5 Things I Learned From Cocktail Maestro Salvatore Calabrese

Mixology 101’s legendary mixologist schools me in how to make a Manhattan better

Cocktail maestro Salvatore Calabrese has been bartending for nearly 50 years. And even though he tells you in an accent that is a mix of Italian and British about how his signature Breakfast Martini is one of the top 10 new classics in the world or that he makes a perfect martini or that he was the first to ever use balsamic vinegar in a cocktail, one can’t help but be charmed. After all, the way he says it, it’s not braggadocio, it’s merely reciting facts.

The London-based Italian bartender has the world record for creating the most expensive cocktail, has made a cocktail (or tried to) in a Maserati GranTurismo driven by Michael Schumacher, and has published 10 cocktail books, one of which sold close to 1 million. He’s allowed to talk like that.

Calabrese was in L.A. promoting Bound by Salvatore, his new bar at the Cromwell Hotel in Vegas. At Mixology 101, where he created the cocktail program, he went over his espresso cocktails for the Vegas bar as well gave a lesson in hospitality and cocktail making.

Here are the best of his tips.

Enjoy a cocktail like a journey of life: “From the time you taste the drink the lips become the childhood. Now you start to grow up. And as you grow up the drink goes in the middle palate you become a young person. And as a young person you want to experience the world in full very quickly so that’s where you pick up the sweetness, the sourness, the bitterness and all the experience on your palate. But then you grow up to be a wise person, is the aftertaste. The spirits linger, the bitterness of the spirits.”

Best way to stir a Negroni: “It’s about lifting when you stir it. If there are three different spirits with different weights the light one, which in the case of the Negroni will be gin, will always remain on top. It doesn’t matter how much you stir it. So the stronger flavor of the gin will come forward. So what you do is stir from the bottom and lift. It makes all the difference.”

Cheapest ingredients first, except in a Manhattan: “Always use the cheapest ingredient first so if you make a mistake at least when you throw it away it’s the cheap ingredient. If I do an Old Fashioned then I would use the sugar and bitters first. When you make a Manhattan, I think it’s much more elegant when you put the whiskey, the vermouth and the bitter is the last thing on top so the aroma comes out.”

Never dismiss a difficult customer:San Francisco Chronicle food critic Stanton Delaplane was never happy with Calabrese’s martini. “He wanted it very cold and very dry. I could only do cold but not dry. It could be dry but not cold. I always say it took God six days to make the perfect world. It took me five to make the perfect martini. If I were to be a typical bartender I would have said this guy was a pain, he doesn’t know what he wants. I wouldn’t have made a name for myself. What we have as a duty is to make sure that we have to fulfill our consumers’ expectations.”

A clean bar shows that you care: “Our duty is to make sure whatever we do we are as clean as possible. I don’t want to go to a bar where I know everything is handled by hand. My bartenders use ice tongs to pick up a fruit, a slice of lemon. It’s just as quick to pick up with an ice tong. Everything has to have its reason, has to have its method. We do so much wonderfully but then we lose with the one little thing about caring. It’s all about caring especially when you handle ice and you handle money.”

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