Photos courtesy CliQue Hospitality.
Antony Sazerac, Head Mixologist for CliQue Hospitality, has masterminded cocktail programs in some of the country’s premiere bars and restaurants, such as Felt Bar & Lounge, Blossom Cocktail Lounge, CliQue Bar& Lounge, Oxford Social Club and Lionfish. From California and Las Vegas to New England, Sazerac is making headlines with innovative recipes and spectacular execution.
We got to sit down with Antony to learn more about his career path, his outlook on the mixology world and his advice for those looking to go into it.
What got you into mixology?
I started off in the bar industry years ago, but I didn’t really engage the craft side of things until the past few years. Once I started working with fresh juices and syrups, I realized how much fun you could have with it. Seeing [my guests’] reactions and how much they enjoyed what I came up with really inspired me to grow and learn as much as I could. I always try to remember that experience now. Regardless of any awards I win or certifications I compile, I always try to remember that it’s the connection between the bartender and the guests that matters.
Describe the training you’ve been through to perfect your craft?
Mainly I just drank a lot [laughs]. The only formal training I really had was from our corporate mixologist, Michael Monrreal. We have opened several venues together and curated menus for our CliQue Hospitality properties including our newest in DC and San Diego. He has taught me more about the craft than anyone else has. Other than that, one of the biggest influences in my life was joining the USBG. That would definitely be my advice to any new bartenders…join the Bartenders’ Guild! Surround yourself with people who are great at what they do and have a true passion for it.
What separates a true mixologist from the guy who rides a fixed-gear bike and gives the job a bad rap?
I think people who give craft cocktails a bad name are the people who value their own ego and knowledge above the guest’s experience. I went to a craft cocktail bar and had an experience like that once… I ordered a Madras (vodka with orange juice and cranberry juice). The bartender rolled his eyes and said, “Yeah, I can make that…” As if it was beneath him and his amazing bar to pour vodka and juices in a glass with ice! A true mixologist is someone who is humble, appreciates and cultivates their craft on a daily basis, and values the guest’s experience above all else.
What are some of the big cocktail trends we should be on the lookout for?
One of the biggest things I’m seeing from my friends and peers is a transition to more sustainable and inclusive practices, which I think is awesome. A lot of bars are also ditching beverage napkins and straws to cut down on waste. Those things might not necessarily impact the flavor of the cocktails directly, but these kinds of cultural shifts can be just as important as menu changes, if not more important in some cases. With that said, ingredients instead of garnishes, are a growing trend. Infusing lemon oil or using a lemon atomizer rather than fully garnishing is something I have been noticing.
Conversely, what are some of the most overrated cocktail trends you’ve observed over the past few years?
I think for me there’s just a lot of superfluous stuff that happens to look cool or sound really interesting, but doesn’t ultimately have anything to do with the flavor of the cocktails. For example, specialty ice is something that is really showy and looks fantastic on Instagram and Snapchat, but does that cocktail taste the same without it? For one of our gin cocktails called “Two Birds One Stone” we used a sphere ice mold. We made an ice recipe with fresh pressed basil juice, among other fresh herbs and vegetables. The idea is that as the drink melts it becomes even more herbaceous and complex. You virtually have two cocktails in one drink…hence the title “Two Birds One Stone.”
How do you test out your drinks before they make their way onto a menu? Who is lucky enough to have that job?
Usually I try to limit the opinions I hear early on in the creative process, especially when I am just trying to figure out what the drink even is in my own head. Once I’ve got an essentially completed recipe, I make it for guests at the bar to try complimentary, if they agree to give me their completely honest feedback. Once I’ve done all that, I present the finished work for management, and they give me their notes. It was a humbling experience at first. I thought I knew everything and I was annoyed that people would give me critical notes on something that I thought was perfect. Now I realize how crucial that input is to creating something that has universal appeal.
A bit of advice if you are new to designing cocktails and you really want to learn something: Don’t ask your hardcore mixologist friends with Hawthorne strainers tattooed on their forearms what they think of your drink. Ask a grandma from Ohio who enjoys the ultimate margarita from Chili’s what she thinks. She will teach you more about what it takes to make something timeless that people will love long after you are gone than your friends ever could.