The Maestro talks about what makes a good drink great

11 September, 2019 by Andy Young

He is one of the world’s leading bartenders, he’s The Maestro, so when Salvatore Calabrese starts talking about what it takes to make really great cocktails and how to become a great bartender Bars and Clubs was listening.

Calabrese was in Australia for a two week tour with De Kuyper’s The Works. A series of inspirational workshops, with seven events across five cities helping to upskill Australian bartenders and showcase the latest cocktail trends.


While this year’s De Kuyper The Works program saw Calabrese talking about After Dinner Cocktails, Bars and Clubs sat down with The Maestro to talk about making great cocktails, becoming a great bartender and what is working in Australia’s bar scene.

In terms of making great drinks Calabrese’s philosophy was very much around keeping it simple, not only in terms of how you make the drinks, but also in terms of the ingredients you use, including your choice of spirit.

“When I opened up Library Bar at the Lanesborough Hotel on Hyde Park Corner in 1995, there was also the Atlantic Bar in London which had a very late licence and this was when things started to change and the world of the bartender became a bit more trendy. London was certainly on the top of that, with me involved very heavily, and it was the pioneer of the new cocktail culture.

“Before this, when people use to make cocktails they didn’t necessarily use great ingredients, but what I started to do was to bring great spirits, good whisky, good Cognac and use a great canvas for my work of art.

“We started using more fresh ingredients and really focus on making great cocktails, using things like chilli, garlic – anything you could imagine you could use in a drink. Almost bring the kitchen behind the bar. But then we start to face the new culture of the martini style.”

As this change in the bar culture started happening, Calabrese it helped him focus on his philosophy of using great spirits, to make great cocktails.

“What I always wanted to do and it was one of the things that helped make me different was to always choose great spirits for my bar. If I’m going to make and Old Fashioned and it’s going to take me five minutes to make that Old Fashioned, I’m not going to use a cheap whiskey, a cheap Bourbon. I’m going to use a good rye, a rye that I think is a good canvas for me.

“I may charge a little more, but this is my way. I don’t go crazy with this, I’m not going to put a 25-year-old malt whisky with coke or orange juice, there has to be the right marriage. So there is an education and of course there is how much do you want to spend.”

The idea of keeping things simple is one that comes up often during a conversation with Calabrese, it is something he is clearly very passionate about, and as he explains more behind this belief it becomes clear why.

“It’s interesting because I made drinks that have become known around the world and the key is simplicity, they were easy to replicate everywhere around the world,” he told Bars and Clubs.

“Today we are more knowledgeable and better at making drinks and much more educated. But I have been working on cocktail competitions for the last 30 years and over the course of the last 20 years only two or three drinks have become classics.

“That’s incredible, because we should have more classics, because we understand more about how to make better drinks. But we don’t because they are so complicated. People are looking to become the Heston Blumenthal of the cocktail world, but these are cocktails that only Heston Blumenthal and his chefs can make in the kitchen.

“If I am bringing too many ingredients that are homemade or distillates that’s going to mean that another bartender is not going to be able to make it even if it is a marvellous drink.

“We are trying to create the world, but what I say is don’t just make a menu because you want to show your skills, but also create some cocktails that could become iconic, because they are simple.”

For more from The Maestro, head to the Bars and Clubs website.

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