Srdjan Mirkovic’s insightful opinions on the bar industry and crafting unique cocktails
By Diane Ujfalussy Barton
Long gone are the days when mixing a cocktail meant throwing some vodka in a glass, adding some OJ and calling it a Screwdriver. These days, bartending – or mixology by which it is often referred – is more like a chemical experiment in a lab. Ingredients in many cocktails today are so complex and rare, that you often need a dictionary to decipher them.
Mixologist or Bartender?
Basically, mixology is another term for mixing drinks and a mixologist is another moniker for a bartender. Today, however, the bar crowd looks at mixologists as having a more comprehensive knowledge of the art of mixing a great cocktail. Although many in the field believe there are distinct differences between the two terms, there is one creative soul in the heart of Manhattan who doesn’t really see it that way. In fact, he doesn’t really like the term, “mixologist.” Srdjan Mirkovic, 31, calls himself a bartender, but when comparing the terms bartender and mixologist, he certainly fits the mixologist’s bill, even though as a professional, he likes to stay away from the term.
Creating a good (and by good we mean greatly palatable) craft cocktail isn’t for the faint of heart, nor is it something anyone can simply do willy-nilly. Knowing how to mix good cocktails is an art and it takes time to hone these skills and no one knows that better than Srdjan.
“In my humble opinion, we’re all just bartenders and some of us have additional skills,” Srdjan said. “I don’t particularly like the mixology thing. I have nothing against it, but I think when we say ‘mixologist,’ we’re referring to someone who has spent more time on the creative side, someone who really knows the spirits and has worked with them and knows them taste-wise.”
Let’s have a look at how the industry perceives a bartender versus a mixologist:
- Is involved in the evolutions of the bartending field through study;
- Creates innovative cocktails using unique, uncommon ingredients often made in-house;
- Takes classic cocktails and reimagines them using techniques that have been refined from previous generations;
- Is a cocktail historian and sort of a revolutionary.
- Knows how to make the most popular and common cocktails;
- Serves many people at once;
- Manages stock and handles cash;
- Maintains control of crowds;
- Can think quickly and is the ultimate people person.
Srdjan said he believes all these attributes belong to the best creatives in the industry who he chooses to call bartenders.
In any case, before bartenders/mixologists can move ahead in the creative process, there are things they must accomplish.
“You have to master the classics before anything else,” Srdjan said, adding he spent years studying the craft, beginning in his late teens when a friend of his was working in the restaurant industry. When he became of age in Serbia where he was born and raised, he began working with mentors in the bartending field who took him under their wings and taught him well. He attended the first official bartending school in Belgrade – Bartenders 710. After he finished at the school, he began traveling the world where opportunities began to present themselves. He lived in many places including the Caribbean where he continued to perfect his talents as a creator of unique beverages.
“I just needed a new opportunity and a new adventure so I decided on New York,” Srdjan said, adding he has been in the Big Apple for five years now, where he now works as a freelance bartender, but he is involved in an exciting new project coming to the city. Plans aren’t yet final, so he didn’t want to elaborate too much, only that he would be the bar manager in a very upscale environment.
More Popular than Ever
During the height of COVID-19 people were so isolated and cut off from each other. They understood what it meant not to have the freedom they once had and now that the rules have been relaxed, people are understanding the importance of being social and choosing to do so much of the time by getting together and enjoying quality drinks over good conversation.
Since he has been in New York, Srdjan said the bartending world has exploded in popularity and the pandemic could have played a part in its revival. You can’t go anywhere without seeing books on mixology, and websites devoted to the craft and suddenly many people want to ride in the bartending/mixology rodeo, so to speak, especially in major urban centers like New York, London, and in Tokyo.
London is the capital in Europe, Srdjan said of the nouveau bartending/mixology movement, while New York holds that designation in North America.
Srdjan appreciates his clients’ knowledge of spirits. He gets to know them and their likes and enjoys creating for them.
“They know what they like and I learn what they like,” he said. “When you’re creating something for someone you know where you want to go and so if he says he doesn’t love it, then you know the balance is off somewhere.”
Trial and Error
Since some of the ingredients used today to fashion exclusive cocktails are uncommon and many elements may be used to create one beverage, there is a lot of tasting and do-overs. For instance, for this new endeavor in New York with which Srdjan will be involved, 35 cocktails were created for testing and out of those, the taste-testing team decided on 10.
“It’s not that they didn’t like them, it's just for them to be on the menu, they have to be the best of the best,” Srdjan said. “This was just the first testing, so I know I have to challenge myself more and do something to tweak them like maybe make a new syrup or add a bitter or a new ingredient.”
But a pro never shies away from a challenge and Srdjan is certainly up for it. The best way to get back to it, he said, is by stepping away for a bit and coming back to it with a fresh mindset and a clear palate.
He Doesn’t What?
Srdjan, who leads a healthy lifestyle and is into fitness, is a taster, not a drinker.
“I think this is why I can make phenomenal cocktails. Of course, I taste everything I create, but I don’t drink at all,” he said. “I know every single drink, I know all the cocktails at every single bar I ever worked on, but I like to work with a clear head, so I don’t drink.”
For young people wishing to pursue what can be a very lucrative career in the bar industry as a creator of fine cocktails, Srdjan has two pieces of advice.
“I would say they need to have patience. It takes time to learn these skills,” he said. “And the second would be don’t get involved with alcohol.”
In other words as a fledgling bartender/mixologist, be like Srdjan – be a taster, not a drinker.
Following is a cocktail recipe from Srdjan for LVH newsletter readers and cocktail aficionados. This cocktail placed second in a New York competition a few years ago:
2 oz. East London gin batch
3/4 oz. fresh squeezed lemon juice
1/2 oz. tamarind syrup
1/4 oz. Pur Likor spice blood orange
2 dashes of MT Fuji bitters
Rinse a Puebla glass with tobacco bitters
Serve on the rocks with a dried blood orange wheel as a garnish.
LVH has arranged special events for its clients where an experienced, affable and knowledgeable bartender/mixologist is required and Srdjan has been enlisted for some of these events. LVH can arrange for him to be at your next soiree when you require a bartender who can create elegant, refined, delicious and unique cocktails. For more information, please reach out to an LVH client relations professional.