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Let’s be clear … Frankie Thaheld is the guy you want to be around at parties. As the director of mixology for Snake Oil Cocktail Company in San Diego, the corporate trainer turned bartender turned mixologist has a breadth of booze knowledge and he knows how to match the drinks to an event.
“If we’re doing a wedding, we’re not just going to be a bar,” Thaheld explained. “There are colors and seasons and thematics to consider. If it’s a big studio in Hollywood having a zombie-themed party, we can handle that too.”
Thaheld took some time to chat with the Chef Works’ blog about his journey toward mixology, the entomology of the Old Fashioned and why he loves his Boulder Apron from Chef Works.
What does mixology mean to you?
Frankie Thaheld: It’s the practice, the art, of balancing beverages. And it’s not necessarily just about alcohol. At Snake Oil we do a lot of mocktails. It’s understanding what a balanced beverage is and appealing to our clientele at events. We don’t want to just be like ‘Here’s a mule. Have a good day.’ There’s nothing wrong with that. But for me, mixology is about understanding your environment and understanding what you have to work with.
How does a mixologist differ from a bartender?
FT: Ask a bartender to describe the difference between the five whiskeys behind them. If all they are talking about is the difference between bourbon and whiskey and not talking about the finer points of the aging process and location variances, to me that’s the difference between a bartender and mixologist. And there’s nothing wrong with either. There is plenty of room in the world for both. But I think to don that title you need to have a deeper and wider knowledge. You can’t just smash mint, strawberries and a lime with vodka and call yourself a mixologist. There’s got to be a certain level of education.
What’s one drink everyone should try at least once in their life?
FT: I’d say an Old Fashioned, done the right way, unmuddled, pre-prohibition style. If it’s done right, it’s made with rye whiskey. A lot of people use bourbon and that has a lot to do with the history of our country and the whiskey production. Rye whiskey tends to be drier. It can even be spicier. You get a different flavor profile. Bourbons are sweeter because you’re talking about more corn content than rye. To try one like that is a unique experience. I think not having the cherry and orange, but a lemon twist that’s been expressed over the top and then discarded – that’s a true old fashioned. There’s a fun story about how it got the name.
Do tell …
FT: The original cocktail was the spirit, bitters and sugar. Back then it wasn’t called an Old Fashioned. It was called a whiskey cocktail – whiskey, bitters and sugar. You could have a rum cocktail, a gin cocktail etc. In the late 1800s, new cocktails were coming onto the scene because the shipping lanes opened up and trade with Europe increased so we were getting French and Italian liqueurs coming in. The cocktail world was expanding. So if you ordered a whiskey cocktail, you were said to be old fashioned. Hence the name.
At the end of a long day, are you mixing yourself a drink or just grabbing a beer out of the fridge?
FT: It depends if I was sweating a lot that day. If I sweat, it’s a cold, crisp lager. I’m a lager guy. I don’t do domestic lagers because there is a lot of corn syrup in them. Once I learned that it kind of killed my spirit. If I’m going cocktail, a nice, tall rum and soda with a lemon twist.
Tell us about your Boulder Apron from Chef Works and why it works for you.
FT: All of our aprons are from Chef Works, not just mine. All of ours have the Snake Oil company logo so it’s very much part of our identity. They are stylish and durable – we put them through a lot. They stand out. People notice them. When you put it on, you feel like you’re ready for work.
You can follow the Snake Oil Cocktail Company on Instagram.