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Fino bartender goes back to classics

Emma Janzen

Alchemist. Therapist. Storyteller. Philosopher. Dispenser of good cheer.

The bartender assumes many roles when stepping behind the bar. Yet rarely do customers get a glimpse into the inner workings of the bartender's world — their stories, history, thoughts and opinions.

So, we've given local bartenders a bull horn to sound off on various topics. A chance to get to know them, better than they know you. You might discover some surprising tidbits about your favorite barkeep.

First up, meet Josh Loving, the talent behind the stick at Fino Restaurant Patio and Bar, the cozy yet chic Mediterranean-focused restaurant with an exceptional cocktail selection. (2905 San Gabriel St. 474-2905)

Liquid Austin: What made you want to be a bartender?

Josh Loving: I think it was a combination of pre-existing interests of mine. I wanted to cook professionally at one point (which started me in the hospitality industry). I've had an interest in all beverages fermented, distilled or otherwise since my teens. I studied history and geography in college, and when I started working in the front of the house I took an interest in wine, beer and spirits. It was a natural progression.

Do you consider yourself a bartender or mixologist?

As a laugh, my friends at Fino will address me from time to time as Drink Chef. This whole "bartender vs. mixologist" thing comes up a lot, but to be honest, I don't really care what people call me. I'm a bartender; that's what I say. Mixologist is a "brand" that represents a trend. Cooks used to be called cooks, but since Food Network, et al., came along with the food culture in which we now find ourselves, cooks are called "chefs" now, as if cook isn't good enough. I think it's the same thing with bartending. If firefighting became trendy, do you think people would refer to firemen as extinguishists?

What's your favorite part of your job?

I really like when you get a guest who is new to the whole craft cocktail experience, but just wants to try something new. When you see that light turn on after they've had a great classic cocktail and then they want to talk, taste and experience more, that's always awesome.

What trend would you most like to see die?

There's a few. Dirty martinis. I love salt, a lot. But there is just something nasty about the taste of olive brine and booze together. I think people who order dirty martinis do so to cover up the taste of the vodka. When people order extra dirty, lots of olives ... Just order a salad or side of olives and get a real cocktail. Trend No. 2: It doesn't affect me at all but I still hate it — energy drinks. Fail.

What ‘dead' trend would you like to see return?

Vermouth taken seriously as a wine to be enjoyed on its own and mixed with, liberally. I would bet money you could go to any restaurant bar and ask 20 "martini drinkers" what vermouth is and you would get 20 different answers and none would be right. Then you could ask, "Do you like it?," and they would all say "no." Why? Because the average person doesn't know what it is or what it is for. They've just been conditioned to know that vermouth is bad, whatever it is, and it has no business in a martini. Decades of misuse, improper storage, usage when spoiled and low quality mass production have forced a bad reputation upon vermouth.

What advice do you have for people new to drinking cocktails?

Go in with an open mind. Drop preconceived notions. Experiment. There's nothing worse than overhearing a guest say, "Ooh, they have such interesting-sounding cocktails" or "They're known for their cocktails," and then order a rum and Diet Coke (true story). It's like going to Uchi, reading the menu and saying, "Wow, what an amazing place. Can I get a tuna fish sandwich?"

Recipe for Loving's Pim Pim Pot Still

1/2 oz. Pimm's No. 1

1 oz. Smith and Cross Jamaican rum

1/4 oz. St. Elizabeth Allspice Dram

1/4 oz. allspice syrup

2-3 dashes orange bitters

Combine all ingredients in a mixing glass with ice and stir until chilled. Strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Garnish with a flamed orange peel. Loving's allspice syrup is a house recipe that includes nutmeg, cinnamon, black pepper and allspice.

Note: To flame an orange peel, cut an oval-shaped piece of orange rind, approximately 1 by 1 1/2 inches. Hold the peel gently by the edges over the drink and light a match under the peel, skin side down. Squeeze the peel so that a spray of orange oil ignites and leaves caramelized orange oil on the surface of the drink.