SAN DIEGO (MainStreet) Erick Castro takes the art of making a great cocktail seriously.
One glance at his biography, or five minutes in his company, makes that clear.
Castro spent the past decade learning about cocktail making with industry greats and researching obscure cocktail recipes, methods and ingredients that originated before Prohibition. (Setting aside a college degree in advertising and political science to do so.)
Now, as partner of one of San Diego's hippest and most innovative new bars Polite Provisions the 35-year-old is even more serious about changing people's drinking habits and educating customers about classic cocktails.
"The cocktail culture is changing the drinking habits for the next generation," Castro says. "Ten years ago, 22- and 23-year-olds were drinking vodka and Red Bull and Long Island Iced Teas. Now they're drinking rye old fashioned. And that's a result of the cocktail movement."
To keep that movement attracting new devotees and flourishing, Castro recently began the much buzzed about Bartender's Chef Table Seminars at Polite Provisions. The series of classes and tastings features elite cocktail industry visionaries from around the country and world, coming to share knowledge about cocktails, liquors and the progressing cocktail movement.
Speakers have come from as far away as England and as close as Los Angeles and from everywhere in between, including New York City and San Francisco.
"It's a way to get people exposed to different spirits and things they might not normally try. We want someone who might not necessarily be a fan of tequila, for instance, to become more adventurous with something they might not normally buy," says Castro.
But it's more than just that.
"We also want to get the community coming in here trying new things. And in the process, educating themselves," he says.
To all of this he adds: "People will remember where they fell in love with a particular drink."
Thus falling in loving with Polite Provisions? Or a properly made cocktail? Or both.
Opened in February, Polite Provisions with its pharmacy-inspired decor and unique approach of having mixed drinks on tap has already developed a national reputation. The bar has garnered recognition as a pioneer in Southern California's evolving cocktail movement having been featured in Imbibe magazine's The Imbibe 75 of 2013, Eater National's 40 Most Anticipated Openings of 2013, Details magazine's Where to Drink in 2013 and The Spirits Business' Bars to Watch in 2013.
That makes it all the more understandable that Polite Provisions attracts such notable speakers for its Bartender's Chefs Table.
Don Lee known for helping create one of New York City's great secret institutions, Cocktail Kingdom; as opening beverage director for East Village's PDT lounge; and developer of the hard spirits program for the Momofuku restaurant group is slated to speak at Polite Provisions on June 11 about the science of cocktails. Which to a novice is what, exactly?
"The intersection of science and cocktails the hard science of things like what makes ice cloudy or perfectly clear and how does that affect making a drink? To what does it mean when something tastes like tobacco or leather," Lee says.
A large part of the series is simply educating consumers.
"Part of the problem within the industry: Because it's a closed group, we tend to speak with each other and speak a very specific language. And it's difficult for the consumer to understand what we're talking about," Lee says. "For example, if you go to restaurant, you can figure out quickly what you want. You know what a soup is versus salad. We have similar words in cocktails that should also give you clues as to what you're getting."
On Tuesday another industry leader will be behind the bar speaking: Robert Gonzales, Diageo Reserve ambassador and mixologist for Northern California, will be coming from San Francisco where he oversees Zacapa Rum, Bulleit Bourbon and George Dickel Tennessee Whiskey to conduct an educational tasting.
Polite Provisions has hosted about 10 speakers since opening, Castro says. Topics have included such things as orange liqueurs and Grand Marnier to straight tequila tastings. The series will continue indefinitely.
"We're just happy to get people excited about learning new things and expanding their horizons," Castro says. "There's something that makes me so proud about introducing someone to something new."
If you're in town, seminars take place from 4 to 6 p.m. No sign-up is required. Attendees may simply show up to attend free of charge.