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Disco drinking

Award-winning bartender says some bars are bringing back retro cocktails


Disco could be staging a comeback, as predicted by medal-wielding bartender Alex Kratena. 

Alex Kratena, head bartender of Langham Hotel London’s Artesian bar, showcases various cocktails, including a barrel-aged drink, during a class on Tanqueray No. 10 gin and other juniper spirits at Diageo Korea’s Johnnie Walker School in Seoul on Friday. Lee Sang-sub/The Korea Herald
Alex Kratena, head bartender of Langham Hotel London’s Artesian bar, showcases various cocktails, including a barrel-aged drink, during a class on Tanqueray No. 10 gin and other juniper spirits at Diageo Korea’s Johnnie Walker School in Seoul on Friday. Lee Sang-sub/The Korea Herald


“This industry is exactly like fashion,” said the head bartender of the Langham Hotel London’s Artesian bar. “Sometimes it changes even faster than the seasons.”

Kratena, who was in Seoul last week to teach Diageo Reserve World Class 2012 bartending competition participants about gin, is referring to cocktails of the past.

According to Kratena, some bars are beginning to bring back disco drinks.

Flamboyant cocktails of the era like the Blue Lagoon are returning, said Kratena, who revealed that the Artesian bar is launching a “Twisted Disco” campaign where classic concoctions like the Pina Colada will be tweaked and made from scratch with fresh ingredients.

The five-star Britain-based hotel’s bar recently walked away with the World’s Best Cocktail Menu title from the 2011 Tales of the Cocktail Spirited Awards under Kratena’s leadership. 
Alex Kratena, head bartender of Langham Hotel London’s Artesian bar, showcases various cocktails, including a barrel-aged drink, during a class on Tanqueray No. 10 gin and other juniper spirits at Diageo Korea’s Johnnie Walker School in Seoul on Friday. (Lee Sang-sub/The Korea Herald)
Alex Kratena, head bartender of Langham Hotel London’s Artesian bar, showcases various cocktails, including a barrel-aged drink, during a class on Tanqueray No. 10 gin and other juniper spirits at Diageo Korea’s Johnnie Walker School in Seoul on Friday. (Lee Sang-sub/The Korea Herald)

As someone who takes great pride in his craft, the 30-year-old native of the former Czechoslovakia seems determined to stay ahead of the curve.

While Kratena does not equate his job to that of a rocket scientist, he does believe that certain techniques (like the current trend of aging entire cocktails in barrels) require both “logic and magic.”

Aging a mixed drink in wood so that it, according to Kratena, “adds flavors and creates new characteristics” requires careful monitoring.

“The easiest thing to do is make a report sheet,” he said. “You evaluate it, taste and examine it.”

Aside from barrels, Kratena and his team have also been experimenting with aging in clay jars, turning up “good results.”

What are the boons of clay aging? According to Kratena, it generally mellows the spirit.

At the second class on Friday at Diageo Korea’s Johnnie Walker School, Kratena showcased barrel-aged cocktails while teaching the attending bartenders about juniper spirits with Tanqueray No. 10 gin as “the main focus.”
His second time in Korea, Kratena described the nation’s bar scene as “young” and “very progressive.”

“The service is fabulous here,” he said of Seoul’s bars. “I think that’s a big, big plus.”

He also praised the quality of the ice used and the “very humble” demeanor of the Korean bartenders that he has met.

“I don’t like bartending snobbery,” he said. “Bartending is the most beautiful profession in the world.”

“We must never forget we are people.”

Kratena speaks from personal experience. Though he has been working as head bartender at the posh Artesian for approximately five years now and won a slew of awards, he has bartended in various venues.

“What I always say is, it’s very important to go around and experience all different types of establishments,” he said, stressing that bartending is not just about formulating mind-blowing drinks but also about interacting with clientele with finesse and knowing how to resolve a potential scuffle.

“The job is exactly the same after all,” he said. “That is to make people happy.”
By Jean Oh (jean@heraldcorp.com">oh―jean@heraldcorp.com)
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