Learning to Drink

My life as a designer, has been, well, one I am pretty sure I wouldn’t trade for anything. At every turn it’s a unique problem. Every project I look to twist into something more. Each client and agency and shop, has been my academia. It’s been a mental struggle because, as I learned very early in life, that’s just how my brain works. It constantly wants to jump from one topic to the next, never quite being fulfilled, but at the same time being fairly satisfied. There’s an innuendo there, but I’m not taking it.

Most recently I decided to put my “professional” design career back into hiatus. Last time I did that I had the sudden urge to go to grad school, thus throwing myself into another $60k of American school debt, all because there was something funny I couldn’t quite put my finger on in regards to the All Powerful Oz, that is..design. This time around, well, I just think the entire industry needs a wake up call a la the DotCom crash circa 2001. So this time, I’ll just sit it out. Text me when everyone’s head (and fiscal responsibility) is screwed back on straight.

Now, let me be very clear here. By professional career, I mean steady paycheck, benefits and being told to sit here and do this between the hours of 9-5 (midwest design hours, its 10-9 on the east coast and any random 3 hours on the west). Design is very much a part of my life. It is my life. The very nature of how to identify and problem solve within ANY medium is something I am quite proud of. And for those of you, and back when I was teaching I know there were many, that often feel the weight of peers pressing down on you almost forcing you to be a successful NY/LA/Chicago design god, know this…

You are allowed to do what you want. Success in life is determined by your happiness, not what The CW, Kim Kardashian, your professors, fellow colleagues, students, parents or any other American pop culture reference tweets that it should be.

Just because I went to college, ok, a LOT of college for design, doesn’t mean it’s something I want to be heralded for. God help me if my tombstone reads “Here lies Giacomo. Designer. This is in Helvetica. 72 pt.” Same goes for doctors, lawyers, politicians and all the other jobs we jammed into 80s sitcoms to represent “success” as going-off-to-college-to-be, through the eyes of society. No. I went to school because I loved to learn. I went to UArts because not only was it a school for art, but also dance, music and theater. While the music bug never quite caught on, my moves are dope and yes I do have a knack for the theatrical. But at the ripe old age of 37, I decided to get another education. This time, well, this time I am learning how to drink.

Yes. For the past 3 weeks, my schedule has been as follows. Wake up. Show up at 10 am. Drink (insert spirit here). Take notes. Learn technique with (insert spirit here). Drink. Take more notes. Go home. Repeat. I have been under the full blown 195 mph training course to be a bartender, and never in my life have I found anything more fascinating.

Now. This shit is complicated. It reminds me of 4th grade when they wanted to put me in algebra classes ahead of everyone else. I sat there. Befuddled. Day after day. My grades everywhere else plummeted. I would cry doing my homework day in and day out to the point where my mom had to BEG the teacher to let me go back down to the regular math classes. The teacher refused. When asked why, she handed my mom all of my tests, which apparently I had nailed. I was holding myself back, in a way. Regardless, bar tending is more than just putting Sugar Variable A with Modifier B plus Spirit C and emulsifying. No, like many, MANY other jobs out there. It’s an art form. An art form, I have learned to turn into a board game.

Behold. The Drinking Game™. (working title)


Think you are quite the mixologist? Well, then this game is for you. It’s simple really, since you are probably also trained in a classic, detail oriented Milk & Honey style right? Of course! Well, you have the 13 families which breakdown into their respective ratios: Sours (3/4,3/4,2), Collins/Fizz (see sours), Gimlets (1, 3/4, 2) Rickeys (see Gimlets), Daiquiris (see Gimlets), Sidecars (1/2, 1 1/2, 1), Ginger Highballs (1/2, 3/4, 2), Old Fashioned (SBWS), Martinis (2-1), Manhattans (see martinis), Juleps (liquid candy with mint), Caiphirinhas (liquid candy with lime) and Smashes (see Juleps + Caiphirinhas). Then you have techniques for each: dry, medium hard, long hard, whip, double back and long pour. All of which should be “cooked” and “plated” in their optimal glassware maintaing the correct temperature during the duration that the guest should be imbibing. Easy right? Well, here is how the game breaks down.

First thing is first, just like any bar, before you open the doors, you need to setup your well. This will undoubtedly get more complex as I have learned that a key to speed and efficiency is being able to identify bottles, in low light. Quickly. But for now, brightly colored foam circles represent our ingredients.


  • white = egg white
  • orange = ginger
  • red = spirit
  • green = lime
  • pink = sugar
  • yellow = lemon
  • purple = modifier (can be anything else bitters/liquers/etc, sorry I ran out of colors)

The next game pieces represent the ice. Are you building on a block? Whipped? Or just filling with a regular old scoop of ice?


Then we have the drink cards. Basically, these can serve as flash cards, if you simply want to sit and learn how to make the standard version of each. In the competitive aspect of the game, they serve as the customers order. Draw as many cards as determined by a dice roll.

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The cards themselves are color coded very specifically. The main color puts them into a citrus family, so yellow is a sour, green is a gimlet, orange is a ginger highball, and white is no citrus (so mostly spirits). The strip of color to the right of each face card represent the main spirits color. So white would be clear, and a series of golds and brown represent various tones of dark spirits. Red is tequila or mezcal. For those of you versed in round building, perhaps you are seeing the patterns here. Which brings us to the game board.


This game was designed to practice round building without the cost of a full bar. Period. Round Building is the fine art of nailing the perfect cocktail(s), all while being extremely efficient. So an efficiency like, touching a bottle only once. Since I have learned of this concept, admittedly I have been going to bars to see if anyone uses it. Short answer? No. (which might explain why it takes 40 minutes to get a cocktail at some unnamed places). So this lesson in human object interaction makes me absolutely giddy.

A few rules, otherwise you will screw up the flavor of the cocktail. Since we are going for efficiency, you would typically use the same jigger without washing it out, but certain flavor profiles will dramatically change the drink if you do not abide by these rules (or wash out your jigger first). They are as follows:

  1. Lime before Lemon (hence the yellow/green color coding of cards)
  2. Light spirits to dark (hence the white, gold, tan, brown stripes on the cards)
  3. Must wash the jigger if using tequila or mezcal in the round (hence the red stripes on the cards)
  4. Cook stirred drinks first, plate them last


While technically, not wrong (because you would have to see how I filled out this board, not the location of the card) Rule #4 above should probably dictate that either the Monte Carlo is in column 1 (if building left to right) or the Joe Rickey is in column 2 (if building right to left, which I would probably do at Sundry since our toolset is on the left, meh, minor detail).

So, to recap, it’s: add ingredients touching each bottle once, be sure to add them to the correct technique space, be sure to select the technique being used, be sure to add the correct amount of ice per the technique suggested, be sure to pull the glassware at the appropriate time and be sure to plate and garnish in the correct order. Simple enough right? Okay, now add a stopwatch. And another bartender with their own station. Then, let the games begin.



Now, all this being said, I am merely an apprentice learning this extremely fine craft. The bartenders at Cincy’s newest, and might I say finest establishment of Sundry & Vice, can play this game in their sleep, while smiling, waving, winking and giving dissertations in a Cascadic Multigrid Algorithm for Computing the Fiedler Vector all at the same time. So stop in this Friday, when the doors open and you can finally go behind the looking glass.


One comment on “Learning to Drink”

  1. Love it, cant wait to play the game

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