Q&A with Brian Claudio Smith
Viski is inspired by mixologists and their craft. Our Bartender Spotlight series honors real life mixologists and their favorite cocktail recipes, techniques, and tools.
For our second feature we turn to Brian Claudio Smith. A veteran bartender and owner of Baker’s, a beloved neighborhood cocktail bar in Seattle, Brian shares tips for home bartenders, thoughts on blending rum, and his love of incorporating new ingredients into classic drinks.
Baker's has a super loyal following that keeps coming back even during Covid.
What inspires the loyalty?
It's hard to say for certain, but I definitely set out with a vision of opening a neighborhood bar. A cocktail bar too, but a neighborhood bar first and foremost. I feel like that has definitely worked in our favor, as we set out to achieve a high level of convivial hospitality from day one and were able to build a local audience that wants to support us through this time to make sure that we get through. And for this community and its patronage, I am eternally grateful and frankly humbled by the level of support we have seen.
How would you describe the cocktail menu at Baker's?
We mix it up on our cocktail list with our own creations side by side with classic cocktails, always trying to hit a lot of different flavor profiles on any individual list. We love to play with ingredients that excite us and hopefully are exciting and new for our guests as well. And we always keep a small section of "Low ABV" offerings, for the times when you want all the flavor of a cocktail, but not necessarily all the booze.
What are your favorite tools to use in mixology?
The right ones for the job, I guess. It sounds cliche, but it's fun to explore different cocktail techniques and having the right tools in your kit will only help you to get the best results.
What's your personal go to cocktail?
This can be a moving target, but I tend to gravitate toward spirit-forward stirred cocktails with a bitter edge. That said, a mezcal or an amaro and a short beer is definitely a go to for me as well.
You worked in mixology in Denver and Brooklyn in addition to Seattle.
How have your travels informed what you serve at Baker's?
Certainly every step along the way for me has introduced me to different ingredients and those ingredients have informed the flavors that I get excited by. But I'll say, almost more than what we serve, the overall feel of Baker's is absolutely informed by everywhere I've worked or traveled in my life. I always try to be a sponge and soak up good ideas and to learn from what I perceive as mistakes, and my time in Denver and Brooklyn were definitely informative. Honestly, if it weren't for time in New York, I'm not sure I would have walked into this shoebox size space with a weird backyard in the idyllic but somewhat remote Sunset Hill neighborhood of Seattle and thought "this is perfect."
What tips do you have for the home bartender?
Mostly just to have fun! But, for technique, I think the main thing when bartending at home is to understand ice. The most overlooked ingredient in a cocktail is water, and a primary purpose of stirring/shaking a cocktail is to introduce the desired amount of dilution into the drink while you chill it. Home ice is often different from bar ice, so you might not have to shake as vigorously or stir as long as your local bartender does behind the stick. If your cubes are small, the cocktail will dilute faster as you mix, so just be aware and taste as you go to find that balance that works best for you.