11 April 2014 10:34

MIXO vs FLAIR - by Tom Dyer

A touchy subject I hear you say. Well it's about time someone tackled it.

There has long been that divide between "Mixology" and "Flair" and I'm going to set a few things straight and come to a conclusion.

Actually the conclusion I can tell you right now. There are no "Mixologists" or "Flairers"; they are just different styles used by bartenders. If you consider what both these styles stand for, then EVERY bartender flairs or uses Mixology.

I define flair as "entertaining your guests with confidence and style whilst making great drinks." The word flair comes from "showing off". I'm not saying that we are all show-offs, however, we all have a certain amount of pride when we are working behind our bars. Don't forget there are two types of flair: Exhibition (competition) Flair and Working Flair.

Just like in some cocktail competitions you see drinks that you wouldn't necessarily put on a menu, there are flair moves that you wouldn't use behind your bar. With this in mind, every one of you, whether you consider yourself a mixologist or a flairtender, employs flair in one way or another. Even though you're not throwing 3 bottles around, you are pouring, using utensils and handling money and dealing with guests in your own stylish way, incorporating your own little details. These are all types of flair.

Let's not forget Jerry "The Professor" Thomas. Probably the most famous bartender that ever lived, he was a flair bartender, like it or not. He went around the States making his signature cocktail the Blue Blazer, performing it and entertaining his guests in the process. He was the first flair bartender in the world!

Now, I know some of you will be saying, "Yeah, but flair bartenders can't make a drink. They're just monkeys that juggle bottles and don't take care about their drinks or guests". Of course there are some people out there that are like that. They juggle away, showing off to their guests, making bad drinks and giving bad service. But you can say that about some mixologists as well; it's not just the flair bartenders of the world that neglect their responsibility to the customer.

On the other side of the spectrum, mixology is "the art of creating and mixing new drinks", something we as bartenders do every day. Even before we knew anything about bartending, the ambitious among us have always looked to come up with our own ideas and recipes, and it's only once we've developed an understanding of the products we're using that we actually started creating something of any substance.

What I have come to realise is that there will always be this perceived divide between mixologists and flair bartenders. However, a recent post on my Facebook status in which I posed the questions "what is a mixologist?" and "what is a flair bartender?" yielded some interesting responses. First off, a big thank you to those of you that commented. I found it interesting how a lot of the posts answered questions I hadn't even asked. The best response I got, though, was from Pepe Dioni, the Spanish President for the representing Association for the IBA, who, when answering "what is a flair bartender?", simply answered "A bartender".

Funny though, how when asked "what is a mixologist?", pretty much everyone stated that it was a term used to gain more money; a fancy label for a bartender coined by the media. But no one said the same thing to the "what is a flair bartender?" question. Which got me thinking, why? Flair bartenders are still just bartenders. Maybe it is because "flair bartender" already has the word "bartender" in the title?

What I read into the majority of the resposnes is that there is NO divide between mixology and flair. In fact there are no "mixologists" or "flairers", just BARTENDERS. As I thought (and so did many others), these are just labels that bartenders have given themselves to make them sound more important or highly skilled, or to get paid more. The simple fact is that why should we as bartenders be labeling ourselves as anything other than bartenders.

Pieter Oosthuizen said it well: "If you are a doctor per say. You will either be a general practitioner or a specialist. Either way it still boils down to you being a doctor."

I think this is a nice way of putting it. We are all bartenders, but we specialise in different aspects of bartending.

Philip Duff said "a bartender should be able to do everything a mixologist can do, but a mixologist can't necessarily do everything a bartender can do: "mixologist" describes someone who is skilled at making drinks, full stop - not crowd control or speed or accuracy or charm or hosting or bar management or anything like that".

Angus Wincester: "I have no problem with people calling themselves anything to get themselves paid more or laid more but I do have a problem when people say they are a Mixologist/Cocktailian/Drinksmith/Bar Chef and NOT a bartender... Rather like Flair, 'mixology' (the ability to mix complicated cocktails) is merely a facet of bartending (serving alcoholic drinks to paying customers). If you call yourself a 'mixologist' then you will be shit out of luck if people stop drinking cocktails... I think Flair bartenders are often some of the most professional and dedicated bartenders I know, but again, if they put too much emphasis on the Flair and not the bartending they fall into the same trap as mixologists, plus if they choose to do 'exhibition' flair while making drinks then they let their ego take over"

I couldn't agree more with all these statements.

So I thought back to all the times I have asked flair bartenders around the world (or have been asked myself), what do you do for a living? The majority of them said (myself included) I'm a bartender, and then went on to explain that they specialise in a certain aspect of bartending, that being flair.

In most countries around the world, bartending is looked upon as something that you do while studying, or in-between jobs, or when you're younger etc. So the more we label ourselves as flairers, mixologists, liquid chefs, bar chef etc, the further away we are getting from what we really are. By distancing ourselves from the term "bartender", we are putting down our own profession by trying to be something more established or fancy. Let's stop with all these negative and devisive comments about flairing and mixology, and bring it back to the basics. On that note I will leave you with one question to ask yourself:
When you fill out an application form, identity form or airport landing card, and it asks you to stipulate your profession, what do you write?

If your answer is anything other than bartender, then you really need to think about what you are doing behind a bar.



Article by Tom Dyer

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