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417 Magazine: How did you learn to make drinks?
Michael Schmitz: By working in the restaurant and bar industry with talented, passionate people. I really caught the itch from Bijan’s Sea & Grille (a former restaurant in downtown Springfield) and the advanced spirit program that was in place there when I joined the team.
417: What is your signature drink, or what is a drink you like to make?
M.S.: I love the classic Manhattan, yet I also love to twist up the recipe and make a whole new cocktail. The basis of the Manhattan is whiskey, sweet vermouth and bitters, but the possibilities are endless on substitutions to one or all of the ingredients. I’ve made riffs such as a cocktail featuring gin, Italian aperitivo and grapefruit bitters that tasted nothing like the classic but was inspired by the Manhattan’s overall framework.
417: What is your favorite year-round ingredient to use, and how do you most like using it?
M.S.: Vermouth/aromatized wine. I use vermouth and/or aromatized wines in a variety of ways, from displaying them on their own over a rock with a twist to using them in a six-ingredient cocktail. It’s the secret weapon. Also, bitters. All the bitters.
417: What about seasonal ingredients?
M.S.: The Ozarks gives a rotating bounty of seasonal fruit, vegetables and herbs. When each come into season they are wonderful to feature! Also ginger—I love ginger. In the warmer weather, it is beautiful to bring forward its lemony, refreshing quality, and when it’s cooler outside, I like to highlight the deeper spice and warming aspects of that glorious root.
417: What is your favorite bar tool?
M.S.: The jigger for sure. The perfect drink is a harmony of base spirit, acidity and sugars, and the jigger takes out the guesswork once a drink is formulated correctly.
417: What is your go-to drink when you’re not on the clock?
M.S.: IPA and a Ferrari shot [Fernet and Campari]
417: Where would you go for a cocktail when you aren’t on the clock (your own place excluded), and why?
M.S.: I find myself at Lindberg’s on Commercial Street, Golden Girl Rum Club on the square, The Order at Hotel Vandivort, Scotch & Soda on South Avenue, Cherry Picker in Rountree and Barley, Wheat & Rye in Farmers Park the most. These bars share the passion, the good staff and the love that make a program fun to enjoy a beverage and good food at that!
417: If someone was looking to invest in a bottle of liquor for their own home bar, what would you suggest they buy?
M.S.: Rum, all the rums. Especially Diplimatico [Reserva] Exclusiva and Foursquare Zinfandel Cask.
417: What advice would you give to someone who maybe doesn’t know how to choose a drink when they’re out at a bar?
M.S.: Start with the classics—daiquiri (shaken), Manhattan, Old Fashioned, Sazerac, Margarita, French 75 or even a gin and tonic or a bloody mary, to name a few. You are bound to find one that hits your palate right. They are classic for a reason!
417: When there are a ton of customers waiting, how do you determine who to serve next?
M.S.: Priority, in general, would go to first drinks ordered, yet I always have operated by the service with a “rational” decisions model. Let’s say you have 10 drinks to sling and six are beers that simply take popping a cap while the other four are cocktails that take a bit longer. I’ll get the beers in guest’s hands first. Also, if there is a line at the bar, don’t ignore the back rows—take as many orders at once as you can!
417: How do you develop new cocktail recipes?
M.S.: First on paper, in recipe and usually visually with a small drawing. I draw on many aspects to kick off the creation, but my overall love to marry flavors, textures and visuals together are the basis. Second, a bit of development time to hone the recipe ratios and finalize the garnish. The final question to myself: “Is it good?” Good looking and/or inventive use of products are nothing without enjoyable flavors and aromas being there.
417: How would you describe the recent changes in Springfield’s local bar scene?
M.S.: The Springfield bar scene has never been better. We have something for everyone and some amazingly creative, motivated individuals in the scene at the moment.