During bar shifts, one of the most frequent questions from customers is if I'm a mixologist or a bartender. I usually reply that I'm just a really nerdy bartender. Recently, people have accused me of selling myself short through my answer. The truth is that I just don't like the term "mixologist."
As defined by the Oxford English Dictionary, a mixologist is "a person who is skilled at mixing cocktails and other drinks." At its root, a mixologist is a craft bartender who's good at what they do. However, the definition is vague and fails to take into account the word's connotations.
The first problem with the term is that no standard is set. It's unclear which cocktails are required knowledge and what skills must be used in their creation. Since craft bartending is a vibrant and evolving field, this requirement is fluid. New cocktails are created daily, and the amount of knowledge available about product and classic recipes and cocktail history is constantly expanding.
My biggest problem with the term is with the word's connotations. A mixologist is someone who is interesting but largely unapproachable. Their quirky drinks or personal eccentricities can alienate parts of the population by making them feel out of place. In the Portlandia episode "Mixologist," bartender Andy Samberg makes a ridiculous and somewhat off-putting cocktail that makes his customers swoon. Three cheers for a ginger-based bourbon drink with rotten bananas, egg whites, egg yellows, lime zest and much more...
Though he's playing up the role, he's riffing on everything that can make craft cocktails intimidating. In a city like Birmingham where the cocktail scene is still growing and developing, it's easy to spook people who are new to the concept. That said, it's just as easy to make customers feel welcome and answer their questions about drinks and product. To do so, you just have to be a really nerdy bartender.