Smirnoff gig suits Vegas bartender
By Wanda A. Adams
Advertiser Food Editor
By Wanda A. Adams
If you've envied Halekulani drinks consultant Dale DeGroff's job — breezing into town to teach folks about mai tais and Bloody Marys — here's another to add to your list: Cameron Bogue's one-year, $100,000-a-year gig as Smirnoff's cocktail consultant.
Bogue, 26, who was in the Islands doing a little research a few weeks ago (but somehow managed to miss li hing-'tinis) won the job in the Smirnoff Dream Job competition earlier this year. He's spending the year traveling around the country checking out trends, picking up ideas for Smirnoff and sharing his expertise with people in the industry.
Candidates for the job had to have a background in mixology and a solid knowledge of vodka drinks in particular, and their application consisted of videotaping themselves making their own, unique version of a Moscow Mule — a concoction of vodka, lime juice and ginger beer that's been around since the 1940s.
Bogue's entry had an East-West theme: It's called a Beijing Mule and it makes use of Asian aromatics and citrus. First, he lightly sauteed Asian pears to caramelize them just a bit, then immersed them in Smirnoff vodka for a week; when strained, this created a lightly floral pear-flavored vodka. He made a saffron sugar syrup, which lends both flavor and color to the drink. And he used fresh ginger and yuzu (a Japanese citrus) juice and a very light ginger beer.
"It's a very citrus-flavored drink, a perfect summer drink — you can really taste all the flavors," Bogue said.
A self-trained bartender, Bogue's hobby is entering mixology competitions — a way of learning more about what other bartenders are doing and honing his skills. "I constantly invent cocktails. Any drink with fresh ingredients, any drink that's seasonal really inspires me," he said.
He has worked in a variety of places — from London to Toronto to Las Vegas, where he now lives — and enjoys the interaction with customers. "You get to hang out with people from all over the world," he said.
Bogue teaches bartending techniques and has designed cocktail menus in the U.S., Canada and Britain. He also has a certificate from the Wine Education Guild.
Bogue said he's done the flair thing, even taught it — "any form of competitive bartending really interests me." But he acknowledged that all that bottle-throwing is a little controversial. "It's kind of a touchy subject, because some people say flair bartenders are just jugglers, and some flair bartenders consider regular bartenders lazy," he said. He's on the fence on that one, enjoying both forms.
One thing that's sure is that the spotlight is back on the bar these days after years of shining on the wine industry. "People are trying to be as innovative as possible. There's this trend called molecular mixology, they're just using wild ingredients — bush teas from South Africa and you name it. You want to be the first person to use a new ingredient," he said. (He got very excited when I mentioned li-hing powder and seed to him.)
And vodka is the "It" spirit, though gin is making inroads, he said.
Bogue said one trend is a return to Prohibition-era speak-easy decor and drinks — even putting blocks of ice at the bar to be chipped into drinks, instead of using an icemaker. At bars like Milk and Honey in New York, and Bourbon and Branch in San Francisco, "absolutely everything is manual labor — chipping ice, hand-squeezing the juices," he said.
But Bogue himself grades on a scale: "If I'm going to a high-end bar, I really would like everything to be hand-made. If I was going to a local bar, well, I get what I pay for."
Reach Wanda A. Adams at firstname.lastname@example.org.