A Bartending Paradox, or why Roots are so important for Ukrainian bar culture

Two hundred and thirteen years ago an editor of the American newspaper The Balance and Columbian Repository Harry Croswell gave a very first definition of a “cock-tail”. That small fact, as is widely considered now, heralded the birth of the cocktail. An era of the Cocktail phenomenon began which promised a new human pleasure, a new craft and even a new way to express human creativity. 

It is worth mentioning that historically, geographically and even culturally, the birthplace of the Cocktail is located practically in another dimension if viewed from the place where the International Barometer Show is happening, I mean Kyiv, Ukraine.

Since 1806 cocktails have been developed and perfected. This evolution had been fueled from the start and onwards mostly by Americans but later Western Europeans and even the Japanese also got involved. However, that process had few connections if any with the Ukrainian culture. In fact, we cannot find Kyiv in the I.B.F. List of traps; neither there exist classic honey-and-pepper-gorilka cocktails, or whatever.

Frankly speaking, a culture of the American Cocktail was introduced here in the Soviet realms only by “the men of the sixties” — a Soviet aspirational class of those times that was seeking new civilized pleasures. But (don’t miss that nuance!), it was the time of the forthcoming Cocktail Decadence – the darkest times in the whole cocktail history. So, perhaps, the American Cocktail was introduced to our society not at its peak.

Then came the demise of the USSR – those dark times of the 1990s with the process of building the worst possible type of capitalist economy based on fraud and deception. And the same dark times came for cocktails which were transformed into sickly sweet neon-colored highballs made of low-quality alcohol, cheep industrial juices or artificial sodas (sometimes even with a kick not only from alcohol but also from a batt, literally. If you don’t understand what I am writing about, please look up some YouTube videos about “Tequila Boom”).

So, when those dark times were gone and the Modern Cocktail Boom arrived, we, Ukrainians, had quite a mess in our heads concerning cocktails. And that was true of barmen as well as their guests. But times have changed.

I am glad to admit that this country has all the potential to become a new cocktail destination on a map of Europe. Abundant land, passionate, hardworking and hospitable people on a par with relatively low prices form a combination that has to work. But we should add another ingredient in the mix — Roots. We should connect our new fast-growing bar culture with all those incredible things that the cocktail has experienced for the last two centuries.

The Ukrainian bar culture benefits from the Modern Cocktail Boom quite well. Thanks to the Cocktail Rennaissance, a cocktail now is considered again as a genuine pleasure, as something that is worth spending money, as something interesting to invest our time, money, health in it. The occupation of a barman is considered as a prospective job with plenty of career opportunities. A bar has become a profitable business to invest in. Big and small alcohol companies (even producers of domestic gorilkas) cannot imagine their sales without promoting brand cocktails. The list of benefits can be much longer.  

We should also take into consideration that the Ukrainian economy has been growing for the last 14 quarters consequently and, as the things often go, the first industry, which benefits from this growth is HoReCa (including so popular craft bars). The industry now is creating a lot of new jobs constantly absorbing a lot of young people. That lowers the entrance level of the profession and, in fact, if you are hospitable enough and able to move smoothly you can enter the industry and be named as a barman and even a mixologist.

However, young bartenders should keep in mind, that in contrast to the low entry level, there are a lot of things to learn and know to climb successfully a professional ladder. That is what I call the Bartending Paradox. You are expected to be not only a mixologist but also a manager, a storyteller, a psychologist, a physician, an eco-activist and so on and so forth. And of course, you should be a proactive, creative, self-organized erudite. The profession of a barman has really become many-faceted.

September 27-29, we are waiting for you at BAROMETER International Bar Show 2019. More than 100 lectures, master classes and tastings from the world's best experts and leading brands. Tickets are on sale now!

To my astonishment, I can see that there is a deep understanding of such a situation among a new generation of Ukrainian bartenders – among young people who have been absorbed by the industry during the last 4 or 5 years. We all have been witnessing a huge demand for different educational incentives – courses, workshops and International Barometer Shows, of course, with their strong accent on education.

And that is, in fact, the key factor of our common success.  We instinctively understand the importance of Roots, the importance of education in this seemingly simple industry. And that sounds great!

This understanding of the importance of Roots is essential, even pivotal, for the development of the industry, for moving in the right direction. We should realize that the American Cocktail is a product of a different country, and we have to learn a lot not only from a cocktail history but also from the whole American culture. In addition, we should realize that we all are in a huge need of systematic and multi-disciplinary bartenders education. We should also acknowledge that there is no creativity without a versatile background and there are no innovations without a deep understanding of how the world teaks. You know, there are no fruits without roots.

So, please welcome this year’s International Barometer Show topic – Roots – and enjoy this new stage of our development. We have done our best to supply as much valuable information as possible through our new Barometer. We are ready to connect the Ukrainian bar society with the American cocktail culture.  We are ready to boost your erudition with plenty of knowledge about the world around us. And we feel enthusiastic to discuss new innovative ideas on how we can improve pros and mitigate cons of the modern bar life here and now.