Since my reason for visiting Portland was ostensibly to cover the SCAA event, it seemed natural to interview a bartender who previously worked as a barista. Jacob Grier currently tends bar at MetroVino in Portland’s Pearl District and works as a brand ambassador for Bols Genever. Before moving west, the Houston native pulled shots of espresso for coffee industry personality Nick Cho at bygone Murky Coffee in Arlington, Virginia. Grier also oversees a self-titled website that preaches “Coffee, Cocktails and Commentary.” On April 20, we met Grier at MetroVino, and he prepared two cocktails befitting his adopted city, starring coffee and beer. He also shared several insights that hinted at why he’s been successful.
How does being a barista help you in what you do as a bartender?
It definitely helped develop my palate. Cupping coffee, you pick up a lot of complex notes. It was a great education, starting out in coffee. There’s also precision and science in brewing espresso. Brewing coffee was very helpful and made me pay a lot of attention to technique.
At what point did you know that you would work with cocktails and spirits for a living?
After a few years in coffee, I started looking for the next thing that interested me, so I started bartending, but at that time in D.C., craft cocktails still hadn’t taken off. So I got bored of it and eventually decided to go back to being in a think tank in D.C. When I got the job at the think tank, I took a vacation to San Francisco and went to the great cocktail bars there like Rye and Bourbon and Branch, and seeing how they were making cocktails was a really eye opening experience, with fresh juices and great ingredients, precise measurements. And that’s actually what got me back into cocktails.
Why move to Portland instead of San Francisco?
Mainly the cost of living. Portland was a much more approachable city, and it seemed to be an up and coming food and drink city. That’s been very true. It’s been an amazing city for discovering food and drink in all kinds of fields.
When you first started in bartending in D.C., what do you remember about the very first night, and where was it?
My first bartending job was actually at a wine bar, where it was only wine and beer. Then I got a job where I had been at a barista, called Open City. They had a full bar, so I started off by doing daytime bartending there.
What do you remember about that first shift?
It was very simple drinks, and most people weren’t drinking during the day. I was pouring beer and wine and making simple drinks like gin and tonic, nothing too complicated to start off, but it was a good way to learn.
How did the opportunity came about here at MetroVino?
I worked in a restaurant called Carlyle, which had shut down. I started working as a brand ambassador for Bols Genever, and I was a regular here at MetroVino and got to know the owner and chef. I really liked the food, was coming in regularly, and they finally talked me into getting behind the bar again.
Would you say that you’ve had any cocktail and spirit mentors over the years?