Cocktail culture is thriving in large part due to a passionate contingent of exceptional bartenders and mixologists. This feature places a spotlight on the craftspeople behind the bar, and not just the structure itself. Bartender Sierra Zimei works at Four Seasons San Francisco.
1. Do you consider yourself a bartender or a mixologist?
I am a bartender who has fun creating new cocktails, as well as mixing the classics.
What’s the difference?
I feel like a mixologist is only about the cocktail. A bartender cares about the cocktail, but cares more about the customer.
2. How did you become interested in tending bar?
I moved to London in 1997 and as a demotion for dropping a tray on a catering job, I was put behind the bar. I loved it immediately! Everyone had to come to me for drinks but there was a plank of wood between us so I felt safe and professional. Sounds geeky, but true! When I moved back to SF, I did some time in Fisherman’s Wharf and North Beach, like a good rookie should!
3. What’s your first cocktail memory?
My first cocktail I ever made was a gin and tonic in London. Of course the guest complained that I put too much ice in it.
4. What’s your current favorite spirit or liquor?
Favorite? I don’t know that I have a favorite…That’s like asking a girl to choose her favorite pair of shoes! There’s things that I love right now, like Plymouth Gin, Ron Zacapa 23 year rum and Ri, but who knows if I will love them next year? It might just be a fond appreciation…or a heavy like…
5. Which cocktail is past its prime?
None of them. They all serve a purpose and have a place and time. If a cocktail is made properly, it will never be past its prime. It will be delicious!
6. What’s the cocktail of the future?
Anything with all natural ingredients. Bottled sweet & sour and cheap mixers will be a thing of the past.
7. Describe one of your original cocktails. What’s it called and what was your approach?
One of my cocktails is called The Trust Fund. It features Plymouth Gin, St. Germain, fresh mint, orange marmalade and a topper of Champagne. My approach was that Plymouth is a gentle gin that needs light ingredients to enhance the slight juniper taste. I am also really into using condiments in cocktails lately. The mint gave it an herbal quality that made it a little more refreshing. With the Champagne it tasted very…white collar? Is that the right description? High brow? So I called it the trust fund!
8. Do you have a cocktail mentor, and what did they teach you?
I got to hang out with Dale DeGroff in Hawaii a couple of years ago. I don’t know that he’s my mentor, but I appreciate his dedication to the craft. Plus he’s a cool guy. I would love to have a mentor but we’re all about the same age in San Francisco. I do learn a lot from Carlos Yturria, Jon Santer, Marcos Dionysos and other local bartenders.
9. Outside of your bar, what’s your favorite bar in town and why?
I like different bars for different reasons…usually because of the bartender! Seriously, each bar is a different place without the right bartender…that being said, I don’t want to reveal my favorites.
10. Who’s another bartender/mixologist you respect and why?
Not enough females get recognized today. I admire Victioria D’Amato for her perseverance and dedication to bartender. I respect Brooke Arthur for changing how people see female bartenders. And Gina Chervasini in Washington, D.C., does some super creative things with cocktails.
11. If you had a bar of your own, what would you call it?
I’m keep that a secret, too.
12. What’s the best simple cocktail for people to make at home, and what’s the recipe?
Simple cocktail of mine that is easy to make at home…one is THE POM POM – 1.5 OZ CHOPIN, 3/4 OZ FRESH OJ, 1/2 POM JUICE, 1/2 OZ PAMA LIQUER. Shake, strain into chilled martini, garnish with an orange slice.
Another good one for winter time is CINNAMANHATTAN – 2 OZ BULLEIT BOURBON, 1/2 OZ OF GRAND MARNIER, 3 DASHES ANGOSTURA BITTERS. Stir and strain into a martini glass with 1 cinnamon stick. Serve dried cherries on the side. The flavors will get more intense as the drink warms and the cinnamon infuses. The cherries have an awesome sour kick with it.