Gary (gaz) Regan: A Man For All Seasons

Bartender, innovator, author, publisher, educator and more

gaz regan 2012 in suit by jimi ferrara - Copy
gaz regan

I first met gaz in the early 1990s when I was Seagram. While I’ve always known him as Gary, the name gaz is his nickname and has become his nom de plume some time ago. Whatever he calls himself, he’s a heck of a guy and has made major contributions to the booze business.

Before I get into all that, here’s a story I heard from gaz. (He spells his name without capital letters.)

I think it might have been on his radio show (with Paul Pacult) in the late 90s. They invited me on and we were discussing single malt scotches in general and The Glenlivet (a Seagram brand at the time) in particular.

To illustrate the nature of the category, gaz told a story about when he was bartending in the 1980s on South Street in NYC. It seems that a particular Scottish gentleman would come in for lunch everyday, order a hamburger and ask for the “book.” It was a guide to single malt scotches and differences in brands, regions, water, grain and distillation styles. After work, the gentleman would meet with friends and colleagues and hold forth on the verities of various malts. While he sounded like an authority on the subject, the information he provided was less than 5 hours old.

To me, the story illustrated the nature of the single malt category and the focus among those drinkers on discovery and what’s in the bottle. Portend of things to come.

There are two other things I learned from gaz – the power of stories in the booze business and the crucial role of the bartender.

Regan's orange Bitters
Regan’s Orange Bitters No. 6

Writer, storyteller

Did I say writer? I meant to say prolific writer. He has written a column for the San Francisco Chronicle for 14 years, publishes three newsletters a week, has won two Best Cocktail Writer awards and written more than a dozen books. He is also a regular contributor to Liquor.com and an advisory board member.

If you want to reach bartenders, he’s the man to see. Two of his books, gaz regan’s Annual Manual for Bartenders and 101 Best New Cocktails are published annually and reach a wide audience all over the world. Oh, and let’s not forget the Joy of Mixology and The Bartender’s Bible.

New edition to be released in May
New edition to be released in May

My favorite is The Negroni: A gaz regan Notion, the second edition of which will be released in May. Not only has he made that drink famous but has also cleared up many of the myths about its origin. All I’ll tell you is the originator was one Count Negroni, the broncobuster who first created the drink in the early years of the 20th century. It’s a fun read.

The consummate bartender

Credited by many as one of the godfathers of the mixology movement, gaz is a bartender’s bartender. In addition to books and bartending appearances (The Dead Rabbit in NYC), one of his newsletters is devoted to job opportunities around the world. Mention his name to any professional bartender and their eyes will light up and a big smile will appear. Along with other famed bartenders like Dale DeGroff, gaz has been a judge at Diageo’s World Class bartending competition.

In fact, companies like Diageo and Pernod Ricard have been smart enough to avail themselves of his services. I think it’s because he has his fingers on the pulse of the bar trade – consumer and bartender. That is, of course, when his finger is not stirring one of his world class Negronis. (Check here and here for more about this.)

Just One Shift

gaz came up with the Just One Shift idea to help raise money for a charity called Wine to Water, which has been bringing potable water to thousands of people all over the world since 2004. Doc Hendley, a bartender from North Carolina, founded Wine to Water.

Each year gaz organizes and promotes a campaign for bartenders to contribute the tips from ‘just one shift’ and 100% of what they raise brings clean water to needy people worldwide.

Great idea. I’ll let you know when the next campaign comes around.

Cocktails in the Country

Cocktails in the Country Workshop
Cocktails in the Country Workshop

This event, which you can learn more about here, ran for seven years from 2001 until 2007. He has decided to bring it back this year, and from what I’ve heard from bartenders, that’s really good news. Cocktails in the Country 2015 is a Master Class that focuses on the importance of service in the hospitality business and much more.

Held in Cornwall on Hudson NY, it’s a two-day bartender workshop that covers a wide range of issues for the trade and even culminates in a special certification for bartenders. It runs all summer and the first workshop is coming up on May 11 to 12. (See Schedule)

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I think the best way to sum up a story on gaz regan is to show the headline from the Food Republic written by Simon Ford, founder of The 86 Company and formerly a top notch on premise guru for Pernod Ricard:

Gary ‘Gaz’ Regan Knows More About The Culture Of Drink Than Basically Anybody

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What’s in a name — Bartender or Mixologist?

Some folks I know are planning a multi-client research service to measure and understand the views of the key players in the alcohol industry – bartenders, wait staff, sommeliers, servers and on premise management.

The project will be run by Kevin Moran from MSS, Multi-Sponsored Studies LLC with extensive experience in the spirits and wine industry and Paul Braun owner of Braun Research Inc. a leading data collection company with a broad panel of people “behind the bar.” Together they are launching a syndicated extension to their powerful on premise multi-sponsored research and solutions service.

To start the ball rolling they polled the bartender database on a number of key and timely issues. The first one I wanted to share was the question of whether the term mixologist is taking hold.

Moran and Braun surveyed 500 bartenders from a national sample that reflected gender, geography, type of establishment and so on. They asked two questions related to bartender vs. mixologist – how do on premise people describe themselves and whether the term mixologist is here to stay or a fad.

Nearly half (48%) of the bartenders surveyed described themselves as a bartender. But, a third (33%) referred to themselves as a mixologist. Interestingly, the rest – 20% — saw themselves as bartenders who want to become mixologists. So while the self-descriptions split 50/50, it seems that the term mixologist has taken hold. For many, it’s becoming an aspiration.

If you have any doubts, here are the results of “Is the term mixologist a fad that will go away in the future or a real change in what bartenders do and will grow in importance?”

Nearly 2 out of 3 (64%) of those surveyed felt that the term mixologist is here to stay and reflects their changing role. By the way, those who live and work in the western States supported the permanence of the term at the 72% level.

My takeaway from this finding is that too often manufacturers think in terms of the “star” factor and feel that the creation of drinks and cocktails can only reside among a few. Guess what, more and more bartenders seem to be embracing the idea of creating a drink in addition to just serving it.

Maybe its just nomenclature, but I detect from these results and personal experience that bartending as a “way station” or day job while waiting to be discovered is giving way to a broader view of the profession. The idea of quickly making and serving drinks does not preclude the ability to create — quantity and quality of effort are not mutually exclusive.

I think suppliers might want to reexamine their notion of the power behind the bar.

Next: Views about the 3-tier system.

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