"Mixology" is a term that is being increasingly tossed about at finer restaurants and bars, with mixologists sometimes having stand-alone cocktail menus, and getting as much credit as chefs for creating the specialties of the house.
Their creations are of the liquid kind, often incorporating a plethora of fruits, vegetables and herbs with the selected spirit.
"I am always creating new drinks, with a personal touch," said Alberto Battaglini, who runs the bar at S.Y. Kitchen in Santa Ynez. A native of Verona, Italy, Battaglini worked in London, where he also studied cooking.
This was before being recruited to be part of the team that opened the restaurant, owned by Kathie and Mike Gordon, in April, 2013. He is now credited on the restaurant's wine and spirits menu, with a note, "Cocktail program designed by Mixologist Alberto Battaglini.
"All my ingredients are fresh and sourced locally," he said, while standing behind a large tray of fruit. Part chemist, part pharmacist, he is "prepared to try anything" to make his customers happy.
And that Battalgini does, as he muddles a large bunch of basil, makes sure a classic martini is the perfect temperature (-4 Celsius) by using a thermometer, and fills a Mason jar with sugar and sticks of vanilla that he'll set aside for several days while the flavor of the beans infuses into the cubes.
"It is all about the details, like making sure all my glasses are frosted, and putting out cocktails that look good, smell good, taste good, and satisfy as many customers as possible."
But do cocktails like "Back Garden," made with gin Battaglini infuses with basil, jalapeno, cucumber and lime, and "Valley Girl," a vodka, elderflower, mint, strawberry, lime and vanilla concoction, make him a mixologist?
"It is mostly a marketing term, but I don't object to being called one," said Battaglini, who has settled into Los Olivos and married a local veterinarian whom he met "when she walked in the door at the restaurant. It was love at first sight."
Michael Brown, assistant manager at Root 246 in Solvang, another restaurant that has an extensive cocktail menu, suggested that mixology is a "term that is being thrown around a little too loosely these days. We don't use that term because we don't want to put off the locals. When the Visitadores are here, they want their Jack, they want their Crown, and we have that for them."
Having an upscale bar menu is critical to the success of every upscale establishment, he said, but he prefers to keep it in balance.
"We have 250 different whiskeys along with our experimental cocktails," he said. That sort of balance is also what they strive for at Willows and Brothers Restaurant at the Red Barn, both in Santa Ynez. Neither establishment has yet adopted the term "mixologist" for their head bartender or bar manager, but do offer an array of specialty drinks.
Mixologists will become a certified profession if David Nepove, national president of the United State Bartenders Guild and the Director of Mixology for Southern Wine & Spirits, the largest distributor in the U.S., has his way. The U.S.B.G., with chapters in 41 cities and with 4,000 members, has started a "masters accreditation" program that will allow bartenders to officially call themselves mixologists.
"To be competitive, bars have to have creative cocktail menus, but just being creative is not enough to be called a mixologist," said Nepove. "Our course is still in its infancy, but it will require you to be able to do everything a bartender does, and so much more. You need to know the history of the spirits you're using, and the importance of service."
Battaglini agreed. "It all comes down to giving the customer what he or she wants, and making it my way."