Originally from St. John’s, Newfoundland, Bar Director Dylan Brentwood (@oldpaldyl on Social Media) shares his interesting bartending journey.
Prior to working in hospitality, Dylan actually studied Theatre in Toronto, Ontario and trained in stunt performance. Although the world of film and theatre is very fun and dynamic, there was something about the hospitality industry that really caught Dylan’s attention. While working at the iconic Snakes and Lattes bar in Toronto, Dylan fell in love with hospitality; more specifically he fell in love with being able to connect with people, build community and provide guests with a personal & memorable experience.
Dylan went on to train and gain experience at different bars and restaurants in multiple provinces and also trained under experts such as Lee Evans and David Greig, and Jenner Cormier. Dylan has even participated in multiple bartending competitions placing 1st in his Bacardi Legacy Regionals and also in the top 11 bartenders in the World Class Canada Bartending Competition.
Dylan brought his talents and experience to Halifax, Nova Scotia, now working at Bar Kismet, focusing on creative cocktails. Dylan describes his bartending style as eccentrically accessible, and one that uses playful techniques while keeping to the pour of classic cocktails. He believes cocktails should be thoughtfully crafted whether you’re choosing to drink alcohol or not. You can be mindful about your drinking and enjoy non-alcoholic cocktails that are more than just grapefruit juice and soda.
So we asked Dylan some of the best practices new bartenders and home bartenders should know when approaching the art of cocktails.
What essential tools should every bartender have at their home bar?
Unfortunately bartending can be expensive, but there are many different options and levels. For example, having a juicer to juice fresh citrus is essential, but you don’t need to buy an expensive electric juicer, you can simply purchase a regular handheld juicer.
One of the BEST things you can do is invest in a good size ice cube tray. These are available online at Cocktail Emporium, but having the 1.25 x 1.25” cubes and also larger cubes can really elevate your cocktails at home.
Measurement is incredibly important, because cocktails are all about ratios of ingredients, and if you are messing up your ratios, your cocktail will be out of balance. You can measure with tablespoons, however it is handy to use a jigger in a style that you enjoy.
It is also helpful to have a cocktail shaker on hand, the best being the Boston tin on tin shaker. There are also other styles that you can try such as the Parisian shaker. With a shaker you’ll also need a strainer such as a Hawthorne strainer, to ensure that no ice particles from shaking, enter your cocktail. If a cocktail shaker is out of your budget, a Mason jar works just fine! You can use the jar for shaking and use the lid to strain out the ice.
What essential ingredients should every bartender have at their home bar?
Two things every bartender needs are citrus and sweetener.
Fresh citrus is essential for every bar! The bottled citrus juices that you buy at the grocery store just won’t cut it! Fresh will always be best.
You’ll also need the ability to make simple syrup (by weight, one part white sugar, one part water). The easiest way to make simple syrup is actually in a blender! Blend the water and sugar for 45 seconds, pause and then blend for another 45 seconds.
Having a range of liqueurs is helpful for mixing cocktails. Cointreau, a sweet and dry vermouth, sherries, and amari, will get you a long way when looking to create a variety of cocktails. Just remember that vermouth & Sherry are wine and go bad when left out of the fridge! To help you out, you can download the app called “Martin’s New & Improved Index of Cocktails and Mixed Drinks” which contains a practical reference to classic cocktails.
How do you pair flavours?
When it comes to pairing flavours, there are simple templates that you can follow. Start by taking a look at the classic cocktails and understanding what ingredients make them work. For example look at the harmony of crisp white rum, fresh lime and sugar in a classic daiquiri or the balance of bitter, sweet, and dry in a negroni. These are structures for learning balance that you enjoy.
There are resources you can refer to when it comes to finding flavour pairings including the Flavour Bible, where the authors give advice on how to create balance, enhance flavour, and make exciting ingredient combinations. You should also just go with your instinct, it will usually lead you in the right direction. If you’re unsure, look at classic pairings like anise & grapefruit and taste everything!
What are the best ways to use Gin / Sobrii 0-Gin?
There are so many great gin cocktails, so that means there are so many templates for you to follow! But the most important thing is understanding the flavour profile of the gin you’re working with. Sobrii 0-Gin is most similar to a London Dry style gin, and knowing that allows you to select the best flavours to pair with. Because Sobrii 0-Gin has a natural acidity due to its non-alcoholic nature, you might need to adjust your sweetener!
What is your advice to all the at-home bartenders and mixologists out there?
Education is foundational. Reading the books, using resources, learning from your local bartenders and also learning about the different products out there will help you become a better home-bartender! The main difference between you and the bartender at your favourite bar is equipment, practice, time, and intention. Don’t be afraid to be wrong and fail, like a lot.
Oh - Don’t forget to use lots of ice, and taste and explore!
Having an endless sense of bewilderment is the best thing you can do. It’s impossible to learn it all.