How are you finding it here at tales?
Great! I Just finished my first sip at ‘tales’ and we’ve been very successful getting people to try my liquids, and yes! I’m very happy to be in New Orleans after a long time. The last time I was here was 2006 just after Katrina
What are the main differences that you can see between post-katrina and now?
I flew in from London for a quick visit to ‘Tales’ to do seminars but it’s pretty similar actually. There was a lot of support for local business especially after the storm. There was a great party with Peychaud bitters because of the distillery. The big guys were always around, and we partied with Dale DeGroff, and numerous other industry people. There are no new accounts, and only a few new bars have opened in the past 10 years but New Orleans has always had great character, great hotels, and great bar programs too.
So we know who you are, we’ve read up on you and followed your brand, but just for our readers can you give us a primer on what your resume is?
Basically I’ve been a true bartender for about 20 years, and I would use fortified wine in my cocktails. I used to use sherry 20 years ago, madeira, and marsalas, so I guess you can say fortified wine has been a secret ingredient for all of my cocktails. That’s why I carry that particular flair in my cocktails. Especially when I do my negroni; when I do my negroni’s I use more vermouth than the other ingredients, when I do my manhattan, I use more vermouth, when I do my Martinez, I use more vermouth, vesper? Same thing. And people love it because I think people don’t like to drink when it’s super strong. Even when I do my Sazerac, there’s a little twist to it.
So I started bartending when I was 17-18, moved to the US and studied hotel and restaurant management. I worked in the US for a bit, then moved back to London after the twin towers. I worked with Salvatore Calabrese for 4 years at the library bar, then after that, Salvatore decided to open a casino, but I wanted to stay in the hotels. So what I did was open a company known in London called GiancarloBAR limited, started a consultancy in Asia, and I picked up some group hotels where I started to bring the idea of the great beverage programs to 5 star hotels.
My top clients are 5-star hotels, and actually, I recently signed a massive contract for 5 years with Rosewood Hotels. I’m now the beverage director for Rosewood, starting with the new properties and then the old properties as well. I think hotels are realizing that they should have a good beverage program, from the mini-bar, to the water in the limousine that picks you up, to the swimming pools, beach bars, leisure hotels, all of that.
That’s why you see more boutique hotels that focus more on the food and beverage programs than they do on the rooms. After flying 18 hours, a good bed is fine, but I don’t need all the fancy things. Open the minibar and get the right drink, or call room service and let the guy mix you a good martini, those are the programs we’re doing with our hotels in Singapore and hotels everywhere.
So basically, from London, I opened my company then I settled down in Mauritius, Martines, and the tropical islands. I used to work with ‘The one and only’, and I used to work with ‘Six Senses’, and ‘Antara’. All of my clients include, ‘four seasons’, ‘Viceroys’, all of them. I have a team of about 8 people at the moment who just take care of my programs, and I opened a bar with a Michelin star chef named Philippe Henrico, it’s a “bistro-ique” cocktail bar with 60-70 cheeses, went to India for 4 years to work with the Tata group, the Taj Hotels, the four seasons, and the Hyatt, opened about 21 programs in 4 years… let’s say I built the beverage ideas behind the bars in India. In India, there were 4 brands (at the time), and I started to bring spirits to all of the bars I started. Imagine opening a bar with 4 spirits? It was very tough. Let’s say I spent 10 years in India, and now I’m in Hong Kong, based as a logistic brokerage, but I travel the world because of my Vermouth.
Giancarlo BAR Limited manages Giancarlo Vermouth, Giancarlo BAR opens up top beverage programs around Asia… there’s a new project going on in Seattle, and I help spirits come to Asia.
You mentioned bringing spirits to Asia, and that India, when you started only had 4 main brands. Is Asia currently behind Europe and North America?
No way, they are far ahead now. A little bit because of the Japanese mentality, a little because there are a lot of foreigners living there, but there are some programs in Asia that I haven’t seen anywhere else. You guys need to watch out. You should really come down and check it out for yourselves. For sure I can say that Asia is the same level as Europe, but America needs to catch up.
Catch up big time. In terms of everything. Quality of ice, quality of glassware, quality of products… well, the thing is the products are here, cost is probably better, but with beverage costs you always have to be a magician. There are some bar programs (In North America) that are still using some really bad products. When I was bartending I would go and visit, some of the best bars in America, I would look at some stuff and say ‘are you serious?’ Being a brand owner I can’t complain much but before, I was a bit nasty. I’m not a big drinker, but I love my quality, I love my room, I love my food, I can pay for whatever, but give it to me, don’t cheat me. That’s what I felt with some of my experiences in America, that I was being cheated out of quality. Maybe it’s the younger generation of bartender? I don’t know, but maybe I’m also wrong.
So with that said, do you think Asia is just more adept to embracing quality and new things?
Asia has a lot of social media, there’s a social network, its crazy. If you screw up with the quality, you can shut down the bar in two months. If a blogger comes to your bar and sees a big difference in the quality of your ice and sees a bad difference in the spirits you’re using, they can shut down your bar. So, not because I agree with them, but they are looking for quality, that’s it. You can’t use commercial spirits or product anymore.
In my bar, I have 2 different freezers to keep 2 different types of ice. One is at minus 30 to keep in martini’s, another one is at minus 18 to put in drinks, then I have blocks, and crushed ice… my ice program is crazy because I believe ice is 50% of the cocktail.
What blows your mind the most about the bar programs you’ve seen to date?
Ice programs are coming up like crazy. There are cities where you’ll find ice blocks and they cut the ice for you. There’s a company in Italy that uses UHT egg whites. I don’t know about you but I don’t like to see the egg white opened in front of the customers when they make you a sour. It stinks and it stinks up all of your equipment. It can be hard to digest too. I found this company in Italy that does it, but even when I visited the supermarket in America, I noticed that you guys have them as well, so I highly recommend you use that because the HCCP is very important for your customers. When you open that UHT egg white it does the same thing. We use it for texture and not taste.
These are particular things that when I see a bar they must be there; Ice, UHT egg whites, and fresh fruits. I don’t squeeze fruits 30 minutes before I start a shift. People always ask how I do 300 cocktails a night that way? I say, come to my bar and I’ll show you. There are some bartender friends of mine who say ‘we’re going to squeeze 30 minutes before’, but when I make a drink with fresh fruits, whiskey, UHT Egg Whites, and Angostura, it tastes different. I could put the cheapest whiskey in that drink and it’ll be fine. There’s compromise, but a few elements behind the bar and it’s perfect.
Then there’s glassware, I actually just came up with an idea to create my own glassware. The glassware is called wormwood, the collection. It’s a collaboration between myself and Italesse, which is an Italian company. I created 4 different versions, Astoria Martini glass, El Presidente Coupe, Rock Gobbler, and alto ball.
It’s beautiful. Is it made out of Crystal?
Italian Crystal. Normally you’d go to all the markets and say you need 2 of these, 4 of those, just to stock for your program, but I came up with an idea and asked Italesse if they would love to do something out of the box, and they put about 1 million euro into it.
In terms of bitters, I don’t use bitters in my bar,
You don’t use bitters?
For what? Angostura and Peychaud are enough. I have a few bitters for colleagues, other bartenders, and if a blogger came to my bar and asked why I don’t use 25 bitters like the others, but I’m not a bitter guy. But I believe in Angostura and Peychaud a lot, I believe in Amargo Chungo for my pisco sour, a good orange bitter, fine… but all these textures, bitters, I’m very happy to say that I don’t use any of those.
They say bitters are the salt and pepper to a cocktail, so I guess the analogy is like adding extra salt to a perfectly cooked meal by a chef.
If you go to a Michelin star restaurant, if I need to put salt on the plate, you’re not Michelin.
Bitters are ok, there are interesting combinations, great possibilities, but I went to a bar in Seattle, and there were more bitters than the bottles. I said ok ‘let’s have a shot of Angostura’.
Gin? You want to talk about gin? Ok, let’s make another one, no problem! Again, it’s fine, the craft world loves gin and they are better than the commercial ones, but I don’t believe a bar needs 40 gins behind it. 7-8? American Gin, English, French, New Italian, get some Hayman’s that’s it.
We talk about Aperitivo’s, how many Amaro’s do I need to have behind my bar? For who? I go to Chicago and they have more Amaro than you’ll find in Italy. I don’t know where the hell they get it from? Just to destroy Fernet? You will never destroy fernet. I opened a program and in one week they did 4000 cocktails with 3 bartenders per night. Behind the bar they have 27 ice cubes, 2 juices, 2 bitters, tomato juice, egg white, done. I believe in these kinds of programs. What kind of food? One sandwich, and 19 cocktails with 19 different glasses, and they make 20 thousand USD a day in Singapore.
So Asia is light years ahead?
Don’t get me wrong, America I’m sure, Canada I haven’t seen yet, but I know there are a few great spots in the US, but I’m seeing people in Scandinavia that will make you freak out. Forget about London. If you go to Helsinki, Stockholm, Oslo, they will make you say ‘I’m not a bartender’.
What about Russia?
Russia, Czechoslovakia, they have all these weird things you don’t think about. All these boys go to Asia because they know they will catch up more in terms of detail. I have four bartenders from Nepal who make better martinis than me. I tell everyone to come to Asia because there’s so much more passion.
I agree that it’s Passion, but how much do you think is discipline?
Discipline is a big thing in Asia as well, but they respect everything they do and they respect the customers. You don’t screw up your customers in Asia. Not because they have power, but because they will put the message out on social media and never return. We need to remember one thing… we are in hospitality. But in some parts of the world, hospitality doesn’t exist anymore.
Dushan Zaric, said that the evolution of the cocktail industry will be a renewed focus on hospitality, do you agree or disagree?
Guys, we are missing that. If I don’t receive hospitality from you first, you should be a butcher and sell your Angus meat. The spirits, the liquids, the bitters are secondary. I’ve sat at a bar where the bartender doesn’t look at me for 15 minutes and he’s trying to look like a superstar. Forget it. We need to smile, we need to have a passion behind the bar If you do this job as a worker, it’s the worst. Not only as a bartender, but as a maître D, if you do this job just to be a worker, forget it.
Where are the places that are doing it right?
Any bars and restaurants in particular?
The best martini is in a place called ‘Del Diego’ in Madrid, the best experience? It’s kind of hard to choose especially now with my brand, but my bar called ‘ON’, in Singapore there’s a bar called Manhattan, 28 Hong Kong Street, I’ll send you a list but for now it’s around Scandinavia and Asia. But last night I had a great dinner and great drink at Compare Lapin here in New Orleans. Great program, the food is outstanding, and the hospitality is brilliant. The Bartender, the food, and the hospitality were all great at the same time.
Staying on that topic, what are your core ideals when it comes to hospitality?
Be a showman with people and they will love it, they will come back. Support them, tell them to go to your competitor, tell them to drink something they’ve never tried, give something for free, connect on social media, that’s how to connect today.
Switching gears a bit, what separates your Vermouth from the other brands?
Very simple, being a bartender and looking for classic cocktails, I wanted to do something special. I used to mix amaro into my negronis, because vermouth didn’t have anything there. 3 years ago, I began to research my botanicals and brought them back to Asia. Second, I buy my wine in Italy, send it back to Italy, and my batches take 9 months to do it… and I pay my man up front just to get the right product. I source great ingredients from Thailand, Vietnam, Italy, the UK… it’s a combination of a few travels and a few connections to get the product together.
The Vermouth is absolutely fantastic. What’s next for Mancino Vermouth?
Nothing too crazy, just concentrating on the US a lot, Asia is fixed, every bar in Asia has Mancino Vermouth. I have a great importing and proofing company (the people who own 28 Hong Kong Street). Here in the US, there are important industry people using the product and Europe is basically covered too. I just need to take care of myself, and my aperitvos, jump around a few bars and be a guest bartender and make sure that people know the bartender behind the product. There’s nobody else in this business. I don’t have a bank, I don’t have debts, I don’t have a brand ambassador, or a manager. It’s me, my label, my family name, my wife, and that’s it. This is the attitude.
There are a lot of bartenders out there that love the industry, but feel like they may need to move onto something else based on societal pressures to work a ‘real job’. As someone who has been tremendously successful, what do you have to say to them?
Learn about hospitality, keep your quality level high, be honest, don’t go crazy, and love your job. That’s just reality.
Thank you so much for the chat Giancarlo. Wishing you all the success in the world.
Special Thanks to Katie Discher