Over the years, we’ve become followers of great writing around spirits, wine and beer. One of the better resources in the space is http://alcoholprofessor.com. One of the great writers on the site is Brian Petro. We’re proud to feature his interview with Sherman Mohr in this week’s industry influencer interview series.
Meet Brian Petro. This info is found on Brian’s articles on AlcoholProfessor.com. Brian, a native of the great state of Ohio, found himself in the town of Dayton after graduating from the Cleveland Institute of Art. His path has wound through the design, education, and restaurant industries, all of them adding a little something to the overall flavor of his creative endeavors. The first time he stepped behind a bar, it felt like home. Ever since, he has absorbed all of the liquor knowledge he can find, from culture to history to recipes, and done his best to share what he knows with the world. Or, at least the readers of Dayton Most Metro, where he is the writer about all things cocktail. He also likes the word “Brilliant” too much and appreciates the beauty of winter more than most.
Sherman: Welcome Brian! I’m glad to have an opportunity to visit with you today. Tell our audience a little about how this passion for all things related to spirits and custom cocktails came about for you.
Brian: Thank you for the invite! I became curious about the spirit world in 2002, right after I was laid off from my design job. I started working at a local, independent comedy club (Jokers Comedy Café in Dayton, OH) as a server. As it is with every job I undertake, I wanted to know all about what I was working with, including the liquor. I would try different liquors at the end of the night, compare them, and start learning their history flavor profiles. This was about 2003 in Ohio, and the craft cocktail movement was not there yet. We were still enjoying the influx of all the craft beers coming out. At least I was.
My first cocktail book was The Craft of the Cocktail by Dale DeGroff. It was a revelation. Those are the drinks I started with, and started introducing to the Funny Bone Comedy Club, which is where I had moved to after Jokers closed.
Sherman: When did you first meet the folks at Alcohol Professor and how did you become a contributor for them?
Brian: I had been following Alcohol Professor for a bit, and they put out a call for authors. I had been writing for Dayton Most Metro, mainly about alcohol but with some social media, and submitted a few of my pieces. Amanda Schuster contacted me and asked if I would write a story about grapefruit. It went well, and I have been writing there ever since.
Sherman: Tell us about your area and Dayton. You’re not exactly in a mecca of cocktail culture but you’re fighting the good fight for great food and custom cocktails. Is there a “tribe” or “community” there in your town that speaks your language?
Brian: Ohio is a very underrated cocktail state. There are amazing cocktail bars in the three C’s (Cleveland, Cincinnati, and Columbus) and the word is spreading quickly. Dayton has some excellent bars with cocktails in them, like Salar, Coco’s Bistro, and Lily’s Bistro. The Century Bar not only has top notch cocktails, it has also been recognized repeatedly as one of the best bourbon bars in the country. Many of the bartenders in this city have the same passion, curiosity, and talent you would find in any bar on the coast.
The Dayton bar and restaurant community has amazing talent. We are just a little more difficult to get to.
Sherman: Do you have a favorite cocktail? If so, tell us about it.
Brian: I always love the classics. Sidecars, Daiquiris, and Negronis are all on my list of cocktails I enjoy making. They are never going to go out of style. Building simple cocktails is an art, since you have much less flavor to hide behind. If anything is just a little off, it is obvious to the drinker. The Aviation is on my list of drinks I enjoy making. It is one of the first cocktails I remember exploring where the color was a critical factor in how the drink is presented. And it is a delightful color. Of course, in Dayton we do love all things related to flight.
Sherman: Have you done some bartending? What roles have you had in the restaurant/bar space. I like that your education is in art. Seems to be a fit in today’s world of spirits, wine and beer.
Brian: You could see me regularly behind the bar at the Dayton Funny Bone for over a decade. Making a good drink was important there, but speed was also a critical factor. On a sold out two or three show night, you found every way you could to shave seconds off making a drink. The cocktail menu there played with flavor, but speed was always in the back of our minds. There were a few other places I was behind the stick at, including the amazing restaurant Rue Dumaine. It was run by James Beard award winning Chef Anne Kearney, and her attention to flavor and detail was represented on the wine and cocktail menu. I learned a huge amount there, from pacing service to playing with flavor. It was also the first place I had regulars, which was different.
People love to know as much as they can about what is going in their glass. The information that is being asked about beer and spirits used to be reserved for wine. Clients want to know where it is from, who makes it, how it is made, and anything else that is unique about what they are enjoying. David Wondrich, Gary Regan, and many other incredible writers helped to bring this thirst for understanding the history of cocktails to the masses.
Most of my work now is researching, writing, and exploring the history of cocktails and spirits. I still do events and private events in the area, but most of my time is spent writing for clients or reading and researching anything I can about spirits and hospitality. I love being part of this industry. But there are times I do miss being behind the stick on weekends.
Sherman: What do you think organizers and those passionate about great food and drink could most do in their towns to raise the bar? Host events, patronize establishments, blog or write? Any thoughts?
Brian: Go to the places that offer the best food and drink and share the experience. I am perpetually amused when I see people lament the closing of a great establishment, but when asked they admit they never went. Or went only once or twice. If you are choosing national chains over the small local places, you need to step out of that comfort zone. Give the local places a chance! More often than not, they put more into each meal than any national brand does. If they have an event, buy a ticket and go. You do not have to attend everything, but hitting a few a year can have a big impact. Then share the experience with everyone. Recruit friends to go. Share it on your social media. Whatever you can to help them promote their business, do it! Not everyone can write or be a social media maven, but every little piece of promotion helps.
Bars and restaurants need to be active on social media and other forms of marketing. They may not think it is a critical piece, but the right tweet or Facebook post at the right time can influence people on where they are going to dinner that night. Or if they are attending that wine dinner on Saturday. Have someone on staff that knows social and blogging, or spend some marketing money on it. The impact of a blog, paid post, or email is much greater than any radio ads or something in the newspaper.
Sherman: If you could give two or three pieces of wisdom to someone wanting to write and be featured in a high traffic website that covers their passions what would you tell them to do?
Brian: Start writing. Write more. Read everything you can about what is going on with the topic you are passionate about. Then write more. The more you write, the better you get, and the better you understand where your curiosity lies. Mine is the research aspects of ingredients and cocktails. Since I do so much reading, I enjoy doing book reviews, too. My reviews are less criticism and more “this is what this book is about.” The more you write, the more articles and stories start to come to you.
Here is a link to Brian’s writing on AlcoholProfessor.com. https://www.alcoholprofessor.com/blog/author/brian_petro/
The other thing is forgiving yourself if you make mistakes or hit a rough patch. You are going to do one of those things. I am just getting out of a very busy patch where I was not writing as much as I wanted. Just get back on the horse and keep writing. You can build that momentum back up and get back to publishing those articles.
Sherman: What have I missed Brian? Any parting words for the readers?
Brian: If there is one thing anyone getting into this industry should know, it is to be patient and determined. Everyone in this industry has made the mistakes you are about to make. Everyone has had some setbacks. But the people that are working in the industry and loving it are the ones that just grind through those issues. I am watching some great local bartenders moving up into more visible bars and positions, and they have all put in their time. Any overnight success you have heard of takes about ten years, so play the long game.
If there is a second thing to know, it is to have fun no matter what. Have fun with the 95% of customers that are awesome, and ignore the 5% that can’t taste the liquor in their martini (true story). Muddle rows of mojitos with a smile on your face. Shake the hell out of any egg cocktail like it is your only workout for the day. When you are having fun behind the bar, your customers are having fun. That is the experience that keeps people coming back.
Sherman: This has been great Brian. I greatly enjoyed our time. Tell us again, where all might we connect with you in the days, weeks and months ahead?
Brian: Thank you again for the opportunity! I am working on articles for Alcohol Professor and Dayton Most Metro, but I am looking to step up elsewhere as well. I foresee another 100 Days of Cocktails in my future, where I post one cocktail a day on my Instagram (@smartguyinatie). When I did it the last time, I also added a write up on my blog at smartguyinatie.com with some background of the cocktail and the recipe I used. You can also find me on Twitter (@smartguyinatie), talking mostly about the industry but with large swaths of tweets about board games, hockey, and baseball. And I do have a presence on Facebook where I share the articles I write, as well as other pieces of information in the industry I find interesting.