Mixologist Amanda Gager
StripSteak | Las Vegas
Amanda Gager got her first job bartending at a seasonal restaurant at the Jersey Shore when she was 21. There was just one minor problem: she knew nothing about bartending – she didn’t even know how to make a rum and Coke. With the help of fellow bartenders and studying Bartending for Dummies like it was a treatise by Socrates, Gager quickly caught-on and became addicted to the rush and fun of being behind the bar.
After a few summers of mastering the basics, Gager got a job at a flair bartending job at a casino in Atlantic City. Soon thereafter she set her sights on becoming the next female world champion flair bartender. A move to Las Vegas – a veritable mecca for flair bartending – ensued and Gager worked behind several flair bar and entered a couple competitions. But after all the showy shaking and bottle balancing, Gager realized that she didn’t even like the drinks she was making.
In the fall of 2006, Gager decided to go back to the basics and enrolled in the Southern Wine and Spirits Academy of Spirits course. After 12-weeks in classrooms with experts like Francesco Lafranconi, Bobby “G” Gleason, Armando Rosario and Tony Abou-Ganim, and learning the ins and outs of spirits from potato, grains, sugar to spirits to mixing, Gager was – as she puts it – a “certified cocktail nerd.” Since then Gager has been perfecting her technique, expanding her knowledge, and on the quest to make perfect cocktails that she and her customers will love.
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Antoinette Bruno: Why mixology?
Amanda Gager: Mixology is about texture, balance, and flavor. It’s not just about getting drunk and drinking the sweetest things. Unfortunately the American palate is on the sweeter side, especially females—but being behind the bar I have the opportunity to educate people about drinks.
AB: Were you trained in bartending or mixology? Have you taken any courses?
AG: I took the Southern Wine and Spirits of America course with Francesco LaFranconi.
AB: Who are your mentors? What are some of the most important things you’ve learned from them?
AG: Francesco [LaFranconi] and Bobby “G” [Gleason] would be the top two. So many people have helped me along the way and given me input. Francesco and Bobby G take the time to make balanced drinks that people enjoy drinking. Bobby G helped me with my first competition. From Francesco I learned the basics—the 12 week course we did starts with vodka and ends with mixology. It even talks about how alcohol is made.
AB: What has been your most important work experience?
AG: My current job. Not only do I continue to learn about spirits and cocktails, but I also have the opportunity to learn about wine, food, flavors, and pairings which can only help me grow.
AB: What goes into creating a new cocktail a new cocktail? How long does it take to create a new cocktail?
AG: It starts off with a base liquor—I prefer bourbon. My process and what I choose next is based on what will balance it, what will make it pop, or make it more subtle.
AB: What is your favorite cocktail to drink? To make?
AG: I've been drinking Champagne lately. I like making an Old Fashioned—when someone orders one I always get a little excited.
AB: What is your favorite mixology resource book?
AG: The Craft of the Cocktail by Dale DeGroff. A friend of mine said that she wanted to bartend and it surprised me because I don't think of her as a very extroverted person. She went to bartending school, graduated, and the first thing I did was send her that book, and she loved it.
AB: What’s your most favorite bar tool?
AG: I love the simple things—lime squeezer and julep strainer—but I also just got this really neat hand-size torch!
AB: What organizations do you belong to?
AG: I’m a Council Member of the Nevada chapter of the US Bartenders Guild of America (USBGA).
AB: Do you belong to any charities?
AG: Besides being in the USBGA, I volunteer at events. It’s fulfilling for me—I’m always there to help, and it makes me happy. I was involved in a shelter for babies. When I lived in New Jersey, I did a youth group with events.
AB: If you weren’t a mixologist what would you be doing?
AG: I’d be a race car driver!
AB: Which person would you most like to go for drinks with?
AG: Angelina Jolie, because she's so involved in the world right now through her relief efforts. She started out as one thing and in the past couple of years has changed the way she lives; she's much more concerned about the world and how people live. I'm so not into celebrities, but people who are out there and trying to make a difference—and using their talent and money to do so—are admirable.
AB: What do you want to be when you grow up?
AG: I don't plan on growing up.
AB: What does success mean for you? What will it look like for you?
AG: I can do so many things. Hopefully in five years, as I continue to read and learn, I will be a master of my craft. I want to help people learn about products and learn how to make a balanced cocktail. Hopefully, I can inspire people in the way others have inspired me.
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