Bartending isn’t what it used to be. Hence, neither is the cocktail. We caught up with seven seasoned bartenders (who have all been ranked as some of Canada’s finest) from our favourite establishments across Toronto. All of the bartenders faced the same challenge: to create a modern spin on a classic scotch cocktail using the beloved Chivas 12-Year-Old or Chivas 18-Year-Old. We took in the art and creative process of cocktail crafting and sat down with the mixologists for a little insight into their cocktail creation and career choice. We kicked it off with Adam Teolis of Nota Bene, then featured Craig Moffat from Toronto’s Royal York Hotel, followed by Robin Goodfellow from Ursa. This week, we chat with Mike Birdsey from beloved Ossington hot spot Boehmer.
Elevator Pitch: Describe your job in a nutshell.
I am the bar manager, bouncer king and all around nice guy. I’d consider myself the face of Boehmer. My job is to engage customers, ensure they enjoy their time and that they leave with a smile.
How did you start in this business? What was the inspiration for this career route?
I went to a college away from my friends and would take the bus there each morning. I started to chat with this guy I would see every day on the bus and got to know him. He ended up being the head bartender at the shopping centre. I was working at a nearby sports store and he basically recruited me as a bar back, but I became head bartender within a year. I then worked at the Living Room in the UK, where I got a lot of my practical training. I traveled to Spain to work, and then Toronto. It’s different here; in the UK, I was within the top 500 bartenders, whereas here in Canada, I’m probably within the top 20-25. We’re only just breaking into the crazy cocktail culture in Canada. Now, I participate in all kinds of competitions.
Chivas 18 stands out from the crowd. What differentiates your bartending style from the competition?
I don’t even call myself a mixologist. I am the guy behind the bar who does stuff. I am not perfectly specialized in one aspect, but great at everything all around, and that’s what makes a good bartender; someone who’s good with people, in sales, with flair and taste for a properly crafted drink.
What is the best part of what you do on a day-to-day basis? The most challenging part?
The best part is being able to meet and chat with new people. I especially love our regulars. In general though, I’ve met tons of people from all over; I have a ton of business cards. The most challenging part of the job is keeping people happy, because everyone is different and the tastes and needs of our customers are quite diverse. The trick comes in the ability to read people off the bat.
Your Chivas cocktail, Crown Jewels, is a modern interpretation of classic Blood and Sand. What was your inspiration behind creating this cocktail?
I am a big film guy and the original cocktail was named after a film that was made in 1922. It has a James Bond-ish feel. The Crown Jewels cocktail is also inspired by my British heritage. The rosemary, for example, is something that was used in all of my mom’s cooking. For something different, I used grapefruit instead of orange.
If your cocktail were a person, how would you describe them?
British. Archetypal English. He is strong, but has juice to his personality. He’s a rough English guy with a heart of gold.
What does success look like to you?
Success to me is one day owning my own bar and being the head bartender there with two people on either side of me..
What is your most memorable moment on the job?
Well, this happened recently. I ended up chatting with a guy at the bar and he told me he was in town for work. When I asked him what he did he said he was working on a film called Robocop. I asked him if he worked as a crewmember as I didn’t recognize him at all. He told me he was playing Robocop, but I didn’t believe him. I honestly thought it was a joke until he told me his name, Joel Kinnaman, and I discretely IMDB’d him from my phone. Sure enough, he was Robocop. That was kind of awkward when I had to go back to him with my tail between my legs.
Who would you most like to share a Chivas with?
Sean Connery because he was the best Bond and he’s Scottish and I am not likely to ever meet him.