A Day in the Life of a Mixologist

What goes into inventing a new cocktail? How are the ingredients chosen? What are the inspirations, the flavors? We went all the way to Maine to find out.

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When it comes to ordering cocktails, I'm very good at making my selection based on words I recognize. This essentially rules out all obscure brands of alcohol and ends up including various fruits and familiar things like "ice." But when I sit down to order a drink at The Danforth Inn's Tempo Dulu I do something I don't typically do: I order a drink that I cannot for the life of me picture in my head—The Jakarta. The description reads as so: "Knob Creek Rye, Averna Amaro, Cynar, Carpano Antica Vermouth, coastal root bitters, absinthe mist, smoked with Chinese 5 spices."

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Absinthe mist? Chinese spices? How can I possibly resist this magical elixir—whatever it is? So I order one Jakarta and shortly thereafter, am presented with an upturned glass swirling with smoke from burnt cinnamon, clove, fennel seed, star anise, and peppercorns, which is then turned right side up and filled with a dark liquid with an intoxicating smell. Delicious and intriguing.

The next day I sit at the bar with Trevin Hutchins, the mastermind behind the drinks at Tempo Dulu, and pick his brain about the definition of mixology and the joys of discovering new flavors as he makes two of his impressive (and delicious) concoctions.

Tell me Trevin: do you call yourself a mixologist or a bartender? And what, exactly, is the difference?

"Mixologist" is kind of a funny word. Most mixologists tend to call themselves bartenders, but mixology and bartending are two different things. The reason is because some people in the industry think the term "mixologist" has a negative connotation—someone who is just there to make the drinks but doesn't actually care about the guests. That's honestly the opposite of me, so it's hard to find the right word that I feel truly describes myself. But yes, "mixologist" is technically correct.

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How did you get into the world of mixing and making drinks?

I first started bartending when I turned 21 and moved to Las Vegas. I worked at a nightclub for two years and then started at a cocktail bar at the Cosmopolitan. Once I really got into it, I wanted to bring what I learned back here to Portland, where I grew up.

Explain the process of coming up with a new drink—do you take an inspiration and then just build around that feeling, place, or ingredient?

All of those things! Typically, I find a lot of inspiration when I travel. I was just in Malaysia and had an orange sambal sauce, which is a spicy chili paste with fresh orange, and it was perfect. I knew I had to use it in a cocktail after tasting it. So inspiration really hits me wherever—traditions, culture, different flavors, they all play into it.

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When you were in Malaysia...was that just to do research for your drinks?

Yeah.

Really?

Really.

That's awesome.

It is amazing. It's the best job in the world.

Tell me more about Tempo Dulu.

We do Southeast Asian fine dining, and it's a really special experience. Many people who have eaten here have told me it's transformative. You walk in, and there's a different kind of style of music than you're probably used to hearing in restaurants, combined with the smoky aroma of incense. It's really a 360-degree sensory experience.

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The ingredients on your cocktail list are incredible, like the absinthe mist in The Jakarta. How do you even make that?

I use a lot of different tools. I'm really into molecular mixology which uses many techniques, whether it's with something like liquid nitrogen, or, for one cocktail we have, a fish tank air pump to make a really beautiful foam that's so light we call it an air. When I travel I always try to taste a new flavor or a new cocktail and ask myself, "How can I break this down? How can I present it in a different way?"

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Which drinks are you making for us today?

I'm making The Wayang, and The Fourth Gentleman, which is a hot cocktail.

Are those both Trevin originals?

Yes! I came up with The Wayang because I wanted to make something really refreshing and crisp. One of my favorite cocktails for summer is a daiquiri because it's just really easy: white rum, fresh lime, and simple syrup—so that was my starting point for it. I wanted to add a spiced ginger note and some cilantro, and then it's really just adding flavors and seeing what works, and editing it. The foam on top of The Wayang is a mangosteen and turmeric foam. I'm obsessed with mangosteen, and it really makes it the perfect cocktail for summer.

When I saw the mangosteen foam on the menu I got very excited.

It's amazing. I had it when I was in Chinatown in New York. I was wandering around the market, and saw mangosteens, rambutans, and lychee and just bought everything I could get my hands on—but mangosteen is by far my favorite. Once I had those, I knew I wanted to make a fruit purée, so I came up with this mangosteen and turmeric, which also happens to be incredibly healthy.

When you're creating a new cocktail, how do you know when it's ready? How do you know when to stop?

It's so hard. I have cocktails that I've spent months on, then left for a couple months, then came back to and think, "Finally, this is it!" We have a milk punch here which started out as about eight different cocktails before I got it to where it is now. It just takes time and when you know, you know.

Try one of Hutchins's signature cocktails at Tempo Dulu at The Danforth Inn, 163 Danforth Street, Portland, ME, tempodulu.restaurant.

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