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Know Your Bartenders: Emiliano Vazquez-Parrales

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13/10/2023 Emiliano Vazquez-Parrales: A Mixology Journey Rooted in Inspiration, Expertise, and Passion – From Magic Cards to Crafting Unique Cocktails at Moody Tongue Brewing Co.

Emiliano Vazquez-Parrales, a seasoned bartender at Moody Tongue Brewing Co. in Chicago, shares his unique journey in the world of mixology. Inspired by his older brother's work ethic, Emiliano has honed his craft and developed a deep passion for cocktails, driven by a desire to create memorable experiences for his guests. With a background in Magic: The Gathering and a diverse skill set, he brings creativity and expertise to the art of crafting drinks. Learn from Emiliano about the essential skills for bartenders, his approach to buying spirits, and his perspective on upcoming cocktail trends. His story is a testament to dedication, innovation, and the pursuit of excellence in the world of mixology.

Where do you work?

Moody Tongue Brewing Co.,  Chicago, IL, United States

Tell us something about yourself.

I am a huge nerd. Aside from cocktailing, I enjoy collecting and playing the Magic the Gathering trading card game. I have played pretty consistently since I was in high school and enjoy getting together with friends for a multi-player game.

What inspired you to get into bartending?

My older brother, Rodrigo, is my biggest inspiration for getting into the service industry. When I was a teenager, I worked as a dishwasher in his restaurant and, while I was there, he taught me about the work ethic required to be in this industry and that nothing was out of reach as long as you remained committed to your goals. After several months in dish, he moved me around the restaurant and I got my hands wet in bussing, kitchen duties, and briefly in serving.  The bar always called to me though and he told me that one day he would teach me how to tend the bar when I was old enough. Hell, he said when we own our restaurant I could manage the bar if I wanted to.  Unfortunately, he never got that chance to teach me as cancer would take him away from us in 2009. I was only 18 at the time. I never thought I would work in a restaurant again, but in 2014 I took a job at a margarita bar and found a happiness that I had missed for 5 years.  The only thing that could have made me happier was to be doing it with my brother. My dream is to one day own a bar and make a cocktail in homage to him.

What are some of the most important skills for a bartender to have?

For me, the best skills a bartender can have are a strong memory regarding beverage and menu knowledge, the ability to multi-task, and situational awareness.

What do you look for when you plan to buy spirits for your bar?

Usually, when I am buying spirits I look to see what gaps I can fill in flavor-wise on my back bar.  I don't have a ton of space so I like to keep my spirits diverse and approachable. Pricing is important of course but it's usually the last thing I look at.

What support programs work best for you from suppliers?

Training and Education.

What cocktails and drinks trends do you see in 2024?

It's difficult for me to predict what we'll see year to year because the drinks that we usually see gaining traction are usually riffs on classics that social media influencers create as opposed to currently active bartenders. However, if I had to choose something, I would say it would be the further usage of molecular gastronomy techniques to make complex and interactive cocktails with spheres, gels, foams, etc. Seems to be the way that higher-end bars are attempting to stand out from "normal" cocktail establishments.

Image source: Emiliano Vazquez-Parrales & Moody Tongue Brewing Co.

What's the best part of your job?

The best part of my job is coming up with fun new seasonal cocktails every year. It's a fun challenge for myself and my team to interact with in-season ingredients that we can use to help bridge our cocktails to our food menu.

What are your favorite TV shows right now? Or your favorite movie?

My current favorite TV shows would have to be Abbott Elementary and Winning Time. I don't watch a ton of movies but my favorite has and probably always will be The Lord of the Rings, The Return of the King. 

If you had to pick one spirit as your personal best which would it be and why?

Tequila and other agave spirits are probably my personal best. The main reason is because my career started in a margarita bar so it is the one ingredient I've had the most practice in. Plus, my heritage is Mexican, so I've had exposure to this spirit my entire life and know its profiles in and out.  

How are you marketing your bar to drive foot traffic?

Whenever our social media director comes in for a photo shoot, I try to have her shoot at least one cocktail to post on social media.  Even though we are a beer-driven establishment, people enjoy seeing cool and creative drinks at restaurants to capture their interest.

Any tips for bartenders on how to upsell or cross-sell?

If people come in and are starting low, the only place to go is up. My big piece of advice is to pair with whatever a guest is having to fill out an experience. Some examples would be offering a pour of whiskey to accompany a beer, or if they're only interested in food perhaps entice them with a nice glass of wine that accents the flavors of what they're eating.

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What is an experience or a customer story you thought was funny and that you remember?

I used to work at a nice Italian restaurant in Chicago's West Loop and I remember one year during the "Taste of Randolph" we were incredibly busy and I was stuck in the service making drinks for the restaurant while my teammates took care of the bar. I was knocking out an order for an Old Fashioned and when I went to grab my bitters they were gone. The guest in front of me had just dashed them over his salad believing it to be vinegar. The look on his face when he took a bite was priceless. He said to me that our vinegar is horrible, to which I replied, "It tastes much better in an Old Fashioned."

Tips for brands looking to pitch to bars? What should they cover in their pitch? What you do not need to know?

When I listen to pitches from brands, I want to hear that the rep knows the spirit and knows the brand.  That means they can talk about mash builds, age statements, types of barrels used, methods used, and ethical practices of the brand.  Furthermore, they should be able to uniquely break down spirits with a simple and concise description based on deductive tasting.  I am also a big fan of brands that are biodynamic/organic or that give money to deserving charities.  My perfect elevator pitch would be to present the bottle and before pouring it out talk to me about the producer. Then, when they pour the spirit, they walk me through the sight, smell, and taste and perhaps even suggest pairings or possible cocktail ideas. Finally, wrapping up the pitch in a bow with a great price point. Done.

Define a good Bartender according to you.

A good bartender pays attention. They know not only their menus back to front and are as capable of selling as a server, but also have the personality and mannerism that makes a guest confident in putting their dining/drinking experience in their hands.  They are fast and calm, attentive but thinking about the next step, and always ready for that 20-drink ticket with unshakable poise.

What's an ideal bar drinks menu? what should it include, and what profit metric should it try and achieve?

An ideal bar menu is balanced.  That means it has a variety of drinks with different profiles and methods of preparation that provide options for bar guests.  The menu itself should have a classics section featuring 5-6 tried and trues like a Daiquiri and Old Fashioned at modest price points of $14-16, while the other half features fun and creative house drinks that can hover around the same prices but really should be more-so in that $17-18 range.

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