses to call himself: a mixologist, a designer of drinks, a cocktail architect, or a cocktail mixer; working in the world of mixology involves consumer empathy, an understanding of human senses, and a love for creating. And spirits.∗