Tips and Insights from a Tuned-In Bartender

Call it mixology, the bar chef crusade, or the second Golden Age of the Cocktail, there’s no denying the art and science of bartending is upon us. I caught up with Boss Shepard’s bartender, John Miller, to discuss his take on the changing landscape.

Be brilliant at the basics, and add twists.

“First up is to craft simple, consistent, and balanced classics like the Manhattan, Negroni, and Martini. Fashion new and creative cocktails, too. We came up with the Boss Manhattan using Virginia Copper Fox Rye Whisky softened with cherry wood and balanced with Carpano vermouth and orange and cherry bitters,” remarks John.

Align your bar philosophy and food philosophy.

“We’ve designed our bar program to match Chef Jeremy Waybright’s focus on local, sustainable, and seasonal products. And, just as chef sources from local fisherman, farmers, and ranchers, we partner with local distillers, wineries, and brewers.”

Know your audience.

“We play to an amazing demographic: the law firm crowd, tourists, city-wide convention goers, lobbyists, the mayor and his cronies, Capitol Hill types, and young professionals right out of college. And, although we trend toward food-and-bar educated Millennials, all are appreciative.”

Read and respond to cues.

“Tune into the visual clues. Are your guests dressed up, on a date, having a business meeting, or, is someone sitting by himself with three cellphones and an iMac? The non-verbals guide me to sell a $7 Bud or a $30 dollar shot of Pappy Van Winkle, the Holy Grail of whiskey in a Glencairne tasting glass. Plus, learn to slice through the razor thin pauses in conversation to make suggestions. And, greet guests the instant they arrive to uncover the special what, why, where, and how of their visit.”

Be a student of your craft.

“Check out the online Whisky Advocate. Don’t miss the zany, insightful, blow-your-mind blogs like Booze Nerds, Death to Sour Mix, Rated R Cocktails, Stir and Strain, and Tempered Spirits. Also, peruse the city for cool places like Barrel on 6th and Penn serving craft bourbons and barrel-aged cocktails. Go down Jack Rose with its pre-eminent whiskey list that looks like a New York phone book.”

Stay up on wine.

“Today’s winery touring lifestyle guests are more educated. To keep pace, we’re constantly fine-tuning our knowledge and salesmanship. Our killer wine program includes training by experts from nearby vineyards in Purcellville, Sperryville, and Culpepper. We tout amazing affordable wines such as Virginia’s refreshing Barboursville Riesling or the smooth Whitehall Cab Franc. A great pairing is our herbal Linden Sauvignon Blanc with our North Carolina Albacore Tuna Salad. Training inspires creativity too, like recommending our signature fried chicken with a glass of Veuve Clicquot Champagne.”

Don’t forget craft beer.

“We may only have eight taps, but we make it count with six insider greats brewed within 60 miles of our front door. Two top-rated standouts are the lighter Port City Witte from Alexandria and the Eight Point IPA with a hoppy finish from Devils Backbone Brewery in Roseland, Va.”

Tell stories that sell.

“Years ago Rick Wasmund got burned out in the financial trade and packed up and went to Ireland to pursue his passion for Irish Whiskey. After apprenticing at the Bowmore distillery in Scotland on the Isle of Islay, he fine-tuned his craft. He’s the founder and owner of Copper Fox Distillery in Sperryville, Va. He told us it was a good thing he wasn’t married! Telling the backstory inspires guests to buy.”

Stay Excited.

“For years, I sold computers and liked the positive effect it had on people’s lives. Now I’m inspired by constantly learning new things, enriching people’s lives, and being a part of a healthy, responsible, and interesting lifestyle. If you’re not constantly open to new ideas you’ll get left in the dust. But, that’s the joy I take from my passion and profession. I’ve always strived to live by the words of Poet Robert Frost, to ‘make your vocation your avocation.’”

About the Author

Bob Brown, president of Bob Brown Service Solutions,, pioneered Marriott’s Service Excellence Program. He has worked with clients such as Disney, Hilton, Morton’s of Chicago, Nordstrom, Olive Garden, and Ritz Carlton and works internationally with the prestigious Burj Al Arab in Dubai. He has appeared on the Food Network and is author of the bestselling The Little Brown Book of Restaurant Success, selling over 100,000 copies worldwide. Contact Bob for keynotes, workshops, breakouts, and executive retreats at 571-246-2944 ©Bob Brown Service Solutions 2016.

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