If you’ve kept up with our summer cocktail competition coverage you’ve seen some of Miami based Shaun Gordon’s work already.
The talented bartender is always mixing up stunning new drinks that capture the attention and tastebuds of anyone who has the chance to try one of his creations. Recently, he won second place in the Indoggo Challenge taking home both a prize for his drink and the amazing video he made to showcase it. We caught up with him after the competition to learn more about his career and where he sees bartending heading next.
What inspired you to become a bartender? Tell us about your background.
Simple, a cocktail named the Last Word was my inspiration to become a bartender. If you know me, or have got to know me over the years, then you already know. In the words of Jay-Z, please allow me to re-introduce myself, my name is Shaun Gordon (@last_word_life) IG. One cocktail, and one cocktail alone, was my inspiration to become a bartender, so much so that it is tattooed on my knuckles. It is one of the most successful prohibition era cocktails first being reported ever being made at the Detroit Athletic Club. Gin, Green Chartreuse, Maraschino Liqueur, and Fresh Lime, equal parts across the board served up in a chilled coupe or cocktail glass. Watching a bartender make this for me so many years ago, and the way in which it was made with amazing elegance, I fell in love with bartending on the spot. I found the skill of spirit knowledge and creativity extremely sexy, and the allure immediately captivated me and I knew it was something I wanted to be a part of and pursue. I started my career in Charleston, SC and have had the pleasure of also working at some of the the industries top bars in Atlanta, GA, Portland, ME and now Miami, FL.
Where do you tend bar now? What makes it unique? Distinctive drinks, décor, a certain vibe?
I hold 2 jobs at a few of the hottest and most high profile spots in the city of Miami. The Oasis is Miami’s newest cultural hub, a food hall that’s 35,000 square feet both inside and out. We host some of the biggest music acts and DJs from around the world on a daily basis. We are open 6 days a week–Tuesday-Sunday, we are open to all walks of life, 100% warm and welcoming environment whether it’s a family outing, lunch/dinner with friends, first date, concert, basically anything. We cater to everyone and that’s what truly separates us. The decor inside and out is very modern and beautifully designed with thought put into every feature and we have a large tower bar (stack of containers sky high) that will feature different artists murals every now and then. What really makes us special is our diverse staff, coming together to form a tight knit family. Our unified goal is to always make everyone feel welcome and comfortable, while enjoying the many epic parties we throw. My other job is at Sweet Liberty, one of the most iconic cocktail bars in the world with all the awards to back it up, but we are a come as you are bar–your local dive with amazing drinks, food, and music, a place where you can get a top notch cocktail without the pretentious vibe. It’s a bar, a restaurant, a live music venue, and all around party bar! The decor is 60/70s American theme on acid with trippy wallpaper spawned from the minds of our late founder John Leymayer(RIP) and our current HBIC Dan Binkiewicz, and David Martinez but the most important piece is the famous bright neon pink sign you see when you walk through our doors reminding us to always Pursue Happiness!
Who has been most influential in your development as a bartender? A mentor, a parent, a fellow bartender, and why?
One of the things I truly LOVE most about our industry is the fact that no matter how vast it may seem across the world, our community is actually very small and very close, we are always here for each other to help in anyway we can. Honestly, over the years I have taken inspiration, drive, knowledge, and skill from every single person I have had the privilege to share the bar or sit across from over the years. If there was one mentor and I really had to nail it down to a name though it would have to be Jim McCourt from Prohibition (Charleston, SC/Savannah,GA) who gave me the most intense and best education behind the bar any young bartender could have asked for with focus on knowledge and technique. As well as a simple piece of advice to start, at the end of the day we’re family but during service don’t ever take anything personally, so when I am corrected for not doing my job properly you can believe I made sure I listened and learned and never made that mistake again.
In the end, I seriously thank not only Jim, but everyone I have ever met along the way for their influence and making me strive to be better.
Do you have any advice for novice/at home bartenders?
My advice for a novice or at home bartender would be, STAY HUNGRY, STAY CREATIVE, but READ!!! If you come to my house you will see a vast library of educational and cocktail books about everything to do with our industry. As much as I have learned from experience alone, I still would not be half of what I am without taking the initiative to educate myself and put as much knowledge in my head as possible and the best way to do that is READ. Find what technique or spirit you’re curious about learning and find the best books. Teach yourself, be self made, in the end you’ll be so much more knowledgeable and confident then the next person.
What is your favorite ingredient right now and why?
My favorite ingredient right now and for awhile might seem strange to most but is Saline. There is a reason for this though, it’s the one ingredient I can use that no matter what will always make the flavors I am incorporating POP and help accentuate the drink. Never sleep on salt, it’s amazing and does wonders for drinks. Also on a side note, guilty pleasure ingredient is Blue Curacao. Make Blue Drinks Again.
How do you go about creating a new cocktail? Is there a specific process or simply a moment of inspiration?
This is such a loaded question because with cocktail competitions, either local or on a national level, there are completely different processes as well as with menu development. Each different category I’ve learned through trial and error and believe me when I say I’ve failed a lot more then I have succeeded. That’s just the nature of the beast, if you’re always prepared to fail you’ll never be disappointed so when you are successful it’s that much sweeter. To really break it down though, write everything down. Start with your base spirit, ask yourself if you have an inspiration, if you do, what flavors bring your inspiration to life. Figure out how to incorporate those flavors while still being creative. In the end my favorite part is always coming up with a name, have fun with it, PLEASE, and if you ever want to talk cocktail competitions you’ll have to come find me at either , @OasisWynwood or @sweetlibertymia.
Do you have a special technique you use or a tip for making a particular drink?
This might seem trivial to most but instead of a dry shake/wet shake or a reverse dry shake method while using egg white in cocktails, I like to add 2 -1×1 cubes into the tin and shake until they are dissolved. You’ll see that that the dilution is spot on every time and each one comes out perfectly. Especially when making a Ramos Gin Fizz. Just make sure you shake it like you mean it and until you don’t hear that ice anymore in your tin.
Where do you see the bartending/cocktail culture headed?
I think everything today, and the way things are moving is starting to be less is more. Proper technique and drink building is everything, but getting away from drinks that need to have 10+ ingredients to be creative is refreshing. I love how my friends from across the country are starting to bring drinks that have less ingredients and are more focused on flavors where each shine through and don’t find themselves muddled with too many components and lose themselves in the mix.
Some trends I don’t see going anywhere after covid-19 are QR codes for menus. I do see paper menus starting to pop back up but I firmly believe that QR codes are here to stay, especially with today’s age of technology and as well with TO GO Cocktails, they definitely made their rise over the past year and a half due to the pandemic and have been able to bring in a new revenue stream for bars and restaurants as well as make it very convenient to get well crafted drinks on the go which comes in hand especially living in a beach city like Miami.
You’re Gonna Need A Bigger Boat
- 1 1/4 oz. Cucumber infused Ojo de Tigre
- 3/4 oz. Pineapple Sake
- 3/4 oz. Blue Curacao
- 1/2 oz. Gomme Syrup
- 1/2 oz. Lemon Juice
- 4 dashes Saline
- 1/2 dropper sleeve coconut oil