Mixologist of the Month - Alf de Portilo
- Date of Birth: 20th March
- Birth place: Bilbao
- Height: 173cm
- Eye colour: Brown
- Nationality: Basque
"My name is Alfonso del Portillo, but usually people call me Alf, and it is how I usually present myself. I started my career while finishing my masters in International Trade in Dublin. I worked before as a barback and runner in my home town (Bilbao), but in The Porterhouse in Dublin was the first time somebody gave me an opportunity to be face to face with costumers. Then I went back to Bilbao and I was working as a Bartender and then Head Bartender in an Italian restaurant. After a while I opened my first bar and then I moved to India, and I was consulting and opened a bar for a company based in Bangalore. After that I moved to London where I worked for a while in The Anthologist, and I was living between London and Bilbao for a year, consulting in countries like France, Hong Kong and Costa Rica and running a bar in Bilbao. Then the offer from The Natural Philosopher came and I couldn't say no to this project. I am still here."
Awards, Accolades and Trophies
I have been to national finals of Gin Mare, Domaine de Canton, The Poshmakers and World Class in Spain and UK. I won the World Class competition in India in 2015, going to compete to the global finals to South Africa.
Your claim to fame?
I am the first bartender in the world to take part in three World Class national finals, in Spain.
Q & A
What do you as a mixologist think about beer? Any brews of note for you?
As a fermented beverage, like wine or sake, it can be used to work with if you are looking for particular aromas or notes. Porters and Stouts works beautifully with coffee and whiskies, and lagers, on the other hand can help you deliver a very refreshing drink combined with white spirits and fruit juices.
Right now I am a lot into sour beers, as it can give that sour and fizzy touch that some mix require.
If you could offer a couple of short pieces of advice to the average bartender, what would they be?
Prep yourself. Japanese tend to say that a project comprises on 90% preparation and 10% execution. Same can be applied to the bar.
Deliver a good experience to your guests. Hospitality comes first; second, knowledge about what you sell. After this, you can worry about mixology and flair.
As a mixologist/consultant, you work directly with many restaurants on their drink menus -- describe the parts of this process. First of all, you have to work closely to the owners/managers and adapt to what they are looking for. Secondly, you have to know the area in where you are working and create menus that obviously you will sell. It is also important to know the staff that later are going to serve your drinks and understand their skill set.
How did you get started? I was finishing my masters degree in International Trade in Dublin. I began to work on a company as an intern without pay, so I had to look for an extra job to make some money. I started as a bar back on a bar and never looked back.
How were you trained in bartending? As I said before, I was trained in hospitality. Part of my family was on the industry so I was watching it since I was a kid. First hospitality, then knowledge; reading, attending seminars, and surrounding myself of good people. Bartending and mixology is the next logic step.
Did you take any courses? Nothing official. Courses by brands, masterclasses by industry people... I think where you learn the most is by experience. Practice makes perfect.
What are some trends you're seeing in the market? I think we are coming back to a more classic approach to the drinks. Sustainability, recycling are other things that are pushing. Also trusting more in produce and sourcing it. Ferments like Kombucha and home made wines are taking its place among us.
What's your process for creating a new cocktail? And what inspired you in the first place? I like to be inspired by stories and history.
What is your favourite cocktail To make? Daiquiri and Boulevardier.
What are some of your favourite tools? Tongs. They're ingrained in the Basque drinks culture.
What is your favourite mixology resource? Other bartenders.
What does success mean for you? A happy costumer.
Where do you see yourself in five years? I see myself happy.
If you weren't in the drinks industry, what do you think you would be doing now? Working in a warehouse.
First drink you ever tried? Mum’s milk
We've all had a bad experience with at least one drink. What drink do you most avoid? Raspberry vodka.
Your hangover cure? Junk food and Modern Family.
£10m comes to you. What do you do next? Invest a part on a stablished bar/restaurant chain, and with other part open my own cocktail bar. Location TBC.
Bar or cellar at home? Why choose? Both.
Favourite beer? Estrella Galicia.
Wine? Biga Luberri.
Spirit? Don Julio 1942.
Fav Bar? Besides from The Natural Philosopher, The American Bar at The Savoy and Paradiso.
Restaurant? Asador Etxebarri and Mugaritz.
World location? Cape Town.
Fav film? Star Wars saga.
Book? Sin Noticias de Gurb by Eduardo Mendoza.
Album? Underclass Hero by Sum 41.
Singer/band? Foo Fighters.