If you’ve been in this industry awhile, you’ve likely been served a drink by Alexei Beratis. From behind the bar to behind the scene of some of Boston’s hottest bars and restaurants, Beratis now divides his time between beverage consulting
(he owns Of the Spirits Beverage Consulting) and running the newly formed Boston Beverage Society with partner Jamie Walsh of Stoddard’s Fine Food & Ale in downtown Boston. The duo have solidified what many in the Boston cocktail scene have talked about for years – creating the first formal gathering of the industry talent at the upcoming Boston Cocktail Summit in October. In a city that has claimed victory two years running (Drink and Eastern Standard) at the infamous Bar Room Brawl cocktail battle at Tales of the Cocktail, isn’t it about time? I caught up with Beratis at Hawthorne to find out what he thinks . . . and drinks.
BRANDY RAND You have had quite the diverse career in Boston over the years. Tell me about it:
ALEXEI BERATIS It all started back in the early eighties for me. Happy Hours were still around and I cut my teeth slinging two-for-one margaritas at a local Mexican restaurant. From then on, it was just bartending until I had a guest order a Cosmo. We were out of Rose’s Lime so I did fresh squeezed lime. Of course I tasted it first and then I got it – it wasn’t just a drink, it was a cocktail!
Well, that led me to employment at more upscale restaurants. I had all the best shifts at Harvest in Cambridge when a friend let me know he was opening a new restaurant so who was I to let him down? In late 2OOO Lucca opened in the North End and it wasn’t long before we had one of the best industry nights on Sundays. As the place grew they gave me the opportunity to take over the beverage program. This gave me a chance to engage my creative side through selections and cocktails. I had a great seven years there before I moved on to other beverage manager and wine director positions.
When I thought burn-out was approaching, I sold an Italian wine portfolio for a time. Realizing I missed the creativity and guest interaction, I accepted a position at Scampo which opened the door to take the beverage and wine manager position at the high-profile opening of Towne Stove and Spirits. Maybe it was too many stairs at Towne that motivated me to go out on my own, but now I enjoy sharing my knowledge through trainings, creating cocktail and wine lists, and working with brands on their marketing programs.
BR Though Boston has garnered a stellar reputation for cocktail culture, it’s been slow to organize officially (a Boston US Bartenders’ Guild chapter and the Bartender’s Collaborative were established in 2O1O). Why do you think that is?
AB I think many people were too busy learning or catching up to the cocktail culture that nobody really thought to organize. We weren’t paying attention to each other in a positive way. Once we realized that creating the cocktail culture required unity, sharing and praise, and educating our guests, then we saw individuals and groups finally take the lead to unite officially.
BR What was the inspiration behind starting the Boston Beverage Society?
AB Jamie Walsh and I wanted to unify the city’s talented beverage professionals and give back to the city that affords us our version of the American dream. To that means, we hold events and of course our headliner, the three-day Boston Cocktail Summit [bostoncocktailsummit.com] which we hope is a huge success as we intend to donate to our selected charities and start the funding of our long-term goal: to create a center for hospitality, mixology and culinary arts complete with test kitchens and bars, laboratories, and lecture halls that will offer free or low-cost resources and hospitality, mixology and culinary training that will be fully accredited by all authorities.
BR How would you describe Boston’s cocktail scene to someone who has never been here?
AB Intriguing. We have many great establishments all with unique atmospheres and more on the way. I recently took a friend on a tour of our newest cocktail bars; he called me later that week to ask if I would take a group on the same tour, he was floored by what he experienced!
BR What are some emerging drink trends you are seeing around town?
AB Savory or bitter cocktails are on the rise, interesting in their depth of layered flavors. Also the re-emergence of fun, yet well-crafted cocktails. Who could not like a frozen Blood & Sand?
BR What is the most important thing a bar manager can do to have a successful cocktail program?
AB How about two most important. Certainly proper costing plays a big part in success, which I think a lot of managers tend to ignore. Sure they cost out the spirits but then put cocktails on a list that have secondary ingredients that cost as much as the base spirit with pricing the same as the base spirit and soda! The second aspect is a well-written cocktail menu – components of classics, creative and a signature cocktail that span a range of spirits to appeal to all.
BR Three words to describe a good bartender . . .
AB Honest, engaging and accurate.
BR What advice would you give bartenders looking to grow their career?
AB Always be willing to listen and learn, and never forget that hospitality is the name of our industry. Practice it at all times.
BR What has been your favorite role in this industry so far and why?
AB When I do Flavor Profiling sessions, I enjoy watching others learn to think beyond the norm and then we do the application, where creativity plays a big role. It’s gratifying to receive the thank you and watch the pride in people’s faces when they realize what they can now create.
BR Where do you go to unwind for a drink?
AB I enjoy Hawthorne, Stoddard’s or Silvertone.
BR What is your favorite cocktail and can you share a recipe?
AB My favorite is a simple yet elegant gin cocktail I call Charlemagne. It’s two ounces of Plymouth gin, half an ounce of agave nectar, half an ounce of fresh lime juice, half an egg white, and three dashes of lavender bitters.
Add all of the ingredients to a mixing glass. Cover and dry shake vigorously. Add ice and shake to chill. Double strain into a chilled coupe or cocktail glass and garnish with a long, thin lime twist.