David is the national president of the United States Bartenders’ Guild and co-founder of the San Francisco chapter, as well as the director of mixology for Southern Wine and Spirits of California. David grew up in the restaurant business and has 24 years of bartending experience, having learned the craft from his many restaurant involvements at great bars across the state of California. Steeped in the tradition of integrity and professional barmanship, David is always focusing on “raising the bar” by increasing knowledge of products, execution of cocktails, and bartending skills such as glass handling, bar set-up (“mise en place”) and garnish preparation; the use of today’s bar tools and maintaining a well-organized back bar are also all part of David’s daily agenda.
ITM: Thank you for joining us today, David. A lot of readers probably don’t know the USBG was founded in 1948 in southern California. That’s a long time in existence, 65 years. How many chapters do you have now and plan to open in the near future?
DN: The USBG has been around since 1948 but it was a bit of a good old boys’ club for many years. The year 2001 is when things really started to change, with Las Vegas becoming our second chapter under the guidance of such industry leaders as Tony Abou-Ganim, Francesco Lafranconi, and Livio Lauro. We now have 39 chapters and we are averaging 6-10 new chapters a year. We have had three new chapters as of April 2013.
ITM: Education seems to be a priority for the Guild. Could you touch on the USBG Master Accreditation Program and its three levels?
DN: We have the USBG Spirits Professional Exam, a 100-question test that challenges the knowledge of the bartender not only in spirit production, drink recipe, and bartending techniques, but also in spirit and cocktail knowledge.
In the USBG Advanced Bartenders Exam, one must successfully pass BOTH of the advanced tests, written and practical, which will ensure that the candidate has an advanced level of product knowledge and a working knowledge of the craft of bartending, the important aspects of management, the running a successful bar program and that they have a strong understanding of the beverage industry overall.
Candidates must pass a rigorous practical evaluation, testing their professionalism behind the bar and proving their working knowledge of cocktails and bartending. Each candidate will receive a random exam with questions covering many topics from history to spirit production, service, and more.
Then we have the USBG Master Mixologist Thesis, which is the final course of the MA Program. USBG Advanced Bartenders will submit a thesis to the Master Accreditation Board on a relevant beverage industry-related topic. Students will present their thesis and practical demo to a panel of the MA Board.
ITM: Pulse, your member Web site, is full of good stuff. I was going to San Francisco and hooked into a discussion of the happening bars in the city – who knows better than the local bartenders, right? Seems like the members are having fun with it.
DN: Indeed, we are very proud of our new members-only Web site. Usbgpulse.com is a social media site where our members are able to create discussions, post videos, watch training videos, and stay connected with their local chapter’s events through calendar postings. They also have the opportunity to sign up and compete in many of our cocktail competitions, where we often send our competitors to compete both nationally and internationally. It really is a great place for a bartender to stay tuned in and share with other like-minded bartenders and connect with our wonderful spirit sponsors. It is our spirit sponsors who believe in our members and bring great educational opportunities to them. Our USBG Pulse site is the meeting place for great bartenders and great spirits!
ITM: What kind of events does the Guild get into nationally and locally?
DN: We have many types of events. Nationally, we do a few very large, high-profile cocktail competitions that incorporate everything from education to service and creativity into the competition or program.
Both locally and nationally, we bring education to our members through monthly chapter meetings. Many chapters host these educational seminars over a lunch or happy hour where they are able to network with the local spirit sponsor, learn spirit and brand facts, as well as interact with one another in a social environment while sharing industry standards in bartending technique and the newest trends they are seeing at their bars and restaurants.
ITM: What are the top reasons for a talented bartender in Anytown, USA to join the USBG?
DN: First of all, we are a nonprofit organization whose primary goal is to unite dedicated bartenders in service to the traditions of our trade. We want to be the most skilled, knowledgeable and professional association of bartenders in the industry. We are inspired bartenders restoring the craft.
Many of our members search us out because they are hungry for knowledge. They are into classic and craft cocktails and want to connect with other like-minded bartenders. We have bartenders who love to push the envelope and challenge themselves by entering one of our prestigious cocktail competitions.
But for many, it is all about camaraderie and growing one’s personal self as an educated bartender who is interested in giving the guest the finest service and making cocktails that will exceed their expectations.
This knowledge is available to anyone who wants to be part of and participate in our community of passionate bartenders.
USBG Chapters: Atlanta, Austin, Birmingham, Boston, Charleston, Chicago, Cleveland, Connecticut, Denver, Greater Detroit, Hawaii, Houston, Indianapolis, Kansas City, Kentucky, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, Miami, Milwaukee, New Mexico, New Orleans, New York, North Texas, Oregon, Orlando, Philadelphia, Phoenix, Pittsburgh, Reno, Rhode Island, Sacramento, San Diego, San Francisco Bay Area, Seattle, Southern Ohio, St. Louis, Tampa, Tucson, and Utah. www.USBG.org.