If you've read Jeffrey Morgenthaler's, The Bar Book, you already know that he started tending bar in Eugene while earning his degree in architecture.
If you've bellied up at his bar, you also know that turning two-dimensional drawings into three-dimensional spaces isn't as rewarding for him as building the most perfect version of your favorite cocktail, which is why he abandoned a white-collar life in lieu of one spent muddling herbs, squeezing limes, and figuring out which kind of ice goes best in which drinks.
At 44, the award-winning Morgenthaler isn't slowing down. At a time when his peers have transitioned out of the game, you can still find him behind the stick in the thick of the night at either Pépé le Moko or Clyde Common.
We caught up with him last month by phone to ask him what was the one technique he picked up along the way that still sticks with him to this day. His answer?
"I don't think of a technique," he says. "The first thing that serves as a big groundbreaking moment was when I realized that technique was a thing."
"Before, it was a big deal to find old recipes in old books. That was cool, but in those old books, no one discussed how to make the drinks, they only wrote about what was in them."
For years, Morgenthaler just followed the lead of the bartenders he worked with and who came before him, until he began to realize that the drinks he was shaking and stirring could taste a whole lot better.
"I was making [simple syrup]," he laughs about those early days. "I just wasn't making it right."
So what inspired this newfound knowledge about technique? Where did he get it?
"A lot of it came from the kitchen," he says. It was the kitchen that taught him the tricks of making the kinds of syrups and purées that would one day make your cocktails that much tastier. "Exactly what we do now [at Clyde and Pépé], the kitchen has already been doing for a long time."
When he moved to Portland, he traded trade secrets with Portland's other original cocktail superstar, Teardrop Lounge's Daniel Shoemaker. But he says he considers his mentor not to be another bartender, but a chef, specifically Stephanie Pearl-Kimmel, the executive chef at Eugene's Marché, who not only welcomed Morgenthaler's inquisitiveness, but actively encouraged him to bring the kitchen into the bar, while giving him pointers along the way.
As for that bogus simple syrup from his early days?
"I've found that a lot of bartenders used to make simple syrup this way: Fill a container halfway with sugar, and then to the top with hot water," he says. "The idea is that it's 1:1 simple syrup, and that couldn't be farther from the truth."
To learn the proper way—or rather ways, as there are many of them—you'll have to buy his book. Or better yet, buy a drink some night when he's working and ask him live, in person.