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Bellingham bartender focuses on classic cocktails

A healthy dose of rye whisky seeps its way through the ice. I grab the sweet and dry vermouth, pouring equally small but vital proportions over the whiskey. A dash of orange bitters follows. Then, with a methodical stir and steady strain, the Original Manhattan is born, coming alive in the glass.

With a lemon twist and bittersweet goodbye, that Manhattan makes its way from my hands into yours. Featuring a history that's as American as the worn-in baseball mitt under your mattress, or the cool jazz floating through the alley around the way, it's no wonder that classic cocktails are enjoying resurgence in today's nightlife culture.

As a bartender who focuses on classic cocktails, I care about every detail that goes into my drinks. And if you'll follow me for a moment, I would love to tell you what it means to make a cocktail, and what every cocktail means to me.

A cocktail's purest and oldest dissection contains four ingredients - spirit, sugar, water and bitters. Every well-stocked bar should contain the seven "deathly delicious sins": whiskey (bourbon, rye, scotch, blended and Irish), gin, vodka, tequila, rum, brandy and liqueurs.

It's that magical process of distilling fermented sugar that gives us spirits and the framework for every cocktail we sip. Iconic New York City bartender Dale Degroff once said, "I am a firm believer that spirits are gifts from the gods." Sugar, as simple and literal as adding simple syrup (1:1 water to sugar), or a sweet liqueur such as Cointreau, is not to be overlooked.

And now to the most underestimated but crucial ingredient in every cocktail - water. Every cocktail that hits our lips is shaken, stirred or blended with ice. It's an American fondness for ice-cold drinks that makes this component so important (a general rule of thumb for making martinis - the colder, the better).

Finally, bitters are probably the least understood of the four main ingredients. Technically, they are alcoholic beverages that have been flavored with plant or root extracts. Historically these infusions were used for medicinal purposes, but have evolved to play a special role in the many different flavors a cocktail can offer.

Every time I mix a drink, I strive to blend these four ingredients into a harmonious union that serenades your palate.

My passion for cocktail culture can be credited to my mentor, Jim German. An acclaimed bartender, Jim extended an offer I would've been foolish to pass up - to stay and study with him at his bar (jimgermanbar) in Waitsburg, Wash.

It was during my stay in Waitsburg where I fell head over heels for cocktails. Jim showed me a world I had never seen; through artisan spirits, fresh ingredients and forgotten classic recipes, Jim taught me what it takes to make great cocktails. Building on that experience, I created my own traveling bar. By continually studying the craft of cocktail making, choosing and stocking my own selection of fine spirits, and even hand-making some of my own bitters, I have the opportunity to develop my knowledge and skills as a bartender, all while being able to share my passion with others.

It's my goal to be the best bartender possible. I love to preserve the craft of the great bartenders who've come before me, as well as practice and experiment with the modern trends created by the trail blazers behind the bar today. I also understand that bartending isn't simply about knowledge and technique. There is an artful dance to tending bar. While the top priority is to mix good drinks, a successful bartender can control the "tone" or atmosphere of a bar, make multi-tasking during busy spells look easy, and exude his/her own charisma and personality, ultimately imparting a special touch to each drink.

It was 1806 when the word "cocktail" made its debut in print and gave everybody a clear distinction between what embodies a cocktail and everything else that came before it. It's now my passion to respect and honor the cocktail: Finding joy in crafting a cocktail for someone and hearing those three, simple words of satisfaction, "I'll have another!"

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