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Q & A with Absinthe's Jeff Hollinger


Jeff Hollinger in action.
Photo courtesy of Frankie Frankeny.

Jeff Hollinger, the bar manager at Absinthe and co-author of the must-have bar book, The Art of the Bar, is the man behind SF’s second annual Cocktail Week, a seven day tribute to libations and the people that make them. This year’s SF Cocktail Week runs from Tuesday, May 13 to Monday, May 19th. For a full schedule of events and ticket information, visit sfcocktailweek.com.

What is San Francisco cocktail culture?

What sets SF apart is that we have a tight knit group of bartenders that share information with each other. We have different philosophies: Some of us are doing different things from one another,  but we love to go out and eat, we love to try one another's cocktails and we love to visit wineries. The thing about this city is that the general public gets it—the public is really food and drink savvy—and that's something you don't get in other cities. People have made a big deal about how [the cocktail culture] is different here, but I've talked to people all over the country and people are doing the same things. It’s a load of crap—can you put it directly as that? We're doing similar things all over the place.

What SF Cocktail Week event are you most looking forward to?

Saturday, May17th, we're doing an event at the Hotel Rex, a discussion about San Francisco's cocktail culture and literature with Dave Wondrich, who just wrote a book about Jerry Thomas [the San Francisco bartender who wrote the first American book of cocktail recipes in 1862]. Ed note: Get tickets ($30) here.


How is a mixologist different from a bartender?

[It's] not the same thing—absolutely not. There's a lot of confusion about the two terms right now. Bartending is not always about making a good cocktail. A bartender should understand service and how to finesse a group of people sitting at the bar … if people aren't having a great experience it doesn't matter how sophisticated your drinks are.

Mixology is really just the ability to create new cocktails—you can be a mixologist and never have stepped behind the bar in your entire life. A mixologist has an understanding of the ingredients and the creativity to come up with new cocktails. He doesn't have to be personable or know how to provide someone with a great experience.


Where do you get your cocktail ideas?

Food.

Really? 

Mostly. I love to cook. I've been big into playing around with vinegars—cocktails using balsamic vinegar—because I wanted to play around with ideas of acid in the cocktail that wasn't just citrus.

So is vinegar a hot new ingredient?

Yeah, which kind of bums me out a bit.

Why?

Because that was my thing! It's cool that people are doing it but the reason why it bums me out is because you're going to start to see people making vinegar cocktails that aren't very good.

Let's play a game. I'm going to give you a word and you give me the first drink association that comes to mind.

Vodka: Why? It's flavorless so why?
Bourbon: Yummy good
Rum: Rum make you dumb. It's an old saying.
Bitters: Essential in cocktails.
Hot Drinks: I'm not a fan.
Frozen Drinks: Everybody needs a good blender party.
Summer: Margaritas.
Republican: Martini.
Democrat: Old Fashioned.
Hangover: Definitely Bloody Mary.