Time Out Rio de Janeiro

Mixologist Sandra Mendes: interview

Bronze medallist in the 2012 mixologist championships, the woman responsible for bringing the Cold Fashioned to the world talks techniques.

Sandra Mendes is the woman driving Botafogo's creative bar scene. Besides overseeing an adventurous menu of the hard stuff, the bartender at doiZ also runs the weekly Tuesday party Mini Menos and has launched a series of workshops to help wannabe mixologists learn a few tricks of the trade. Time Out caught up with her to find out if the paper umbrella still has a place in her heart.

What kind of drinks do you teach at the workshop?
I prefer not to arrive with too much of a plan, changing them as I go depending on the class and their personal preferences, be they professional demands, specific recipes they want to learn or if they just want the basics to help make a better drink at home. Sometimes we'll do a list of timeless combinations like Dry Martinis or Bloody Marys, sometimes modern classics like the Cosmopolitan, but every time something different.

There is a theory element to the class, is it an essential element of the final drink?
No, it's not necessary, or at least not at the most basic level. Really, the backstory of a drink and its history helps sell it. I think it's cool to know the origins of the cocktail from the boom in the US in the '20s to today and all the trends and fashions between. I also teach the basic terminology, the difference between blending and mixing, between a distilled drink and a fermented one. I'll take a spirit like Cognac and explain how it should be served, what kind of glass it needs, possible mixers. Some cocktails require a Martini glass, never using ice but a pre-chilled vessel, others need a glass with no stem to allow the warmth of the hand to gradually pass to the drink.

So what makes a great bartender?
Someone who executes the original recipe well, and who makes an effort to imagine a sense of the context in which it was created. To understand what makes for a timeless cocktail and why, after so many attempts, the mixologist thinks 'That's it!' It is difficult. Even in a cocktail with just a few ingredients there are millions of different combinations and variations.

Like the mixologist Fabio Batistella, you moved from your native São Paulo to Rio. The 2012 Mixologist of the Year, Paulo Freitas, is from Rio. Is this the home of the cocktail in Brazil?
Rio doesn't have the same history of drinks, it is the capital of beer and botecos. But things are changing, even if it is still difficult to find a good drink sometimes. Everything needs to be planted afresh, so the Paulistas are coming here. There, the bartenders work at being better than at the bar over the road, but they are less competitive here, which in a way stalls their development.

How was the World Class 2012 competition, in which you came third? 
It is a tense test. You have six minutes to make your drink and then watch the jury spitting out your cocktail. Two of my cups broke in the first round and I had to do them all again. I came good with seconds to go, and I think the simplicity of my creations made the difference. The judges liked my Cold Fashioned and Baile Perfumado (Zacapa rum, cupuaçu, tapereba, lime, peanut syrup, sugar and vanilla). We also get to talk to other fanatical bartenders and do workshops with the world's best, so from a professional progression point of view, it's great.

Tell us about the drinks at doiZ where you are head bartender.
Along with Fabio Batistella and Marco de La Roche, we created three categories of drinks. 'Revisits' are new takes on old classics, like the Red House Blues, a 'Mary made with the juice of cherry tomatoes baked in Worcester sauce. 'Signaturez' are our inventions, like the Back2Black made with Jack Daniels, Amaretto, honey and coffee, and then there are the caipirinhas. The first known recipe is from 1554 as a flu remedy; cachaça, lime, honey and garlic. 

Sandra Mendes runs monthly workshops at Oztel. dates vary. 4-10pm. Price R$300.

Words by Marie Moley

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