Energetic, entertaining and invariably unpretentious, David Danforth from Post 390 is an open book who readily admits that “making cocktails is actually not that hard.” His honesty (and humor) is a breath of fresh air in an industry that can sometimes seem unapproachable or stuffy. Find out why he hates the term “mixology”, what he keeps stocked in his home bar and how he thinks about the profession of bartending.
Where do you work now? What’s your position? Where else have you worked in the last five years?
I’m currently a Sommelier/Beverage Manager at Post 390 Restaurant in the Back Bay. Before that I was the Bar Manager of Puritan & Co. working alongside Will Gilson & Peter Nelson, and prior to that I was the Beverage Manager at The Quarry Restaurant in Hingham.
Briefly, how did you get involved in restaurants (and, specifically, bartending)? What draws you to this line of work?
Working in restaurants started out for me, as I’m sure it did for many others, as an “in-between job” while I was in school. A great way to make easy money with limited skills. It just kinda stuck. I kind of fell into bartending. There was an opening at the restaurant where I was at and I raised my hand, literally! I think I was very heavily influenced at this time by food shows like “The Mind of a Chef” and I jumped at the opportunity to create something of my own. The prospect of trying to formulate a concept in my mind and then translate that into a beverage presented such unique set of challenges and with it, it’s own unique sense of accomplishment.
I’m also very restless, so anytime I’ve seen something over and over again, I get bored with it. Maybe it’s because I’m a millennial, but I definitely have the attention span of fly. I’m always looking to be stimulated by something new and different. In the same way I get really excited at the chance to share something new with my guests, whether it be a new food or beverage item, a new technique for manipulating an ingredient, or a unique application of a traditionally underutilized component.
What’s your favorite drink to make (or wine or beer to pour)? Least favorite?
I really like making egg white cocktails – it’s all that shaking! I hate Bloody Mary’s. I actually find them to be the most revolting cocktail ever!
How do you feel about the ‘mixology’ movement—does that term appeal to you, not appeal to you? What do you think it means to be involved in the bartender culture, if you agree that there is one?
As far as “mixology” is concerned – I hate the term. It sounds so pseudo-sciency… It makes me feel like an astrologist or palm reader. I used to hate it when guests asked if I went to school for “mixology,” it would just evoke this feeling of “alternative, low-grade education.” I prefer the phrases “craft cocktail movement” and “cult cocktail movement.” I think it’s important to be a part of this movement/culture. It keeps me honest and relevant. I’m terrified of stagnation. If we’re not learning or progressing in some way, we’ll never make new discoveries or advancements.
I think that’s a key pillar that defines bartending as a profession; the fact that we’re collectively developing our field. I think another bastion of our profession is hospitality – sharing something special with our guests. That’s why most of us stay in the industry. We’re all just obsessed with caring for other people, making them happy, and providing them a unique one-of-a-kind experience.
On your days off, what kind of places do you frequent? A lot of industry folk are happier with a Miller High Life and a Fernet than composed cocktails or craft beer. You?
I live in Camberville, so I tend to stay on that side of the river. I usually try to go either someplace I’ve never been before or sit at a friend’s bar. If I’m going somewhere new, I’m probably looking to be impressed, wowed, or stimulated in some way. It’s so weird, when I have a day off my brain is still running like crazy. I just can’t seem to turn it off.
Going out to just have food seems so boring to me. I’d rather just stay home and cook. If a bar has a really cool beverage list, then yes, I’m getting a crazy cocktail or some really weird-ass beer. But like anything, there’s a time and a place. When I get off work and I’m headed to Trina’s, yeah, I want a High Life and a Fernet (or better yet, a ‘Merican!)
What do you always keep stocked at home? Are there different things you like to drink or to make for special occasions? Snow storms, sick days, having friends over, drinks for dinner, etc
Amaro and Whiskey! Steve Bowman is my roommate (shout out to Fairstead!), so there’s never a short supply of amaro and aromatized wine. I have a kegerator, so there’s always plenty of Beer. I’ve also got a makeshift “beer cellar” at home, so there’s always weird, rare, aged specialties to choose from. Punch is probably the easiest drink to prepare for hosting friends.
They’re easily batched out for large quantities, so no one is ever stuck trying to make themselves a “cool drink”. Also, it’s punch – if someone says it doesn’t taste good, you just pretend that your palate is more refined than theirs, and that their small mind just wouldn’t understand… Oh, and manhattans! Yeah, those are delicious.
Are you excited about one spirit in particular? Is there something really overrated or underrated, in your opinion?
I really like whiskey, but I feel like that’s a cliché. The hipster inside of me want’s to say something really obscure like “aquavit” or “kummel.” But yeah, I like whiskey. I think rum is my favorite spirit to mix with. It can be such a high-ester spirit, that two or three rums can bring a ton of complexity to a cocktail without having to add too much of anything else. I think Tequila/Mezcal is one of the most underrated, underutilized spirits out there. The general public can’t see past margaritas, shots, and flashy branding. The truth is, Tequila & Mezcal are one of the few spirits that exhibits terroir like wine.
There’s such amazing diversity amongst artisan distillers, are Agave producers. I mean, the average age of an agave plant when it’s harvested is 7-8 years old! Depending on where and how the plant was grown is going to significantly impact it’s flavor profile, and that translates directly into the final distillate. During aging and finishing, a number of flavors can be imparted though different forms of barrel treatment. Because there’s so much diversity, Tequila can be utilized in a myriad of applications. It truly has a manifold of possibilities.
What’s something you wish the average guest knew about your job—not service-wise, but related to the craft of bartending. (In other words, apart from common courtesy and being a good guest, what’s something you think everybody should know about bartending?)
Despite what so many “mixologists” would lead you to believe, making cocktails is actually not that hard, and it’s a lot of fun. If you ask any good bartender who’s worth their weight in cocktail salt, they’ll probably tell you they love what they do, and that they’d love to show you how they do what they do! No, we didn’t go to school for this. But yeah, a large part of our time is spent learning something new. If we can learn to do it, you probably can too!
Making all of these “fancy” cocktails can mostly be done at home; there’s no secret trick or magical science (in most cases – I never did figure out how did get those ice cubes crystal clear and free of bubbles…) In fact, most cocktail recipes start out by just fooling around in the kitchen or behind the bar. We’re not rocket scientists or doctors (although some of us do have fancy degrees!) We’re just regular people making regular people happy!