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No Alcohol. No Sugar. Non-Intoxicating.

The Future of Bartending: Bartenders are Being Tasked With Creating Feelings, Not Just Flavors.

The espresso martini was born in the late 1980s when a patron asked British bartending guru, Dick Bradsell, to make her something that would “wake me up and f**k me up”.

She was looking for a feeling and looked to the bartender to create that for her. So rather than creating a sensory experience that ended with flavor and the baseline feeling alcohol delivers, Mr. Bradsell looked to fuels to pair with liquor to achieve the desired effect.

While an espresso martini tastes great, it wouldn’t be what it is without the added caffeine boost – the desire to feel equal parts boozy and buzzy for a long night out.

Despite the success of the espresso martini, bartenders seemed to mostly pause the evolution of creating feelings outside the realm of what alcohol is able to deliver. They are akin to an alcohol chef, creating pleasure vis-à-vis taste.

So, why has the creation of feeling – other than getting someone more or less drunk – been left out?

It’s hard to pinpoint one thing, but we’d attribute it to the approachability of anything that delivers a feeling we’re unfamiliar with – a welcome challenge we often face at Little Saints. 

Does it get you high? No. Does it make you feel good? Yes. Does it feel as strong as alcohol? No. The list goes on.

When considering who is playing with ingredients that alter mood and feeling, we don’t think of someone in a dimly-lit bar and a shaker. We think of witches, hippies and apothecaries, making it feel unapproachable by conventional standards. We’re equal parts intrigued and cynical, diminishing plants we know nothing about as something more ‘woo’ than scientific, unlike the widely understood effects of alcohol.

Over the past decade, we’ve seen more alternative fuels enter the mainstream, including the more general category of adaptogens and the more specific subset of functional mushrooms. Recently, we’ve seen a surge in kava and kratom products, with a rising tide of products containing empathogens such as kanna and damiana. Each of these botanicals creates a different feeling, and they can be paired to create new feelings. But until very recently, we associated such botanicals with fringe daytime wellness practices, not mainstream nightlife.

In short, playing with feelings is taboo — and yet, the search for a particular feeling is often the unconscious driver of engaging in night life in the first place.

So, what happens when bartenders become a bigger part of the experience puzzle with the power to change the equation that creates the totality of an experience?

The rise of the small, but notable, functional non-alc space is creating a bridge between the apothecary and the back bar, completely changing the fuel bartenders have at their fingertips. The learning curve for bartenders can be steep. Not only do bartenders need to learn about the new category of non-alcoholic spirits (which did not exist 5 years ago), but they also need to study the feelings that can be created by the small subset of those non-alcoholic spirits that also contain functional ingredients (like the reishi and lion’s mane in Little Saints). 

In this new world, bartenders become curators of feelings, not just flavors. They are suddenly alcohol chefs and witches and alchemists rolled into one – something they perhaps didn’t realize they signed up for. And we strongly believe this is what will set apart the good from the great. It’s a multi-faceted artistry that requires a certain amount of emotional intelligence and intuition to get just right.

How can bartenders become masters of feeling? Just as they do with flavor. Trial and error and learning through their own experience of feeling.

While we’re sure many patrons will continue to request being woken and fu**ed up, we think the best cocktails of our time will come from the right request to the right bartender. We’re imagining a world where we can say how we want to feel – sharper, relaxed, confident or heart open – and the most talented bartenders will know just the fuel. And they’ll make it taste really, really good.

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