KIRKLAND'S PROXIMITY to an abundance of breweries and wineries has educated locals in things such as swishing and spitting, with comments like “long finish,” “soft tannins” and “hop-forward” leaping off our tongues with ease. But when it comes to cocktails, the conversation slows to a predictable list of the usual suspects -- Cosmo, Lemon Drop, Manhattan, maybe an Old Fashioned for the Mad Men fans.
“People are willing to try new food, wine or beer,” says bar manager John Ueding, “but they tend to stick to one cocktail.”
Ueding’s mission is to resurrect the craft cocktail, which he defines as a cocktail that is made with attention to detail. He believes in accurately measuring ingredients with a jigger, using fresh juices and the ability to intelligently discuss unique spirits.
“If (a bartender) never uses a jigger, they probably won’t be able to balance more complicated cocktails,” he explains.
Educating other bartenders in the art of carefully constructed beverages is the reason Ueding formed the Eastside Bartenders Association (EBA), where he serves as the president, along with the / bar manager Mark Sexauer. The pair met while both did a bartending stint at the Heavy Restaurant Group’s Barrio in Bellevue, which recently closed its doors.
EBA, which now includes five other members representing Lot No. 3, Naga and Paratii restaurants, has an open membership policy in order to encourage as many local industry professionals as possible to join.
After growing up in the Seattle area, Ueding spent a few years in both Portland, OR and San Diego, CA before moving back home. He is now a full-time Kirkland resident.
He got his restaurant industry start like many before him -- washing dishes as a teenager -- then moved onward and upward working in the kitchen, as a waiter and a general manager.
“But I have always enjoyed being behind the bar the best,” says Ueding, citing the combination of creativity, guest interaction and hard work as motivational for him. “Plus, I really enjoy spirits.”
Ueding isn’t a flashy, sweet-talking bartender. He has a naturally reserved personality, leaning more toward “spirit nerd” than the rock star approach. His knowledge -- and it is a deep reservior to be sure -- comes mainly from reading on the subject.
“My bookcase is packed full of books on bartending, cocktail history and techniques,” admits Ueding.
However, it is being around other craft bartenders, seeing what they are doing, that keeps the inspiration alive.
“That’s why we felt it was important to form the EBA.”
THE TRELLIS BAR inside the downtown falls somewhere between a small craft bar and a fast-paced restaurant/club bar. That allows Ueding to frequently engage interested customers in informative conversations about misunderstood spirits like gin and rye (Ueding’s “desert island” spirit), or a brief history on the pre-Prohibition cocktails of New York and San Francisco.
The craft cocktail has enjoyed a 10-15 year renaissance leading to the formation of groups such as Ladies United for the Preservation of Endangered Cocktails (LUPEC), but Ueding and Sexauer wanted to focus solely on the Eastside -- Seattle’s generally ignored kid-brother in the food and beverage industry.
Many of us are interested in trying new things, but it can be intimidating to order a different cocktail because of two factors: our general lack of knowledge about spirits and our fear we will order something we won’t like. Ueding makes three suggestions.
Find a bartender that you trust.
“If you see a few unique bottles on the back of the bar, ask about them. If the bartender can talk about them intelligently, they probably know how to use them in cocktails.”
Trust your bartender.
“Give them a few ideas as to what you like and they should be able to point you in the right direction. If you don’t like something, a good bartender will gladly take it away and try again, just be sure to express why you didn’t like it so we get to know your palate.”
Keep an open mind.
“Just because you had a bad night with some cheap gin in college, it doesn’t mean that you won’t enjoy some of today’s well-made gins, especially when balanced with other ingredients in a cocktail. I’ve been know to surprise quite a few!”
While customers can always order a standard cocktail, Ueding creates seasonal menus for the Trellis bar often, including ingredients from ’s nearby farm. The summer menu is focused on the classics, with a few Ueding originals. One of his favorites is the Willows cocktail, consisting of Martin Miller’s gin, lemon juice, honey and lavender liqueur made in-house from the Chef’s farm lavender.
“It’s all shaken with an egg white to give it a nice fluffy texture and served with grated lemon zest,” he explains, making sure to point out that people who object to the egg whites have probably tasted their fair share of raw cookie dough.
It’s nice to know that we don’t have to stock an expensive liquor cabinet or make endless rounds of terrible drinks at home in order to get a good cocktail. We have a few professionals right here in town.
But, for those of you dying to learn more, the EBA plans on hosting knowledge-building events open to both industry professionals and anybody with an interest in learning about spirits and cocktails. Or, check out Ueding’s blog called “The Mixing Glass” for a fascinating look into a bartender’s mind.
So don’t be shy! If there is something you’ve always wanted to try, John Ueding is a good person to ask. He probably won’t literally hold your hand, but he will certainly get you pointed in the right direction. And if you just can’t quite give up your standard Sex-In-The-City-Cosmopolitan, at least you’ll be getting the real thing from craft bartender Ueding.