SAN DIEGO, California -- Tending bar doesn’t necessarily mean one is a bartender, and mixing drinks doesn't necessarily mean one is a mixologist. Ryan Andrews can tell you the difference because he considers himself both a bartender and a mixologist.
Recently nominated as the Most Appreciated Bartender in America, Andrews opens up about his life, his work and what it takes to create a signature cocktail in an interview with San Diego Gay & Lesbian News.
Andrews will be sharing his signature skills with patrons at the trendy Heat Bar & Kitchen, located at 3797 Park Ave. on the border of North Park and Hillcrest.
Originally from San Francisco, Andrews began his career as a bartender eight years ago. He eventually relocated to Oakland where he opened a craft cocktail lounge. After that, he packed up and hiked through South America for six months with his girlfriend before settling in San Diego.
Andrews is a mixologist, or a person who is skilled in creating mixed drinks, but he doesn’t want to define himself in such a specific way.
“I call myself a bartender and will always call myself that,” he said. “However, since what we do at Heat is very different than the average bar, the word mixologist is necessary. It helps the public differentiate from a good cocktail and cocktail bar and say a neighborhood dive bar where a beer and a shot is in order. To sum it up, I'd say I'm a bartender who practices mixology.”
Yes, Mary, there are regional preferences
There is a slight difference between the more metropolitan lifestyle of San Francisco, where Andrews hails from, and the more urban conventions of San Diego, and he says these differences can be seen by preferences in cocktails.
“The main difference I've seen in the drinking patterns between San Francisco and San Diego is that the idea of what a good balanced cocktail is hasn't quite caught on yet here. The simple answer to that is people just need to be shown and as more and more bars and restaurants are implementing better bar programs this will definitely change. My favorite quote that sums this up is from Steve Jobs' Stanford commencement address: ‘People don't know what they want until you show it to them.’"
A mixologist creates a cocktail much like a chef prepares food, keeping in mind the different flavor intensities and subtleties that pass over the tongue. Chemistry goes into the making of alcoholic beverages, and he perfects these formulas for his guests.
“There's a science behind everything. There are classic ratios between spirit, citrus (acid), bitters and sweeteners (sugar) that good bartenders will use as a template to base new recipes off because again it's all about balance. Sugar will hide everything and unfortunately many Americans have lost the taste for alcohol and that's why you see so many drinks that are overloaded with fake sugar and chemical ingredients. Go into any chain restaurant and look at the drink selection. I guarantee almost every drink contains high fructose corn syrup and other chemical stabilizers, not to mention cheap and poorly produced booze. Using quality ingredients and knowing how to use them is the best science in making drinks,” he said.
Creating signature cocktails
It is this philosophy that Andrews uses to create his signature cocktails, and you can taste one of his famous creations at Heat Bar & Kitchen where a new cocktail menu will be unveiled this week.
“Yes I've created many over the years," he said. "In addition to bartending, I also co-founded Rx Bitters and I most recently teamed up with Henebery Whiskey to create a cocktail for San Diego. We call it the Balboa and it's available in over 55 locations throughout San Diego and through the month of December Henebery will donate $1 for every cocktail sold to charity. This drink will be available at Heat and will be featured on our new cocktail menu that's debuting Tuesday, Dec. 9. The new menu will feature all original cocktails designed by me.”
One of the things that Andrews likes about his new position at Heat is that he can ponder different aspects of his creativity, and the owners and partners Sam Khorish and Pasqual Courtin have given him the freedom to explore.
“Creative control is a huge plus and really helps inspire me to create something unique and enjoyable for our guests. The food and ambiance at Heat is amazing and I plan on elevating the bar program to match both,” he said.
As for the future, Andrews has big plans. He wants to remain true to his heart and provide the public with the best spirits possible. But his adventurous side is still intact and someday he hopes to venture out on his own and make a name for himself.
“My life goal is to open a distillery in South America and continue to grow Rx Bitters here and just continuously create and educate wherever and however I'm able to,” he said.
Before Andrews goes off to discover the spirits of the world, you can meet him and enjoy one of his signature cocktails at Heat Bar & Kitchen. The restaurant is open Tuesday through Sunday, and you can check out their website HERE for more details.