Nick Strangeway's London-based Strange Hill Ltd. is an international bar and brand consulting agency. Strangeway began his career behind the bar in London in 1990, and in 2008 he was named World Mixologist/Bartender of the Year at Tales of the Cocktail. He's in town this week for the annual event, where he'll introduce a new line of vodkas he created for Absolut using naturally distilled and infused flavors.
You were an early proponent of farm-to-glass cocktails. How do you think the trend has been developing?
Strangeway: Bartenders are lagging behind chefs by about 20 years. Where the chefs at first would have to tell you the name of the farm the chicken came from and you could only get their steak the way they cooked it, now the more confident chef doesn't have to show off as much. They're letting the food speak for itself, and that's where I hope bartenders will go. The farm thing is like the molecular thing — it can cover a lot of mistakes. Yes, your strawberries might come from this farm, but if your technique is off or you're using the wrong glass, then another cocktail made properly would be better.
So what's the next step?
S: My hope is that we get a little more simple, or at least more modest. I'm glad there is this knowledge now and better technique. But bartenders are forgetting the customer. They tend to make drinks for other bartenders, which gets a little bit masturbatory. Once we can get more comfortable and confident with it they won't have to talk about it and sell it so much, we'll just do it intuitively.
What do you think of the cocktail scene in New Orleans?
S: New Orleans has so many great bars and they've been around for so long, which tells you that the people there really value them. The history is in the walls and only good cities still have that. The quality of the drink is important, but it's also the setting you're in, who's serving it, the people who have had the same drink there through history. That adds another level and context. The drink is part of the experience, but there's a whole experience around it.
— IAN MCNULTY