Field: What does your job as Beverage Director entail?
Alfie: The Beverage Director sets the tone for all aspects of beverage service in the restaurant, and determines ongoing strategy for how the bar presents its beverage offering. Everything from how we make cocktails to how kids get apple juice falls under their purview. The Beverage Director role is typically a job that exists at larger hospitality venues such as hotels, or restaurant groups with multiple locations. Since Brewsters is just large enough to merit the role, this position exists as separate from the Bar Manager, whose responsibilities are more tactical in nature. So much is changing in craft beer right now, and because I wanted the ability to create a beer program that is deeply connected to the breweries producing the beer, I designed the Beverage Director position to allow for precise focus on building relationships with the brewers and salespeople. This focus results in a level of product knowledge that I feel is essential to running a restaurant passionately dedicated to craft beer. Being able to expose the public to the deeper levels of beermaking and its extremely rooted connection to humankind is really important to me.
Field: How is my cocktail experience going to be different at Brewsters vs. other local establishments?
Alfie: Without denigrating any other local establishments I would say that first and foremost at Brewsters is hospitality. To avoid digressing into an essay on the subject, suffice to say that being kind and welcoming to people who want to hang with us is the most important element of what we do. It matters little how cool our drinks are if we’re not courteous and fun to be around.
I’m also not sure that I can answer that without first talking about the vast, and sometimes extremely righteous differences between the bars that exist up here. Not all bars are cocktail driven in the way that “craft” cocktail spaces are, but still offer cocktails. Some bars don’t really go past mixed drinks. And that’s fine. It’s exactly as it should be. I love a good dive bar and I usually don’t order a Manhattan when I’m there. That said, there are plenty of dives that have old-school ownership or mentality, and you’ll get a good Manhattan. It’ll likely have a bright red cherry in it, which is awesome in that setting. The bar at Brewsters is a restaurant bar that is firmly set in the world of craft cocktail culture. We don’t carry any products in the bar that don’t meet my criteria for integrity in ingredients, so I would also expect to find analogs of your favorite mass-produced soda, mixers, etc. I believe this makes for better drinking. Better for you, almost always better for the Earth. We are essentially dedicated to crafting a beverage that pleases and delights you, and flavor is the ultimate arbiter. In this regard, quality of ingredients and process are paramount.
The bar at Brewsters has a unique presence in the mind of the guest because of our focus on beer, but our kitchen is every bit the focus of what we do here as is the bar. Most guests eat while they’re with us, so at Brewsters I would expect an elevated beer/cocktail/food offering with a concise array of excellent products to choose from, and an amiable, fun hospitality experience.
Field: How would you describe the atmosphere at the bar itself? Is there anything surprising you?
Alfie: On the weekends it’s raucous and busy. The sheer volume we do makes for an environment of controlled chaos that can be tremendously fun, given how buttoned-up many people have to be during the week. We’re a family joint so we’re not talking Viking-level partying, but there is a lot of toasting and laughing going on. The number of people we serve on Saturdays has been surprising. Certainly unprecedented in my personal experience. We’ve ranged from 1500-2500 people on any given sunny Saturday, which is mind-boggling.
Field: What are your favorite cocktails to feature and why?
Alfie: I love helping people rediscover classic drinks. From a well-made margarita, to (Trader) Vic Bergeron’s original Mai-Tai recipe, there are so many drinks that have been adulterated or modified so much as to be unrecognizable related to their original composition, the Mai-Tai being a superlative example. The promulgation of these classic recipes helps ground what we do in past eras of bar goodness. I also love making people a Bronx, a gin drink with sweet and dry vermouth and orange juice. I like thinking about a time when something as mundane as oranges were seasonal and fancy.
Field: I think many people find the whole whiskey/bourbon genre intimidating. For someone wanting to give this genre a try, what would you suggest as an easy entry drink?
Alfie: Too easy. A properly made Old Fashioned will undoubtedly turn someone into a whiskey lover. If not, then I’m afraid there’s nothing that can be done for them.
Field: How has the role of bartender changed in recent years? Is more being asked of them? and how is this turning out for both bartenders and bars?
Alfie: The role of bartenders has remained remarkably consistent for a very long time. With the growth of Pre-Prohibition bar revival culture, the focus has skewed more towards the quality of ingredients and technique, and the creation of an integrated hospitality offering that consists of more than just getting people drunk. Professionalism is a big part of that, and bartenders are expected to have command of a wide array of knowledge bases and service capabilities. A bartender at an excellent restaurant with a great bar program will be expected to execute all the responsibilities of a knowledgeable bartender, while also providing an excellent dining experience overall.
In that setting the bartender is definitely being asked to do different things than a bartender at your neighborhood dive. But the dive bartender also has skillsets that are germane to their barspace that do not necessarily come into play at more cocktail-driven spaces. I want to be careful of any implied judgements in terms of the “what kind of bar is the best” conversation, as there are many types of bars and all of them provide for different ways of imbibing alcohol that are valuable and fun.
Field: What is your personal favorite cocktail when you are not behind the bar?
Alfie: Unfortunately/fortunately there is no way to choose one. Eating and drinking for me is all about atmospherics, i.e. a hot day requires Margaritas, a hangover requires a properly-made Bloody Mary bristling with pickles, and a night out on a lovely date requires a Martini to kick things off.
Disclaimers aside, I love an Aviation. Or a Perfect Manhattan. Or a Maragarita. But I really love Hemingway Daiquiris too.