How does one actually become a bartender? When was the moment when you thought, I want to get behind the bar now?
Till: Well, for me it was pure coincidence. I started working part-time while I was still at school. Some friends of mine have a big catering company and I worked there during the summer vacations. At first I was a runner, but then I got tired of carrying the barrels and went behind the bar. That was super cool, they had international events. We went to fairs in Paris, Barcelona and Berlin. It was like a big summer camp: we worked a lot, but also had super fun. It was mega cool as a side job. You were on the road with friends, learned a lot and earned good money.
Chris: For me, it was pretty unspectacular. I came to Augsburg to study and was looking for a part-time job and thought about what I could do there. Stocking shelves at the supermarket wasn't really my cup of tea. First, you have to get up very early, and second, I didn't see the fun factor in it. Gastronomy was cool, and I quickly found a job. As Till said, you have very enterprising colleagues. I never saw it as a job, but always as a hobby. You're active, you get in touch with others, and I liked that.
How does that actually work? There's no real training to become a bartender. How did that develop for you?
Till: First of all, I have to say that it's a shame that there is no training. That's why I've certainly had one or two bad drinks. In the end, that means you have to teach yourself a lot. But that has advantages and disadvantages. You're not in a fixed system, you can do whatever you want. This results in super cool things that you wouldn't learn in a normal apprenticeship. But it's also a lot of learning-by-doing. Social media also played its part, we searched through everything for cool drinks. In my opinion, creativity with a bit of classicism is the key to self-education, coupled with constant interest.
Chris: I can confirm that. There is not the classic training, but special training, for example, as a bartender. Then you just have the certificate, but that doesn't tell me that you're a good bartender. The training is driven more by passion and the love of the drink must not be missing, be open to new things, mix new drinks, think about what goes well together, that's important.
Till: Mixing is one thing, knowing spirits, ratio of sweetness and acidity and all that. But that alone does not make a good bartender. The interpersonal is at least as important. It's no use if you conjure up the best drink in the world, but the guest finds you unappealing. So you're therapist, listener, cocktail mixer, best friend - all at once. The goal must always be that the overall experience is right for the guest.
**Some of the cards are very extensive. Can you prepare every single drink by heart or do you have to crib from time to time, what all goes in there?
Till: One thing in advance: An extremely extensive map I personally do not find so good. You should set the clear focus and not confuse the guest. That's why I find a small, changing menu more attractive. But no matter how large the menu is: The recipes must be in your head. Otherwise it takes forever for the drink to reach the guest, and that's bad.
Chris: Recipes need to be memorized. It is unprofessional in the guest interview to have to interrupt and look at the piece of paper. It doesn't give a competent impression.
As a bartender, you are also a bit of a consultant as to what flavor the drink should go in for the guests?
Chris: Absolutely, this is the classic introduction. That's where you ask directly what flavor you want it to go in. If you don't know what you want to drink at the bar, there's a discovery process with the bartender. Are there any spirits you don't like? Should it be more fruity or more tart? In the end, it's a process of elimination. In the end, you find the right cocktail.
What are the perennial favorites that really always go?
Till: A mojito, for example, always goes, no matter where. In recent years, however, drinking behavior has changed, I have the impression. Bitter drinks, Negronis are more and more in demand. But fruity just always works. In a good bar, people are more likely to try something new.
Are there any juices, liqueurs, ingredients in general that really have no place in any drink?
Till: I claim: You can mix everything. Important factors for a drink are: It must not have too much alcohol, certain components must not predominate, the sweetness-acid ratio must fit. Sure, there are things that don't meet the tastes of the masses. But a balanced drink always works. We were at training courses where Jägermeister was mixed with cocoa liqueur. I couldn't imagine it at all, but it was really delicious. Craft standards are more important than the ingredients.
Chris: Everyone has their ingredients that they don't like to work with. For example, when I see a bar that uses store-bought lemon juice for the whiskey sour, it shakes me from top to bottom. But others like it. It just tastes better to me with fresh lemon juice. But there are no limits, only personal sensitivities.
**Do you ever go back for a drink if you don't like it?
Chris: No, I won't let a drink go back, there's no way.
Till: Then order a glass of wine afterwards. Chris has a very trained eye, he can see beforehand that wine would be the better choice.
**What was the craziest drink you made?
Till: That's a tough question. We tried a few things, for example a long drink with arak, an Israeli anise liqueur, mint, lemon and soda - I saw that in Tel Aviv.
Chris: I once made a beet and apple spritz a few years ago, when bar culture wasn't as pronounced as it is now. Didn't go over so well at first until guests tried it. We also once tried a drink with olive oil, orange blossom water, egg white, tonic water and gin. When you look at it, you think, what is this going to be. But out comes a wonderful creamy, floral tasting drink that you wouldn't expect.
Till: In Berlin or Munich you can find drinks with the wildest ingredients, some of them have their own herb gardens. They work with nettle, sorrel or mountain savory. They extract the flavor, let it sit for another 15 weeks, and then mix drinks that are totally awesome. You need freaks who are simply up for such experiments - and an audience that's up for it.
What's it like to stand behind the bar night after night and work while everyone around you is partying?
Till: At best, you're right in the middle of it.
Chris: The good mood is transmitted. At best, you do the job with passion and are ambitious and want to offer the guests a nice evening.
Till: Of course it's work, but if you radiate that, it's bad. People want to have fun and don't want to see someone at work. The art is to work well and fast and not to give the impression of working straight. The interpersonal is just part of it. A lot of people don't have a good mood at work, as a bartender you need that.
**What other tasks are part of being a bartender?
Chris: It depends on what position you have, whether you just come in, mix drinks, and leave. Organizing a bar requires an insane amount. You have to get fresh ingredients, go to suppliers, try new spirits, always make sure there's enough of everything. Just like in the kitchen, you have to plan at the bar. And you always have to stay current. The beverage industry is very active. If you're not behind it and interested, a lot remains hidden.
Till: You can compare a bar to a small business. You have to plan that everything is there on time and estimate the correct amount so that in the end half is not thrown away. You also have to keep up with the times and recognize trends.
There is a prejudice that bartenders only drink alcohol all the time. Is that the case?
Till: The image comes a bit from movies. If you really drank as hard as it is described, it would not only be unhealthy, but quite exhausting. After all, you're working 10- or 12-hour shifts. What's true is that bartenders are pretty much birds of a feather and live people. You need to have passion for drinks. If you don't try it yourself, you can't sell it well. But it's also enough to try a drink once or twice and not bang one in every night. The higher class you work, the more uncomfortable it will be if you're constantly drinking yourself behind the bar. It doesn't make a good impression if you knock things over, have a flag, or slur your words during guest conversation.
Chris: Alcohol is inevitably part of it, but in good bars there is certainly not. You want to communicate with the guests, so you need a clear head.
In the meantime, you have founded SESES Drinks, which produces your own fruit reductions. How did you come to start your own company?
Chris: We were looking for an aperitif alternative. We tried a lot at home. The result was our fruit reductions. With these you have the possibility to serve your guests an aperitif that is not as common as a sparkling orange, for example, but comparable in terms of the amount of work involved. It was important for us to create the basis for creative drinks that could then be produced in large quantities during the evening. If you need five minutes for an aperitif, you can't serve 200 guests. Fruity stuff goes down great, but it was too boring for us. That's why we combine the fruit reductions with herbs.
Till: We have asked ourselves the question, what fits together? We were often inspired by teas. A passion fruit mint tea can most likely also be mixed as a drink. We got a lot of input and thought outside the box. Then, when we had worked very successfully with fruit reductions for over five years and were able to establish them in several gastronomies, we decided to found SESES DRINKS.
**What advice do you give to potential new bartenders?
Till: Less is more. Do the few things you do well and pay attention to quality. No one needs a huge menu of bad drinks.
Finally, a quick, either-or question round.
More of a grievance box or flirtation object?
Till: As good as Chris looks, more flirt object than grief box (laughs). We have experienced one and the other.
Chris: Exactly. You can't lump it all together.
Bouncer or conscience reder?
Till: In any case conscience. Nobody wants people to leave the store with a bad impression. A discreet, clear hint is appropriate.
Celebration beer or off to bed?
Chris: Clearly after work beer.
Till: In any case.
Chris: It doesn't have to be beer, it's just a phrase. But it's just something social, it's teambuilding.
More cool or more stressed?
Till: Always cool. It's not rocket science, so at some point there's very little that gets you off balance. I can't think of anything where it's suddenly completely stressful if you're well organized.
Chris: Stressing behind the bar doesn't do anything. If you're stressed, you get hectic. And there are a lot of bottles standing around, usually something falls down and you have more work.
Chris and Till have years of experience behind the bar. Working in various bars, they came up with the idea to start SESES Drinks together with a third partner. You can find out more about their company here: sesesdrinks.com