What (and Why) Is a Mixologist?

By on June 27, 2013 10:30am EST

Something terrible has happened. I’m pretty sure its moment of inception coincided with Urban Outfitters’ decision to put mustaches on everything. (Side note – Are we done with that whole thing yet?) Yes, you know what I’m talking about: the transformation of bartenders into mixologists.

Listen, people, this is a complicated subject for me. I am conflicted, confused, and lost! I do like really obscure spirits in my cocktails, I do want to talk to you about the latest drama around Abbott’s Bitters (the long-lost bitters used in the original Manhattan), I will cry if a bartender shakes my Manhattan instead of stirring it, and I do have All The Opinions about what kinds of ice are appropriate for what kinds of drinks. I’m not ashamed of it! (OK, I’m a little bit ashamed.) But this mixology thing has got to go.

Let’s start at the beginning. What is a mixologist? According to Merriam-Webster, mixology is “the art or skill of preparing mixed drinks.” This, compared to bartender: “a person who serves drinks at a bar.” So, it’s a skill thing, a term creating a hierarchy of those who serve alcohol. But really, it’s more than that – it’s a new kind of valuation. Which means a new set of exclusion criteria. And that gives me anxiety.

Honestly, every time I hear the word “mixologist,” a little part of me dies. It sounds so snobby, so condescending. It forgets the fact that drinking, and eating, should be about communing with others, experiencing new flavors, and having a good time – not comparing the size of your proverbial swizzle sticks. And God forbid that someone be labeled simply a bartender, when right next door, Mr./Ms. Mixologist is whipping up some $20 libations infused with whale skin. (See more here on that topic.) 

The funny part is that the greatest drinks-makers I know, who have the most awe-inspiring creative minds and deepest understanding of flavors I’ve ever experienced, would never call themselves mixologists. This term has grown out of control, and I don’t think most of the so-called mixologists out there even want ownership of it (excepting a few in New York whom I’m pretty sure sleep in sheets printed with the word).

So let’s be done with it, can we please? What do you think, readers? Have you come into contact with this term? And “drinks-makers” out there, would you ever embrace the “mixology” term, or are you happy staying a bartender?



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Shannon McIntyre Hooper

Shannon McIntyre Hooper is Southern-born, sweetbread-loving, and cocktail-obsessed. Follow her on Twitter for spastic outbursts about books and booze: @UnicornBitters


  • Big Jon

    I think calling yourself a “mixologist” is part of hipster douchebag culture. No one over 35 uses the term.

  • Dana Staves

    Confession: When I hear “mixologist,” I think of people who make mash-ups of songs. Mixing music. And then I imagine bartenders with the big headphones. They got two turntables and a cocktail strainer….

  • http://heidenkind.blogspot.com/ Tasha B. (heidenkind)

    I’ve also observed that the better cocktail gurus refer to themselves as bartenders rather than mixologists. Maybe it’s a wannabe term? Or maybe mixologists work in high-end restaurants or chemistry labs instead of bars, so they don’t think “bartender” is appropriate.

    I feel like we need Dale DeGroff to weigh in on this.

    • Shannon McIntyre Hooper

      I agree with you completely. And I’d put money down that Dale would call himself a bartender and laugh in the face of anyone who uses the term “mixologist.”

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