The Barkeep: Ballard native Mick Scott has worked in the restaurant industry since>"/>
The Watering Hole: Jak's Grill, 3701 NE 45th St., LAURELHURST, 206-985-8545
The Barkeep: Ballard native Mick Scott has worked in the restaurant industry since he was 13, and tended bar since he was 21. When I asked which rye whiskey he used in my cocktail, he didn't have much to say, adding, "I quit drinking eight years ago, I haven't personally tried it." In chatting more with Scott, he talked more about the challenges of being a "dry" bartender, how he uses senses other than taste to inform his palate, and how knowing the product, is in fact, a small part of what a bartender does--and needs to do--to be successful.
Scott now lives in North Bend with his wife and two young children. He works four days a week at Jak's - both the Laurelhurst and West Seattle locations - and hits the slopes, practices yoga, reads, and "watches bad TV" to unwind after a shift, instead of throwing back a few drinks. In an industry rife with drug and alcohol abuse, Scott said his current and previous employers have welcomed a sober employee to the team.
Being surrounded by booze at work can be intimidating, Scott admitted. He loves what he does, but alcoholism is "definitely an occupational hazard." Scott doesn't have the compulsion to drink, but knows other recovering alcoholics don't fare as well. He credits the joy he finds in his work with making him a success at his job and in recovery. "Restaurant and bar professionals in for the long haul, that really have a passion for what they are doing, can make positive changes recovery-wise, and stay in the industry as long as their soul is in the business. Anyone out there struggling that knew me as a practicing alcoholic would most likely say 'if he can do it - anyone can.'"
The Drink: The Red Hook, a variation of the Manhattan made with rye whiskey, Punt y Mes and maraschino, is named for a hip neighborhood in South Brooklyn. It is on Jak's cocktail menu and was a good recommendation from Scott. When he asked what I like, I only said I liked whiskey.
Scott relies on memories from his drinking days when recommending a wine, beer or cocktail to a customer. The culinary school graduate understands flavors and can look at a drink recipe and understand the flavor profile it is going to create. He has continued his education with wine classes, but while he will smell, he never tastes. "Unless I am serving a real cork dork, I can confidently recommend a wine to them." In the case of the Red Hook, a cocktail created by Enzo Errico at Milk & Honey in New York City, it's a classic, spirits-forward cocktail that most whiskey lovers would enjoy.
The Verdict: I saw a lot of free pouring happening behind the bar at Jak's. If I wasn't sampling the drinks, I think I'd measure everything. But Scott has been bartending for 17 years and can likely mix drinks with his eyes closed. The Red Hook uses Punt e Mes, which is more bitter than the sweet vermouth used in a Manhattan, but is balanced out and gets a bit of sweetness from the maraschino.
After meeting Scott, I thought a great deal about what percentage of bartending is product knowledge/versus customer service. Most of the great bartenders I've come across, and many I've profiled here, are knowledgeable, but also extremely customer-focused. When I asked Scott what percentage of bartending he thought was product knowledge, he said about 20 percent. "I've spent years learning and studying what I do and although my people skills and genuine love for my guests make me successful - I think a large part of that success with my guests and ability to build regulars and repeat business for my employers plays into my overall knowledge of food and beverage."