At My Bars, We Support Brands Who Support Bartenders – Part II

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Back in 2019, I wrote a little piece about how liquor companies could be better about supporting the next generation of working bartenders. It was really well-received by both the bartending community and by the brands who truly care about the people who are on the front lines, selling their products. Dozens of brands reached out to me personally asking how they could support people like the ones who worked with me behind the bar, and I got to witness firsthand the positive effects that support had on their lives.

But now we’re back here again, sadly.

A couple of months ago I was alerted, yet again, to another massive liquor company using one of my recipes to promote their brand. This normally wouldn’t bother me, as I’m generally honored to have quite a few cocktails in the modern classic canon. But this one was unattributed, uncredited, and the drink name had been modified to further obscure its origin.

Making a big stink on social media and calling out brands by name is something plenty of others in my position are comfortable doing, but I’m not that guy. So I quietly reached out to some people I know at the company in question and asked them to either take the post down, or simply credit me, link to me, and not rename the drink – as outlined in the copyright agreement that has been listed at the footer of this website since its’ beginning.

The way I explained it to their on-premise trade relations manager was this: Creating cocktails and working with brands is something I do for a living. Any brand in the world has an incredible opportunity to work with me, rather than just taking from me. I asked her to imagine a scenario where her company could hire me as a consultant, gets some amazing cocktails (and my full endorsement) – and I would receive a modest consultation fee and a whole lot of goodwill towards the brand moving forward.

But, rather than taking the opportunity to work with me, yet another bartender who has been devastated by the pandemic, this $16-billion dollar company has continued to use my hard to work to sell even more of their products – even after agreeing to cease doing so.

I know that so many of you working bartenders have been in the same position, time and time again. In fact, one person I spoke to at the company acknowledged that “it’s an industry-wide problem”, and yet it continues. What feels so, so scummy to me is that working-class bartenders like us don’t have the resources to protect our hard work. We create, they take – and the companies get richer while we continue to work our asses off to make ends meet at a time when things have never been harder on service industry workers. Those of us who have dedicated their lives to sharing their knowledge with the world to make the whole industry a better place are being taken advantage of by the only people in this industry of our who are thriving during this pandemic.

So once again, if you’re a brand who would like to work with me, please feel free to reach out. I absolutely love working with companies who value hard work and creativity, two things I have a massive surplus of. Both of my award-winning bars have closed for good, and I’m working hard to reach even more people with delicious drinks than ever before – by consulting with brands, or with bars, restaurants, and hotel groups.

I’m currently consulting on several new bars and I will continue to stock them full of the brands who support working bartenders. And as for the brands who knowingly steal from working bartenders, none of their products will ever see the light of day on back bars or wells where I have any influence. I know it isn’t going to make a massive dent in their billions of dollars, but I suspect that collectively, bartenders have more power than they’re aware of.

Thanks for reading. Hopefully this is the last rant I’ll feel compelled to go on. More drinks and techniques are coming soon.

20 Replies to “At My Bars, We Support Brands Who Support Bartenders – Part II”

  • Emily says:

    Hi Jeff,

    I’m late-20s bartender that’s been asked to change my work’s house cocktail menus soon and have a question for you.

    I enjoy making guests stuff like the pre-Prohibitionary drinks and great newer ones like Joaquin Simo’s Naked & Famous and always make it a point to verbal the drink’s history/origin and who created it if I know.

    Printing cocktails like these on our official menus are a whole different ball game and I’m unsure of where the lines are for using a newer, established (canon?) cocktail like the Naked & Famous. I’m in a small town where unfortunately drink name/concept theft is a thing and I don’t want to end up unintentionally doing it, and it’s happened to me too. Like, word-for-word name and same ingredients but shittier. : l (Side note: everyone in this town calls every syrup ever _____ simple syrup. Pear simple syrup. Honey-infused simple syrup. House-lavender infused simple syrup…..)

    The Question: do you have any advice for a green bartender creating their first cocktail menu? There are plenty of “unique” Old Fashioned variations under different house cocktail lists around the world but (still best example I can think for this) a Naked & Famous is solid as is. Moreso, is it disrespectful to put it something like that on our cocktail menu or has it reached Cosmo-level canon and the respect has already been achieved?

    Apologies this is so long. I grew up near LA, spent some years in Portland and now live and work in a small town in the South with a budding food & drink scene. To put it very lightly, the cocktail culture around here is going through growing pains and I want to make sure I’m keeping myself in check because some cringey cocktail business moves are acceptable here. This is probably my 3rd time asking you a question via your blog, thanks for the replies.

    • Hey Emily

      Personally I’m honored when my drinks show up on cocktail menus in local independent bars and restaurants, and I can tell you that Joaquin feels the same. And we don’t feel the need to be credited on your menu. The issue lies in when huge corporations use our work to sell their products. But you, my friend, have my full permission.

  • Dave Stolte says:

    They have yet to credit T.J. Siegal for the Gold Rush.

  • Gage says:

    Would love to see a list of the exceptional brands that support bartenders so I may also support them.

    Thanks!

  • Bill says:

    Okay, an update. I found the company, and the site. 10 minute ago it still said “Maker’s Renewal”. Now it’s correctly called “bourbon renewal” and Jeffrey Morgenthaler is named as the originator.

  • Bill says:

    I support not being “one of those guys” to publicly shame, because I’m also not “one of those guys”. But social media can level asymmetry, so maybe we need to become “one of those guys”.

    However, moving up from the “on-premise trade relations manager” might be useful. Many (bad, IMO) marketers are transactional and lack ethics, but the CEO of the company might care that one of his minions diminishes the brand value with IP theft. From his customers.

  • Christian Lopez says:

    I’m not in the industry, but my wife and I go to so many bars and restaurants that I jokingly refer to myself as “industry adjacent.”

    I’m a big fan of your books and bars.

    We dropped in to your 2 acclaimed Portland bars and didn’t have an opportunity to meet you, but enjoyed a conversation with Banjo about your egg nog. It is the best I’ve ever tasted. I make it for people every chance I get. Then I tell them to buy The Bar Book for the recipe.

    I applaud you for taking the high road and instead of calling those companies out publicly by name in writing, giving them an opportunity to change before their name goes viral via word of mouth. Hopefully, they see the wisdom in doing so.

    Keep showing the way through example and I’ll look forward to the day when our paths inevitably cross.

  • Grace W. says:

    Rather than list who isn’t helpful, what if you curated a “best to collaborate with” list so those who want to work with amazing brands can choose to do so? I don’t purchase for a bar, or in bulk, but I am certainly much happier to support those who are awesome, rather than those who take advantage. Also, I will send stern letters to anyone who messes with you. Just tell me where to send them.

  • Justin Benfaida says:

    #alwaysgiveback!

  • David Sprintis says:

    I am not an industry professional, but I work with intellectual property, and I know how easy it is for the big boys to take advantage of creators in many different industries. I will do my part as an enthusiast to avoid those brands for my home bar, and going out to bars and restaurants.
    Thank you for your blog. You’re a great resource to professionals and non-professionals alike.

  • KO says:

    Thank you so much, Jeff! This needed to be said and I’m glad you did. I’ve experienced similar issues, with liquor companies as well as with bars whom I created cocktail programs for. The renaming and taking credit really is insulting. Keep on slingin brother! We’re with you.

  • Nico Diaz says:

    This piece really hit home. Thank you for airing things out with grace and candor, and for giving voice to working bartenders.

    Cheers.

  • Randi says:

    Thank you for this. As someone in a position to pick and chose what brands are carried in my bar, could you suggest resources to find out brand specifics so i can avoid these products as well?

    • I’m afraid I’m not aware of a resource that lists unscrupulous brands, but just talking with other bartenders privately will always dig up more than enough information on who is worth supporting and who isn’t.

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