Is ‘mixologist’ a pretentious job title?

7th April, 2014 by Amy Hopkins

James Connolly, head bartender, Rockpool Bar & Grill, Perth

Debate-2Mixologist, otherwise known as liquid wizard, drinks architect, or beverage engineer – we all get called it but it’s kind of a dirty word isn’t it? I don’t know of any bartender that openly calls himself a mixologist and the only people who actually call us mixologists are the press and older family members, but it seems that we don’t really complain when they do.

It makes our humble and rewarding job sound more exciting, like we are saving lives or something. I guess the term mixologist is so much more saleable than bartender, it conjures up images of white coats, safety goggles and Bunsen burners, but nothing could be further from the truth. Most of the “mixologists” I know can be found drinking cans of beer and rye whiskey until the early hours of the morning.

The dictionary definition for bartender and mixologist are almost identical, so is there a difference between Dave who works in your local boozer and Tarquin who works in the high-end mixology theatre? Of course one of them knows all his customers by first name, knows what they like to drink and mixes a mean rum and coke. The other probably has bad social skills but can tell you how many grams per litre of sugar are in all the liqueurs on his mixology bench.

The term mixologist came around in the 1800s back when being a bartender was a highly regarded profession, taking years of apprenticeship. Now, as soon as you can make a Daiquiri you’re deemed a mixologist. If someone calls themself a sommelier you’d imagine they would have passed an exam, completed a theory test and been working in the wine game for a while. If someone calls themselves a “mixologist”, there is no exam, no test, but they have got 150 different types of bitters in their lab at home.

Take Heston Blumenthal, he as much as anyone should be able to call himself a gastronomist but no he just calls himself a chef. The term mixologist will be around for a while and if people wish to call themselves this, then so be it. You can call me what you like as long as you’re having a good time and enjoying your drinks, but I’ll always see myself as a bartender.

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