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Kratena: Industry must guide young bartenders

He helped take London’s Artesian to giddy heights – now Alex Kratena is determined that the P(our) bartender collective will set the right tone for young people who want to make their way in the industry.

Alex Kratena on not-for-profit “bartender collective” P(our)

*This article was first published in the March 2017 edition of The Spirits Business magazine

It was almost one year ago that bartending prodigies Alex Kratena and Simone Caporale announced the launch of not-for-profit “bartender collective”, P(our). Since then, the think tank has flourished, hosting its inaugural symposium in Paris last June, followed by a UK-based panel discussion in London in February. “We are a small organisation, but we’ve had a very successful year,” Kratena says when we speak over the phone. “We’ve been overwhelmed by the response and the welcome from the drinks community.”

Joined by fellow founding members Jim Meehan from New York City, Ryan Chetiyawardana and Xavier Padovani from London, Monica Berg from Oslo and Joerg Meyer from Hamburg; Kratena is on a mission to build a community for the global drinks industry, and “share ideas, knowledge and inspiration to create a better future” – something that has been lacking in what is, by its own admission, a sector that is unaccustomed to having people consider it as a serious career.

Desirable profession

“Bartending has changed in the eyes of young people,” says Kratena, who points to his recent appearance on a Friday night TV show back home in the Czech Republic. “I was speaking in the changing room with the producer, and I was like ‘how did you pick me up? How did you find me?’ They said: ‘well, we came across research that said bartending is one of the top five most desirable professions for young people’.” Kratena can hardly believe it. “It’s a complete contradiction of why my generation got into bartending. We fell into it because we failed in school, or by chance, or perhaps we didn’t know what to do.”

Now a new generation of young people is pinning their dreams on becoming a ‘mixologist’, the industry must guide them, Kratena insists. “We have to advise them not to repeat some of the mistakes that we made.” In its inaugural two-day symposium, P(our) made a point of examining the lifestyle of the modern bartender, covering key topics such as alcohol dependency, sustainability and social responsibility.

“It was important to ask, where are we actually at? What is happening, what is the state of the industry?” Kratena says, acknowledging that while there are embedded in the fabric of the industry problems with substance abuse, equality and sexual harassment, there is also a lot to be positive about. “The conversations now are very different to what they would’ve been five or 10 years ago,” he says. “You have people in the cocktail community who look after their health better than many people outside the industry. Overall, it’s becoming much more serious and much more responsible, which is a great thing.”

He references co-founder Jim Meehan’s presentation on responsible drinking at the first P(our) symposium. “It was like ‘boom’ into the face of many people, but then [afterwards] everybody said they wished this had been discussed for a long time .” He is quick to add that P(our) is not about stirring controversy – it’s about “intelligent discussion and moving forward”.

Kratena introducing the panel

Kratena intends the platform to reach beyond the spirits industry, extending to beer, cider, wine, coffee and the wider hospitality sector. “To really progress we need to bring everybody in the drinks industry together, because we’re all doing a very similar job,” Kratena asserts. “Often, it’s just whatever it is we are pouring that distinguishes it. I’m very much against this, ‘oh you work for a brand, that’s the dark side’ or ‘you are a journalist, so we’re not inviting you for this’ [way of thinking]. We are all part of this industry.”

The notion of inclusivity and sharing knowledge is something that resonates with Kratena, who has been working on “a lot” of projects with chefs over the past two years. One such example is Cook It Raw, an annual gathering of culinary luminaries that has invited bartenders along for the first time in 2017. “Both chefs and bartenders are realising the potential of the liquid,” said Kratena. “The reason why bartenders click in these projects is because the way of thinking is very similar – we are as excited about ingredients as chefs are. There’s a whole other world of ingredients in nature, and we have no idea.”

Key questions

The parallels between the food and drink sectors was highlighted at P(our)’s latest event: a panel discussion quer ying the emphasis placed on industry awards, the involvement of spirits brands in competitions, and whether bars would benefit from the introduction of objective criteria – such as a Michelin Guide. While the jury is out on that, there’s no denying that raising these key questions through an impartial, moderated, accessible channel is something both amateur and veteran bartenders will benefit from.

Providing access to this conversation is key to the P(our) philosophy – all the content created is made available online afterwards – and inevitably, as the organisation grows, so will its reach. Kratena and the team plan to facilitate this in 2017 by introducing more one-day events, panel discussions and workshops.

Overall, while the industry has never been in better shape, he says, it’s important to “work together to push forward. It’s like being on the plane and you reach 10,000ft; it’s great, but we can definitely go higher. It’s great for everybody to have the opportunity to come on this platform and discuss whatever they feel is important, because these things won’t get sorted over social media or over a beer,” he laughs. “It’s actually really healthy to sit down at the table and see what the situation is, what can we learn from that and how we can go forward”.

For the next P(our) symposium, hosted on 5-6 June in Paris, the collective will turn its attention to gender. “We’re looking forward to discussing how equality can be promoted in our industry and how we all can drive change in curated talks, collaborations and discussions for two days on the main stage at our P(our) Symposium in June. We’re all excited to see this contribute to make a difference to how we all think, feel and behave in the future.”

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