February 2015 Bartender of the Month: Mike Ryan
Name: Mike Ryan
Establishment: National Bar Education Manager for Kimpton Hotels
Recent Gigs: As National Bar Education Manager for Kimpton Hotels, Mike Ryan brings over 15 years of culinary and beverage experience to the table as he travels the country opening bars, teaching, training, and educating bartenders. In 2008, he was asked to join The Violet Hour team. In early 2010 he was tapped to help open Sable Kitchen and Bar in Chicago’s River North area, which quickly gained national acclaim for its commitment to quality as well as approachability. A Logan Square, Chicago, resident, Ryan is also one of the heads of the esteemed Cocktail Apprentice Program at Tales of the Cocktail in New Orleans and abroad. He has been featured in Time Out Chicago, The New York Times, Imbibe, GQ, and Whiskey magazine. In his spare time he runs the craft ice company Just Ice, supplying Chicago bars and restaurants with crystal clear, perfect cubes of large-format ice.
Why did you become a bartender?
It was sort of an accident…I was a line cook and then sous chef at a high end restaurant in Chicago; the chef asked me to step in as a bartender because he wanted a more culinary stance at the bar…One thing led to another and I found I really enjoyed the people aspect of the job.
What are some fun flavors you’re working with?
Right now we are doing a cocktail with golden beets and szechuan peppercorn, the earthiness of the beets balances with the bright zing of the peppercorn.
What are you doing differently?
What’s the norm anymore? No such thing. Premixed, corn-syrup laden cocktails are rapidly disappearing, and innovation is the new norm. Everything is craft, artisanal, hand-made, locally sourced, etc. The difference is hospitality, and approachability, and that’s what we aim for.
What's in the mixing glass or shaker for your customers?
The drink they want, whether they know exactly how to ask for it or not.
What are you sipping on and why?
Brandy is my current obsession, from Cognac to Armagnac to Calvados to Poire William to local eaux-de-vie…bright, acidic and refreshing.
What are you dancing to while mixing?
Depends on what’s playing…but in my head when we hit our stride and the drinks are flowing and the crowd is jamming I always want to hear LCD Soundsystem, Sound of Silver.
What are some quirks/quotes you are known for?
“Gin is like sex, if you don’t like it you’re doing it wrong."
Benjamin Franklin is famous for saying “Beer is proof that God loves us and wants us to be happy.” What’s your beer mantra?
“Milk is for babies. When you grow up you have to drink beer.”—Arnold Schwarzenegger