How to Use the Web to Connect to the Global Bar Community

See more Uncategorized

I’ve put together a transcript of my presentation at the BCB as well as all of the slides I used, especially for those of you whose first language is not English. I had a great time presenting and sincerely hope I can do it again next year!


My name is Jeffrey Morgenthaler, and I’m a bartender and cocktail blogger from Eugene, Oregon. Oregon is, for those of you who don’t know, on the west coast of the United States, north of California – where I grew up.

Eugene is a small town of about 100,000 people. The closest metropolitan area is Portland, about 100 miles to the north. Here it is.

Eugene is a college town, and so most of the bars are college bars. A lot of beer gets poured, and lot of Jägermeister gets taken down in shots. The sorts of things we’re seeing here at the BCB, craft bartending, classic cocktails, culinary-style drinks, etc. don’t matter to most of the bar community in my town, they’re all relatively unknown outside of a small handful of bars. So what you’re probably wondering is, how did this guy, from this bar, in a small town we’ve never heard of, how did he end up coming all of the way to Berlin to speak at the BCB? Well, for many years now, I have been using the web to connect to the global bar community.

As I’ve learned while preparing this presentation, this can be a really big topic. Robert Hess said it best:

So how does one begin connecting to the global bar community through the web? Well, I’m going to show you a brief history of the path I’ve taken, and hopefully give you some insight into how you can both connect and contribute to what’s happening out there now.

In the late 1990s, a San Francisco bartender named Paul Harrington started writing a cocktail column for Hotwired, which was an online magazine at the time. In the column, Paul examined the history of classic cocktails and provided recipes and notes for a drink every week. He also published some of his original creations.

While the site only lasted a couple of years before being abandoned and eventually taken down, it was a tremendous influence on me and a lot of other aspiring mixologists at the time. It had the most thorough information on the web about cocktails, ingredients, liquors, and drink history. It was also updated every week, which made it an early version of a cocktail blog.

I started blogging about cocktails in 2004. My site originally began as a way to share my bar’s cocktail recipes with our customers, and not really much more. As the site began to grow, I started looking around for other cocktail blogs.

The first site I discovered was The Art of Drink. At the time it was – and still is – the most widely-read cocktail blog in the world. Darcy O’Neil is a chemical engineer and a bartender living in Canada. He’s written for The Journal of the American Cocktail, presented at Tales of the Cocktail in New Orleans and is generally a master of his craft. His site should always be your first stop when doing any cocktail research on the web. The amount of information here is not just impressive, it’s breathtaking. Really. From instructions on how to make your own vermouth and bitters, to the complete Jerry Thomas Bartender’s Guide, it’s all here.

Another site I became an instant regular reader of was the Cocktail Chronicles by Paul Clarke. While Paul doesn’t write about bartending per se, this is still one of the most informative cocktail-related websites out there, especially as related to classic cocktails.

In April of 2006, Paul proposed the idea of a monthly online gathering for cocktail writers and enthusiasts. Each event would have a theme, and a different blogger would host the party at their site each month. He called it Mixology Monday, and that first round drew a whopping crowd of eight bloggers. Two and a half years later, over 40 websites from all over the world participate in Mixology Monday each month. If you maintain any sort of cocktail-related presence on the web, whether it be on a forum, with a blog, or through any other means, participating in Mixology Monday is the single best way to connect to the online cocktail community. You can go to mixologymonday.com to learn more about how to participate.

Back when I started writing about cocktails, blogging was a relatively new phenomenon. But today there are nearly 113 million blogs on the internet. And thanks to the work of my friend Gabriel at cocktailnerd.com, we’ve estimated that somewhere over 130 of them are cocktail-related blogs.

Now at .000000115% of the total blog population, that’s not a huge number, ha ha. But considering what a specialized group of enthusiasts we are, 130+ is a pretty good start.

Paul Harrington’s column on Hotwired was indicative of the web at that time: it was relatively static, and although it contained, as I said before, the most thorough information about cocktails on the internet – something was missing: audience participation.

The real power of blogging versus standard web publishing is that it helps foster a conversation. Some posts on my website have turned into conversations that have spanned several years, with hundreds of comments from visitors all over the world.

It’s been my dedicated reading and commenting on both my site and other blogs around the world that has been the most effective way I’ve managed to connect with people in the global bar community. Not only can I attract new readers by participating on other sites, I can keep the conversation alive on my own site by simply popping in from time to time to add my thoughts.

But another important quality that the blogs have the ability to do is to educate us about the most recent trends in mixology. And one very powerful side effect to this is that they can sometimes have a profound impact on taste. Here’s a perfect example.

I think most of you might know this guy. For those who don’t, this is Joerg Meyer, of Le Lion in Hamburg. Earlier this summer, Joerg had been playing around with a Gin Smash that substituted basil for mint. In July bought some red basil at the wholesale market and upon returning to work, came up with this drink:

That night, after work, he posted photos of the drink and the recipe to his blog.

Within days, bartenders from all over Germany were trying the drink for themselves and posting their findings on the internet.

Soon after, Helmut Adam declared that the search for the official drink of Summer 2008 was over, and that it was the Gin Red Basil Smash. Now bars all over Europe are putting the drink on their menu, and seeing great success with it.

We’ve looked at the evolution of the internet over the past ten years.

It started with web authoring being an answer to traditional publishing media. Suddenly people from all over the world had access to information instantly, for free, and at any time they chose.

Then we saw the development of the blogs. Now not only could the average person be an author, but through the commenting system readers could interact with the content.
Now, the next phase of the internet is the most exciting yet. Not only do we have access to the information, and not only can we interact with the information, but now we’ve reached a new phase where we can actually interact with the people responsible for content.

Backing up a bit, I want to talk about the web’s most popular blogging tool, Blogger.com. Blogger was developed by two young web developers who originally intended to build a piece of project management software. It morphed into the most popular web publishing tool, and was eventually purchased by Google in 2003.
Incidentally, it was these two people and this piece of software that were responsible for popularizing the term “blog”

Anyway, one of these developers went on to create a new piece of software, designed as a “micro-blogging” tool: a new way of publishing to a focused audience, initially via SMS, and eventually through the web. His name was Evan Williams, and this new piece of software is called Twitter.

I don’t know if Evan Williams is related to the Evan Williams we’re all familiar with, I’ve got an email out to him but I haven’t gotten a response yet.

Anyway, Twitter represents a way to communicate instantly to people who follow your Twitter feed. There are a few benefits to this. It takes no time at all to set up, even less time than a Blogger account. Twitter can be updated from anywhere, at any time, even from the most basic cell phone. You don’t have to be at a computer, you don’t even need a web-enabled mobile phone. You can begin to develop a relationship instantly with your readers, and receive feedback in real time.

Now, why is this so powerful? Because with very little energy, you can begin to connect to the global bar scene immediately. I use Twitter every day to communicate with many of the top cocktail bloggers, brand ambassadors, magazine editors and spirits writers in the industry. I also use Twitter to fill in the gaps between blog posts and stay connected to my readers. I also use a plugin to automatically update my Facebook page from Twitter.

And speaking of Facebook, this is another tool I use to fill in the gaps between blog posts and stay connected with my readers. Facebook is the fastest-growing social network site in the world, with an annual growth rate of 153%. Compare this to MySpace’s 3% annual growth rate and it becomes obvious that Facebook is the best way to connect to the social networking community. There are literally thousands of Facebook groups dedicated to the bar trade, and actively participating in these groups is a very simple way to connect to the global bar community.

But Facebook isn’t exclusive, and it’s easy to get lost among the millions of other users who visit Facebook every day for personal reasons or business unrelated to the bar trade. Fortunately, there is a new social networking platform on the horizon that hopes to attract some of those users who hope to exchange information in a more exclusive environment.

This is a brand new site that was just launched this year – sponsored by Angostura Bitters. It’s not the biggest social networking site, but it is gear specifically toward bartenders. Nearly 500 bartenders from all over the world use MySpeedRail, and they’re committed to improving the service every day. With MySpeedRail, you can do a lot of the same things you do with Facebook or MySpace – you can get involved in forums, send messages, read blog posts, etc.

I asked them why Angostura Bitters would want to sponsor a site like this. They don’t get involved with the content, they don’t advertise too heavily on the site and the site’s only purpose is to promote craft bartending worldwide. Their answer? “Quality bartenders know how to use bitters.” Fair enough.

Now, to close this segment on social networking, I did want to mention one last point: one of the downsides to social networking is that it’s easy to forget one important thing: and that’s this: While social networking may feel like you’re having a personal relationship with your friends, or even “friends”, you should still be mindful of the fact that these relationships are available to and accessible by anyone on the internet, so maintaining some sense of privacy should always be considered a priority. Whether it’s comments left in somewhere like a Facebook wall, or personal photos that are made available to the public, you should always remember to proceed with caution.

I want to step away from social networking for a minute and talk about learning resources. Since we were talking earlier about how the blogs are a great way to learn about new trends, I think I should point out a few of my other favorite online resources for learning about mixology, craft bartending, new products, and cutting-edge techniques

First up are the mailing lists. Now, there are many, many bar trade mailing lists you can subscribe to, but I strongly recommend you make joining Gary Regan’s Ardent Spirits mailing list a priority. It’s sent out almost every other week, and it contains information about new products, educational seminars, job opportunities, and so many other types of announcements. You can sign up for the newsletter at ardentspirits.com
Another great way to connect to the global bar community is through forums.

eGullet is not technically a bar trade forum, but an online group discussion targeted at those in the world of the culinary arts. Fortunately for all of us, they have a very active section of the website that encompasses mixology and all things bar-related. If you’re concerned with being involved on a daily basis, eGullet is a great way to connect and contribute to the online bar community through a group of enthusiasts who maintain an active influence on the current global trends. You can even catch my good friend Erik Ellestad, who is posting every single drink – in order – from the Savoy Cocktail Book on eGullet.

The English-speaking European world also has a forum that enjoys some very healthy group participation: barbore.com. While the mainstay of forum regulars here is UK bartenders, there is still a clear opportunity for more worldwide participation throughout the English-speaking world.

And last, but certainly not least, there is DrinkBoy.com. Created in the late 90s by our friend Robert Hess, the DrinkBoy forums now contain some of the most valuable cocktail information out there, with such luminaries as Gary Regan and David Wondrich making regular visits and providing insights into the trade. On DrinkBoy you’ll not only find recipe research and historical information, but also reviews of bars and bartenders around the world.

Another way to stay on top of what’s happening in the bar world is through multimedia. I’m a sucker for technique, I like to know more than just a recipe – I want to see how other bartenders are actually making their drinks. So I watch videos and try to learn all I can from them.

Speaking of Robert Hess, this is The Cocktail Spirit video podcast. These are some of the best videos on classic cocktail construction out there. I can make a Pegu Club Cocktail in my sleep, but I still re-watch Robert make one from time to time just to remind myself how it should be done and stay connected to current technical trends.

This is Brilliant Cocktails by Chris Doig, a bartender in Copenhagen. Chris’s girlfriend and her friends originally suggested filming Chris at work one night, and like a good boyfriend he obliged them and they put out the first season of podcasts. The feedback he received from viewers all over the world has been so positive that he has filmed a second season, and I’m happy to announce today that the first episode has been released and it is available for viewing at brilliantcocktails.com

But there can be a negative side to all of this information that’s available out there, and I want to caution you all to continually do thorough research, and question everything you read online. Because not all of the bartending information out there is good, and some of it is downright incorrect. And to illustrate this point I want to introduce you to one such bit of bartending information:

Thank you for coming.

24 Replies to “How to Use the Web to Connect to the Global Bar Community”

  • Dominik MJ says:

    Hey Jeffrey,

    congratulations for this nice presentation – and even more congratulations for the overwhelming reaction you got!

    I am looking forward to your next posts about experiences of Berlin and the BCB.

    This year I had no chance to attend – hopefully next year we meet each other there…

    Cheers

    Dominik MJ

  • Thanks, Evan and Dominik! As I mentioned, I was pretty nervous going into this, but as I started talking to people I realized that not everyone is as entrenched in the online cocktail world as some of us seem to be, and that I had a real opportunity to share some of my insight.

    The BCB was very well done: it seemed small enough to be manageable, the brands and vendors were all pertinent to the current atmosphere (there weren’t 20 different energy drinks – such a refreshing change) and the presentations all felt very hand selected.

    Everyone that I spoke with was very impressed with the Bar Convent and I hope it continues to stay on such a positive path!

  • Dude, absolutely killer work. You nailed it. Honestly, you really should propose this as a panel for next years Tales, as an illustration of how bartenders can increase their business and exposure through the Internet. I know I get a lot of offers and stuff I wouldn’t ordinarily get without the online networking and writing that I do. I get quite a few bartenders asking me about it, and I think your presentation would be a big benefit to other bartenders.

    Great stuff

  • Spencer says:

    So? It’s a few years later… How HAS it changed? Hopefully a few of those zeroes of that percentage have been taken out…

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *