11/07/2013 11:04 am ET Updated Jan 23, 2014

Is It Ever OK to Call Yourself a Mixologist?


Before I begin let me just say now: To those bartenders who think calling yourself a mixologist is an excuse for serving drinks with a frown at a snail's pace, you are morons and are giving the rest of us a bad name. This article isn't even acknowledging your kind.

Now that that's out of the way, we can proceed.

When spoken out loud, I've noticed the word "Mixologist" always seems to be accompanied by air quotations -- as if the person they're talking to will mistakenly assume they're using it earnestly. Along with Miley Cyrus and Toddlers and Tiaras, society has agreed to give this smug invention of hipster culture the collective eye roll. Despite the fact that the word mixologist was coined in the 1850's, back when being a Barman was a highly regarded profession sometimes requiring years of apprenticeship.

Admittedly it's a difficult word, suggesting that the craft of mixing cocktails; a purely (and delightfully) frivolous skill, should stand alongside other "ologist" suffixed occupations -- paleontologist, neurologist, mixologist. So perhaps it is deserving of all the ridicule. E.g. the episode of Girls where Lena Dunham and Mike Birbiglia mocked us for wearing "tiny vests." (Guilty as charged, though it's just a regular sized vest.)

A lot of people address this as a questions of labels. Indeed, the mixologist vs bartender piece has been tackled by the Internet ad nauseum. You're just a Google search away from countless articles featuring that very title. But the articles never feature much of a debate, just a list of quotes from various cocktail professionals (myself among them) who, when posed the question of which they prefer, universally dismiss mixologist as pretentious and assure that we are just "regular old bartenders." Which is true. By definition a bartender is someone who makes and serves drinks, and a mixologist is someone who creates them. So in most cases if you're a mixologist, you're also a bartender.

But that answer skirts over the heart of the issue, which isn't one of definitions. If your work involves creating cocktails but not making them, by definition, you're a mixologist. It would be incorrect to refer to yourself as a bartender. So what then?

I was faced with this conundrum recently when I started to branch out from behind the bar and do things like consulting on cocktail menus, writing articles (such as the one you're reading now), and cocktail videos (forgive the shameless plug). When I looked into getting business cards I was suddenly faced with the question of how to state my title. I was stumped. Anything but "mixologist," I thought. Cocktail expert?  No way, that's worse. Cocktail consultant? Too narrow. Then I wondered whether it was ever ok to call yourself a mixologist. Even when it's true.  

As I thought about it, I started to get jealous of other fellow members of the food and beverage industry. Like chefs, after they've stepped out from behind the line, written a few cookbooks, gotten a reality show and designed their own line of cook wear, they're still chefs. Not to mention that the term Celebrity Chef is somehow perfectly acceptable as well. Or certified wine professionals, who undergo exhaustive testing to earn esteemed titles like Master Sommelier and Master of Wine (less than 300 in the world) and wear them with pride and honor. Then I thought how ridiculous it is that I'm ashamed of my job title and how nice it would be if I could just call myself a mixologist -- unofficial as it may be but still the official word in the English language for my profession -- without feeling embarrassed or judged.

One perk would be I wouldn't have to play a bizarre game of real life Taboo every time my job comes up in conversation.  It's impossible to tell someone flat out: "I'm a mixologist" without sounding pretentious as all hell.  Go ahead, try saying it out loud. So I have to explain what I do without using the word mixologist, until they eventually understand and say, "Oh, you're a mixologist."

I think the main issue lies in the perception that we chose this word and that we choose whether or not to use it. Intentionally or not, we are judged by that decision, which is on some level is understandable -- anyone can say they are a mixologist. There's no certification or degree program like there is in wine (yet, just wait 10 years). So if anyone can use it, it's effectively meaningless as a definition, leaving just our efforts as the sole means of expressing what it is we do. So I will continue to tread lightly until a less offensive word emerges or mixologist gains universal acceptance, which is fine by me. I'm happy to let my work speak for itself. Honestly, I just want to know what to put on my business cards.