March 2016 Bartender of the Month: Jon Kraus
Name: Jon Kraus
Recent Gigs: A newcomer to the world of cocktails, Jon Kraus originally pursued bartending as a way to avoid the confines of office life after school. His skills have come a long way since attending club bartending school; it was after discovering BarSmarts and the USBG that he realized all that there was to offer in the world of craft cocktails, and has pursued it with a passion ever since. Jon initially got his start while at the helm of East Village cocktail bar Louis 649, learning from others around him while creating new cocktails and developing a training program that emphasized classics, technique, science, and speed. Next came the cocktail competition circuit, where meeting other like-minded, smart, and driven individuals convinced him that this was the career that he wanted to continue pursuing.
Jon placed 3rd in the national finals of Mandarine Napoleon’s Emperor’s Challenge, landing a trip to Europe and a guest bartending shift at Amsterdam’s famous Door-74, and has twice had the privilege of competing in Diageo’s World Class program. In 2014, he was selected as the US Winner of the 2014 Cherry Heering ‘Sling Award’, ultimately traveling to Berlin and placing second of 43 countries in the global finals. More mixing and mingling came with an invitation to participate in the inaugural Reykjavik Bar Summit: three days in Iceland with some of the world’s best bar teams. Representing his home bar, The Gilroy, Jon and his teammate Eric presented to and learned from some of the world’s best bar teams on concepts and creativity, culminating in an epic Team USA vs. Team Europe “Battle of the Continents” throwdown. With continued education always in mind, Jon continues to attend tastings and seminars through various conferences including Portland Cocktail Week and regular USBG meetings, and plans to attend the esteemed BAR (Beverage Alcohol Resource) 5-Day Program in the upcoming year.
Why did you become a bartender?
I was fresh out of school and wanted a job that avoided the routine of office life. I had this amazing job that first summer as a summer camp counselor for gifted students, in Los Angeles. It was only six weeks, but with the sunshine and great friends (don’t get me wrong, we worked 18 hours a day, but we loved it), you can be sure I wanted to do everything in my power to be able to return next year. I thought trying my hand at bartending would be fun and give me some flexibility to be able to go back.
I don’t think I was fully aware of what I was getting myself into at the time, but I ultimately made it back four more summers. In the process, I slowly discovered a whole world of smart, talented people passionate about their craft. The minute I saw that there was an intellectual side to (proper) drink making and a strong community of individuals to back it up, I was hooked. Hasn’t felt like I’ve been at work in years.
What are some fun flavors you’re working with?
I’ve always believed in mostly sticking to simple, back bar ingredients, and the program I currently work under doesn’t require anything esoteric, but I did recently get to visit a few incredible bars in London that certainly push the boundaries when it comes to flavor. Mustard foam with chocolate and sprinkles, iceberg lettuce juice, pickled bananas... Maybe not for everyone, but I thought they were awesome. It’s certainly made me think about what we can do with flavor a bit more.
What are you doing different from the norm in your beverages?
I don’t know if it’s anything different, but I like to live by a few simple rules when it comes to executing cocktails; proper technique and a basic understanding of science will get you very far when it comes to making good drinks. Understand how ice and heat exchange really work, how flavor molecules (compared or contrasted) work and are affected by temperature, but most importantly, keep it simple. Also, learn to work efficiently and stay clean and organized behind your bar – there’s nothing more that irritates me than a sloppy bartender.
What’s the next hot trend in mixology?
Fun. Quirky, creative, gimmicky fun. It’s already happening and those are the bars that I look to for inspiration. Cool menus, fun presentations – I’m into it. We'll find ways to push the boundary there, now that everybody has a fundamental expectation for drinks to already taste good. It’s how your next bar will stand out.
What’s in the mixing glass or shaker for your customers?
A crushed ice mojito with a little pressed orange at the bottom. Delicious.
What are you sipping on and why?
My roommate’s Wild Turkey Kentucky Spirit from a private bottling for Haymarket Bar in Louisville, KY. Nothing beats mooching.
What are you dancing to while mixing?
Anything my guests and I can sing along to. There’s a certain inherent camaraderie in tipsy belting that makes your night that much more special.
What are some quirks/quotes you are known for?
Feeding you candy. If I have a stash behind the bar, I’ll always share.
What role does beer play in your job as a bartender/server?
Beer absolutely plays an important role; not everybody drinks cocktails. You’ll obviously find that beer and wine contribute differently to sales depending on where you work, but they do. Be prepared and be educated about what you’re selling: everybody should acquire at least a basic level of knowledge no matter where they tend bar. Not only is it good to learn about for the sake of learning, it also makes you a more valuable asset long-term.