Jeffrey Morgenthaler on sharing knowledge and finding longevity behind the bar
Jeffrey Morgenthaler has been a bartender for the best part of 25 years. Like many in the industry, he first got behind the jump part-time while studying in his 20s - a degree in interior architecture that he completed, but ultimately shelved. He quickly became obsessed with cocktails, bought up old books and began his own writing about drinks, recipes and techniques on his website. Now, he is a well-known industry authority, has two books of his own and has ticked over 11 years running the beverage program at Portland bars Clyde Common and Pepe Le Moko.
We wanted to know what it is that has helped him preempt industry trends, often long before anyone else.
“I think that part of the reason why I’ve been successful at ‘staying ahead of the game’, is that I don’t think of it as a game. Getting recognition is not why I do what I do. I genuinely enjoy it and I’ve been doing it for a very long time. I spent my time in the 90s studying classic cocktails, so by the time this thing really hit in the mid 2000s, I was already ahead of the curve because I was creating things."
And what about all the awards, such as being named American Bartender of the Year at Tales of the Cocktail in 2016?
“The recognition is very nice but I really don’t care. All I’m interested in is making delicious drinks, having a really happy, well-taken-care-of staff and guests. And sharing my knowledge - that's the big thing for me, especially with other bartenders. That’s why I write and do most of what I do; for bartenders, because I want to be able to help, and because I’m in a position where I have a pretty good wealth of information and I’m really excited to share it with people.
On highlighting the importance of technique, with ‘The Bar Book: Elements of Cocktail Technique’
Jeffrey's first book, published in 2014, is one that every bartender should own because there aren't many like it. As Jeffrey describes it, it's more of a 'training manual' than a book, which highlights the oft-forgotten necessary element of making great drinks: technique.
"At some point around 2012 or so, I looked at my website and I was like ‘There’s a lot of stuff about technique here; I take technique very seriously.
“The other reason was that I do a lot of cooking at home, and with cooking, the conversations around technique have been there from the beginning. Studying cooking, you have to study technique. It made me realise, ‘oh, it’s the same thing with cocktails - it’s an equal-parts formula of recipe, ingredients and technique, and there are so many books out there about recipes and ingredients, but there’d never been anything written about purely technique."
Yet surprisingly, and somewhat borne of the fact that the book broke the mould of traditional drinks titles, getting it published was no lay down misere.
"It was a challenging book to get published because, when you get some level of notoriety in the bar business, someone is going to approach you and ask you to do a book of your own recipes, and it’s just going to be a coffee table book and it’s going to go, recipe, sexy photo, recipe, sexy photo. I didn’t want to do that.
"So I fought with the publisher here and there but they did acquiesce, and I was able to get out what I was able to get out which was basically a training manual.
“With all of the information in that book, you should be able to make just about anything.”