“I think” and “I know” are not the same thing

I don’t remember exactly how they ended up sitting next to each other, but they did. In the busy ebb and flow of a bar, people often wander off and mingle and mix, which is why many bars won’t run a cash tab. How are you supposed to keep track of a person you interacted with for 20 seconds amongst 200 people? Or 100 people? Or even 50 people?

A decanting emergency had called me away — and yes, there is such a thing. We may not be saving lives in a restaurant environment, but sometimes it feels that way, not from the service side, mind you, but often from the side of the serviced. And when I had returned, they were right next to each other.

“I need another Oaxacan mule,” said the tattooed guy in a slacker beard wearing all black.

I had already been through a 10-minute diatribe on the extra “colding” ability of copper from him.

“I’m a mixologist,” he had said. “So, I know.”

Which was an interesting thing to say, because any scientist will tell you that copper doesn’t make things colder, it actually helps heat them up. And any chef will concur, telling you that because copper has that excellent heat-conducting ability, the very highest of high-end cookware is often made from it.

But he wasn’t a chef or a scientist. He was a mixologist.

“You guys know what you should do?” he asked, unbidden, which wasn’t all that unexpected from a mixologist.

I looked briefly at the full bar, the full restaurant, the full lobby and then at the guy not working on a Friday night, and recognized that we really needed his help. So I asked:


“You should barrel-age your negronis. It makes them better.”

I shrugged and went back to waiting on all the people who figured we were kind of doing things the right way already. But the bespectacled guy next to him perked up.

“Why do you say that?” he asked.

“It mellows it out,” said the bearded mixologist.

“What do you mean?” asked the guy in glasses.

“The air interacts with the molecules and softens them up.”

“Are you talking about oxidization?” asked the man in the glasses.

“Uh, yeah,” said the bearded one.

“Isn’t oxidation undesired in wine?”

“Yes, but this isn’t wine?”

“Vermouth is wine,” said Mr. Glasses.

“But it is fortified wine,” said Mr. Beard.

“I’m pretty sure it’s aromatized, not fortified.”

“What’s the difference?”

“Well, one has distilled spirits added to it, and one doesn’t,” replied Mr. Glasses.

“It doesn’t matter anyway, because the gin would preserve it,” said Mr. Beard.

“How’s that?” asked the guy in glasses.

“Well, alcohol is a preservative; therefore, it preserves the wine.”

“So, you are saying that mixing distilled alcohol with a perishable product makes the product unperishable?”

“Yeah, I guess so.”

“By what mechanism, and is that all perishable products? If I mixed fresh orange juice with spirits would that make the orange juice last indefinitely? What about emulsions? Would that be true of them, too?”

“You ask a lot of questions,” said Mr. Beard.

“I have a degree in chemistry from UC Davis and I am working on getting my masters in oenology,” said Mr. Glasses.

“So, science?” asked Mr. Beard.

“Yes, the science of making wine,” said Mr. Glasses.

“Well, I don’t know about all of that, I just know that alcohol preserves things.”

“Yes, but at what dilution? And for how long?”

“I don’t know, I never thought of that.”

“And if the organic matter can separate, will it float to the top and oxidize?”

The mixologist hadn’t expected this kind of mixing.

“Uh, I don’t know.”

“Have you tested that?”

The scientific method often gets overlooked in the cocktail business. Observation, questioning, making a hypothesis, conducting replicable experiments and reaching a conclusion are often replaced by “I feel,” “I think” or “I believe” — none of which really is conclusive.

“Is the barrel’s interior surface waxed?” “Is it charred?” “Is the barrel sealed or open?” “How big is the barrel?” “What kind of wood?” “Is the temperature constant?” The questions came fast and furious.

“I don’t know. I don’t know. I don’t know,” said Mr. Beard.

“What is it that you actually know?” asked Mr. Glasses finally.

Mr. Beard looked at him for a second and then answered.

“I know that I don’t want to talk to you anymore.”

Leaving me with these thoughts:

• Not all “ologists” are of the same caliber.

• Ethyl alcohol is both a solvent and a preservative. Just saying.

• “Never let fear stop you from asking something you don’t understand or know. To pretend or to act as if you know is not a wise thing to do,” once wrote Mark Twain.

• “I don’t know, let me find out” is the key to all wisdom.

• The beauty of true “science” is that it remains true whether you believe in it or not.

• In a world full of pretenders, try being a professional. You will stand out.