With more than 20 years of bartending experience under his belt, Dre Masso, a Londoner with Colombian origins, does not take the art of mixing drinks lightly. And how can he? Since he was a young lad, Dre has accompanied his mum working in a bar and mixing drinks throughout his university years.
He eventually turned his passion into a career and worked in several renowned London bars, such as the Atlantic Bar & Grill, Lonsdale House and Jamie Oliver’s Fifteen. It doesn’t stop there, though, since this author of several cocktail recipe books has also won cocktail competitions and bagged UK Bartender of the Year award thrice.
In 2010, the PTT Family invited Dre Masso to Jakarta to work as a bar consultant at its famed Potato Head restaurant before taking the mantle as the Bar Operations Manager at the Akademi “centre of mixology” bar inside the newly launched Katamama hotel in Bali.
Read more about what Dre Masso has to say about life behind bars, Akademi and why he doesn’t like to be called a mixologist.
What have you learned from your 20 years of bartending experience?
During my early years, like any other bartender, I learned how to mix drinks. But once I moved up to managerial level, I learned more business-related aspects like project management, for example. Moreover, once you decide to open your own place (Dre Masso owns Opium Cocktail & Dim Sum Parlour in London) it’s like going to a business school since you’re involved in every detail.
Also, I am lucky to have the experience of working in different bars across the world, which has taught me good “people skills”. For example, I remember back when I handled Potato Head Beach Club, I interacted with almost 2,000 guests in a day! I loved the adrenaline rush I had making sure that every guest had a drink in their hands. And as clichés as this sounds, I also loved listening to the stories from the guests, because, trust me, the experience is one-of-a-kind.
With Potato Head Beach Club, how do you approach the concept and what were the implementations?
When I came to Potato Head Beach Club in Bali, the bar had already been running for a year. My challenge was to get adventurous with the ingredients and innovative with the presentations. I did a lot of research and tried to localise with the flavours and picked the one that would most likely to fit in. I remember drawing inspiration from Hawaii’s Tiki drinks and made a comparison between the two islands. I came up with drinks that are vibrant and fun as well as colourful and bit over-the-top with a lot of flowers.
Generally, I always look for the same concept when deciding for a new bar. I try to look at all of the elements related to fashion, art, food and culture.
What’s your take on the local bars? What can be improved?
Personally I think the bar industries are evolving everywhere, and this too includes Indonesia. However, the bar scene here is a bit slower compared with the dining scene, in which more international-standard chefs have come and set some standards. But I am still optimistic that the bars will move forward in time. We can also help by arranging more classes and training for the bartenders. I would also like to see a dedicated drinks magazine because I think that would help to educate the masses.
Speaking of bars, what can we expect from your new venture, Akademi at the Katamama hotel?
Akademi is a unique bar which is different in terms of design and drinks. We opt for a more intimate approach and feature the largest collection of premium spirits as well as my favourite: locally infused arak made from tropical fruits found on the island. Not just that, but Akademi will also be a hub for mixologists. We will have monthly events and invite friends from the industry and guest bartenders from all over the world to host, experiment and, more importantly, to share their knowledge with local bartenders in Bali.
We also want to champion the use of indigenous local ingredients in cocktails and ask our guest bartenders to concoct something of their own. Guests can drop by, have a drink or two, interact with the bartender and learn about new drinks.
What’s the weirdest drink you’ve been asked to make?
Once I had a journalist who came to write about hangover cures and he dropped by “in character” (i.e. being hungover). He then asked me to serve him a Prairie Oyster cocktail (known as a hangover cure and made of a raw egg, hot sauce, salt and ground black pepper). The thing is, I had never made the drink before, but I embraced the weird ingredients and served it to him.
Best cocktail you’ve ever had?
Tommy’s Margarita! I was lucky enough to be invited to San Francisco to Julio Bermejo’s Tommy's Mexican Restaurant while I was still a bartender student. The experience gave me a better understanding of mixing drinks and started my lifelong love affair with tequila.
Which country has the coolest drinkers?
I think the Eastern Europeans knows their drinks better than anyone. For Southeast Asia, I would still go with Singapore—they have sophisticated drinkers and a curiosity that are different from other countries. Perhaps being a melting pot helps in this case.
Do you see yourself more as a bartender or a mixologist?
Mixologist is a new term in the drinks industry, but the word itself has been used from the 1800s onwards. However, I don’t want to be known as a mixologist because it sounds like a made-up word, and, as ironic as this may sound, I don’t see myself as someone who has knowledge of actually mixing drinks. It works well in the media, but in the bartending community not many are comfortable with that term. I see myself more as a bartender: the one who tends the bar, serves drinks and talks to people.
In your opinion, then, what makes a good bartender?
A good bartender should know how to make all of the classic cocktails. Don’t be picky and skip drinks because you need to know the groundwork here. A good bartender also should be good with the crowd and be quick when it comes to mixing drinks; no one likes a slow bartender.