To work behind the same bar as Harry Craddock, the man who published the definitive Savoy Cocktail Book in 1930, is the dream for many bartenders, and Erik Lorincz is the latest high profile barman to live that dream. After outperforming 9000 bartenders to win the 2010 Diageo World Class Competition, a Wall Street Journal writer wondered whether that made him “the best bartender in the world.” Best or not, he did become head bartender at the famed American Bar at the Savoy Hotel, which reopened after some fine tuning on 10.10.10. We recently met prior to his master mixology class at Santa Monica’s Fairmont Miramar Hotel, and he better explained his background and approach.
What bars have impressed you during your stay in Los Angeles?
My bar list was quite huge, so I still didn’t go through all of them. So far I went to Tonga Hut, which is one of the oldest tiki bars, from 1958. It was very nice to see such a bar still exists here, and is still running. An interesting bar I went to see was Chateau Marmont. That was a really nice bar. It’s a really nice vibe, a really nice atmosphere, the combination of bar and a little restaurant in back as well. Great drinks. I still want to see The Varnish, the Library Bar and others that are still on the list.
What do you look for in a bar?
It’s a combination of everything, atmosphere, service, drinks, obviously bartenders who know how to look after you.
Is the Wall Street Journal right, are you the best bartender in the world?
They said yes, but for me, it’s just like, I won a competition that put me forward, but for me, it’s still an ongoing process. You still learn. Every day you need to learn something to better yourself.
Which came first, Diageo or Savoy Hotel?
Diageo, then the Savoy.
What did you actually have to do to win the competition?
That was a four-day competition, sort of like the Olympic games of bartending. We had six different challenges, so in total I was mixing 16 cocktails. We had a market challenge where we had 40 Euros budget, 50 minutes, run from the bar to the market, buy ingredients, come back and create three cocktails. We had food matching, where we had to create two cocktails for the dishes. Six dishes, and we also got 50 minutes. Then we got a speed and taste challenge where we had to mix six classic cocktails. Then we got a classic challenge where we were told by a judge to pick three classic cocktails with the ritual. Cocktail master, where we had the spirit of our choice, and from that, we had to create a cocktail from that base spirit, then there was a blind tasting with that spirit, there was a questionnaire and written test on that spirit. So there was lots to do.
What spirit did you choose?
In that category it was gin.
What was the cocktail that you created?
The cocktail I created was called Rising to the Sky, which was a Tanqueray 10 base with yuzu juice, pineapple juice, lemon juice, fina dry sherry, a little bit of sugar syrup, and lots of passion.
You mentioned pairing cocktails with food. What’s the key to a great cocktail and food pairing?
It’s always about the ingredients. It’s the quality of the ingredients and using the ingredients in the right way. It’s a great challenge. You really learn about the flavors, how they work and match together.
Do you offer cocktail pairings in the hotel?
We do on different levels, mainly on private levels. When we do private events, we match cocktails with food.
What was your first bar job?
My first bar job was 10 years ago, when I basically decided to become a bartender, was back in Slovakia, when I was offered straight ahead to be a bartender. That was the first cocktail bar, so there were not many skilled bartenders around. I learned the basics in Prague, I went to cocktail school there, then I moved to Slovakia. After three years, I moved to London. I couldn’t speak English at all, and I couldn’t speak English at all, so I was moved down to a busboy, and I was brushing the floor, cleaning ashtrays and slowly moving up while learning English.
Where was that?
That was in a nightclub in Soho [Attica] that doesn’t exist anymore.
Was there a moment where you knew you’d bartend for a living?
I was studying hospitality, so my mind was already on hospitality. There was this epiphany moment where I found this is exactly what I’m looking for. I want to do that.
Do you have a first cocktail memory, good or bad?
Yes, I’ve got very bad. I remember when I mixed my first pina colada without coconut juice. That was my first moment. How can I do that?
Did you become interested in spirits or cocktails first?
Again, from my childhood, my dad is a winemaker, so I was already in this process of making wines for a long, long time. After he started doing his own spirits as well, distilling his own eau de vie, so I was already playing around, smelling and sampling, and when it came to bartending, it turned into a serious job.
Do you use your family’s spirits at all?
No, for my dad, it’s a hobby, not a business.
Would you say that you have any mentors?