Master Mixologist. It’s a go-to honorarium that has been mightily abused by liquor brands and publicists, as well as, ahem, members of the media wishing to give a beverage professional an instant pedigree. The problem, maintains Southern Wine & Spirits district manager Livio Lauro, is that there is no such thing. Not officially. And yet, they’re apparently everywhere!
A former United States Bartenders’ Guild (USBG) president, Lauro has spent the last six years working on a solution. The first big step was the launch of the USBG Master Accreditation Program in 2009 as the way to identify top-level professionals versed in all aspects of mixology. It is the highest distinction a mixologist can attain, and this year the USBG will confer the nation’s first master mixology certificate.
A panel of 12 honorary masters—including Lauro and such beverage-industry heavyweights as Dale “King Cocktail” DeGroff and “The Modern Mixologist,” Las Vegas’ own Tony Abou-Ganim—oversees the intensive three-level, four-exam program. So far, 114 USBG members have passed the Level 1 Spirits Professionals exam, a test of general product knowledge. Of these, seven members have passed the rigorous Advanced Bartender practical exam that separates the wheat from the chaff with blind-tastings, an essay and meticulous demonstrations of technique. Three candidates—two from Las Vegas—have made it through that gantlet and are now writing their accreditation thesis.
Successful completion of that final stage, which can take up to a year, leads to the master mixologist title, but, Lauro says, “You don’t get to slap a big pin on your lapel and walk around saying, ‘I made it!’” Continuing education is mandatory, and it includes a mindful-bartending seminar and the expectation of mentorship.
“The goal of the Master Accreditation Program is to create a body of bartenders that will influence other bartenders to also share that same passion,” Lauro says. “Whether the industry as a whole takes that exam or not, it’s going to elevate the bar.”
There are perks for all that work. Successful candidates do get a pin and a certificate, of course, but also a pennant that essentially announces, as Lauro puts it, “This bar is manned by a master!”
He hopes the pennants will be prominently displayed—a sort of Michelin star for the mixology world.