In 2009, Tales of the Cocktail named Ciaran Wiese one of the nation’s top 10 mixologists to watch. After sitting at his bar for a few minutes, it’s easy to understand why. Wiese is the kind of bartender who can make a lousy day tolerable and a great one that much better. Talented, enthusiastic and witty, all of our futures should be so bright.
Wiese’s professional aspirations can be traced to his high school days in Tucson, Ariz. While working as a busser at a local restaurant, he had an opportunity to taste an absinthe and immediately became smitten. He then started investing his paychecks purchasing different absinthes through the mail — despite the fact that they were still illegal in the United States. After a year, he had amassed what he contends was a “pretty impressive collection of absinthes for a 19-year-old Tucsonan.”
Following graduation, Wiese moved to New York, where he began waiting tables at Jack the Horse Tavern in Brooklyn Heights. It was there, under the guidance of then-Bar Manager Damon Dyer, that Wiese became enamored with bartending and the art of mixing cocktails.
“I started purchasing antique bar books on E-Bay and pouring through every piece of bar-related literature I could lay my hands on,” Wiese says. “When I turned 21, I also started going to every cocktail lounge I could find — my favorites being Pegu Club and Death & Company [in New York City]. I couldn’t learn about mixology fast enough.”
The following year, family circumstances prompted Wiese to return to Arizona. Through sheer luck he landed a job at Barrio Food & Drink, a trendy, upscale restaurant in downtown Tucson. He was afforded the opportunity to completely transform the beverage program based largely on what he had learned from Dyer.
“Then in 2010, I was hired as the bar manager and head barkeep at the newly opened Scott & Co. It’s Tucson’s only authentic cocktail lounge, a small, speakeasy-style bar with a focus on well-crafted cocktails and Tiki drinks. Located next door is our sister restaurant, 47 Scott, where the menu focuses on simplistic, yet utterly delicious comfort food.”
Ciaran Wiese is the bar manager and head barkeep at Scott & Co. in Tucson, Ariz. Sister restaurant 47 Scott is located next door.
As a celebrated mixologist, Wiese often travels the country participating in cocktail competitions. While on the road, he likes to frequent the hotspots. He says it’s heartening to see operators in increasing numbers rolling out extensive bar menus promoting elegant cocktails made with interesting ingredients. However, in many instances, Wiese sees no evidence that staffs have been trained and educated to execute the bar’s program properly.
“You wouldn’t task the line cooks at Denny’s to prepare the menu at The French Laundry. Well, bartenders who can’t make a proper Martini or Negroni to save their life can’t be expected to deliver on the promise of an impeccable bar menu,” Wiese says. “They’d be better off with a simple menu with basics cocktails that the staff knows how to prepare flawlessly. A bar’s strength is not based on its cocktail menu, but rather the capabilities of the men and women who work the stick.”
As someone passionate about the art of bartending, Wiese is dubious of individuals who work behind the bar and lack the drive to master the craft.
“One of the first things I look for in a bartender is how well he or she uses the tools of the trade," he says. "Cooks and chefs bring their own tools of the trade to work. Bartenders need to maintain the same high professional standards. Another thing is exhibiting the know-how to use those tools. I've seen bartenders free-pouring ingredients into a drink while the jigger lays untouched on the pour mat. Or hand-shake cocktails that are meant to be stirred, even though there’s a bar spoon within reach. That’s why I typically drink beer when I go out.”
Wiese says he eventually would like to bartend at a cocktail lounge under the tutelage of an experienced pro. If asked what he likes most about bartending, Wiese already has framed his response.
“I genuinely like making people happy. Corny be damned, my job as a bartender is to make guests feel comfortable and content. Every time I succeed in making one more person smile I know I've done my job.”
How can you beat that?