When it comes to the world of mixology, if you don’t know who Alex Kratena is, then you haven’t been paying attention. The head bartender at the award-winning The Artesian in The Langham, London, Kratena was crowned “International Bartender of the Year” at the 2012 Tales of the Cocktail in the United States. He’s also been the reason for The Artesian being selected twice by Drinks International Magazine as the “World’s Best Bar.” And that’s just a few of the many recognitions Kratena has received in his already-illustrious career.
Kratena is currently in the midst of a mini-tour of the United States. Stopping at some of The Langham, London’s four sister locations in the country — The Langham Huntington, Pasadena; The Langham, Chicago; The Langham, Boston, and Langham Place, Fifth Avenue (New York) — he has created a special menu consisting of cocktails directly inspired by each of the host cities:
SOCIAL CLUB [ PASADENA ]
VODKA | LILLET |VETIVER | ROSE WATER | CITRUS
Celebrating the blooming roses of Pasadena and its hot summery climate
BACK TO THE FUTURE [ CHICAGO ]
TALISKER | PORT | SHERRY | CITRUS | CACAO | RASPBERRY
Inspired by the great Chicago fire & the spirit of this amazing city, always looking to future
SKYLINES [ BOSTON ]
AQUAVIT | FINO | CITRUS | CEDARWOOD | BITTERS
Inspired by London’s sister city Boston & the flavors associated with it, which are as eclectic as Boston’s magnificent skyline
LADY PINK [ NYC ]
FINO | RHUBARB | CITRUS | AGAVE | BITTER ORANGE
Inspired by famous NYC street artist known for her distinct murals featuring funny imagery
These drinks are only available if you visit a Langham hotel in the United States. And if you happen to be in Boston today or tomorrow, or New York from April 2-4, you can test-drive one of these while also getting the chance to shake the hand of the man who created it.
But if you can’t (or you can and just want a decent conversation starter), Kratena took the time out of his schedule to speak with Sugar Loco about the drinks, the inspiration behind them, and what he might have up his sleeve for 2014 Tales of the Cocktail.
SugarLoco: Why did you choose to get behind the bar? Who inspired you the most in the business?
Alex Kratena: I’ve never wanted to be a bartender. I wasn’t looking for it; bartending found me. What started as a necessity to make money, very quickly became passion and lifestyle. The people who inspired me most were the other bartenders I worked with who were true professionals and made me want to stay in this business.
SL: Whenever you’re creating a new cocktail, what is that process like?
AK: There are five stages to the creative process for me — awareness, inspiration, interpretation, execution, and evolution. One has to be aware of everything and anything that surrounds them in order to get inspired, to get an idea. Once you are inspired you interpret a cocktail based on your personal style, experience and flavor vocabulary and end up with the listed serve. Once that is done I think about how can I improve it, how can I make it better. The actual finished product can take a long time to get to because of that.
SL: You’ve created four custom mixes for four of the Langham hotels in the United States. Tell us a little about the recipes. Which one is your favorite?
AK: There’s quite a bit of work I put into each drink on paper, so the actual execution doesn’t take many times to make each of them. Because I haven’t been to two out of the four cities before, I had a chance to go a little abstract. There are no favorites. They are all different, but they are my babies and I love them equally.
SL: What is your favorite bar in each of the Langham US cities (besides the ones at the hotels, of course)?
AK: I love Varnish in LA, Aviary in Chicago, Nomad is on the top of my list in New York and I haven’t been to Boston yet. There’s too many amazing bars in the United States!
SL: You’re currently on a mini-tour of the United States. Outside of visiting each of the Langham hotels, what else are you looking to do/see/taste?
AK: This tour is a great platform to meet new people, exchange ideas and inspiration, work with chefs, and meet people I have known for some time. I am also squeezing in some craft distillery visits, tasting new products, and finding interesting ingredients.
SL: You’re going back to Tales of the Cocktail. What do you have up your sleeve?
AK: I will be extremely busy at Taste of the Cocktail this year. Apart from presenting three seminars, I am working on an insanely amazing experience with Absolut Elyx — so watch this space!
SL: How about Artesian?
AK: We are very excited about launching our new menu with many surprises. I can’t tell you more than that. Top secret stuff.
SL: Any particular mixologist that you have your eye on?
AK: Ingredients are the true stars of cocktails, not the bartenders, in my opinion. So anyone who is working with a fun ingredient or using something in a new way has the power to inspire me.