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Ramon Pinon on how bars can successfully work with brands

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25/10/2021 San Francisco’s very own Ramon Pinon talks us through how he buys spirits for the bar, his most bizarre client requests, and more.

Ramon Pinon, the bartender at Sea Star, San Francisco, has been bartending in and around the Bay area for over half a decade. Pinon has also previously worked at Forgery Bar, Barrio, and Oakland’s Hello Stranger. Not only is Pinon a master at cocktail making, but he’s also quite invested in the art of cutting and carving ice. 

Before it shut down, Pinon was carving and cutting ice for Forgery Bar. He’s also made quite an impression amongst competitions around the world. 

We were able to catch hold of Pinon in the morning, where he shared with us his take on the world of bartending. 

What inspired you to get into bartending?

I worked at a coffee shop when I was 18, and one of my regulars was a sommelier. I knew a little bit about drinks, especially chatting with him. So one day he was like ‘you’d be good at the bar, you’re pretty knowledgeable, do you want to learn?’, and I was like yeah, of course. So then I studied wine for two years, and while I love wine, I fell in love with bar service and craft cocktails. So here I am, doing what I love. 

Now I also cut and carve ice. I’ve entered competitions as well. I love doing it. 

According to you, what are some of the most important skills for a bartender to have?

Being presentable. You can teach anyone to make an old-fashioned or a margarita, but the way you talk to people makes all the difference. Every bartender should have a good personality and should be humble.

What do you look for when buying spirits for your bar?

It really depends on the people and the bar itself. It’s like if I’m working at Jose’s bar, then what would people want to drink at Jose’s bar? You have to look at the neighborhood and see what they want to drink more than anything. If it’s something that my people will like, then that’s what I’m going to stock. 

I also like showing my guests new things. If I see a new product that I think my guests will like, then I’m picking it up.

How do you work with brands to increase sales?

In this industry, relationships matter a lot. I have really good relationships with Diageo, Bacardi, Pernod Ricard, Del Maguey, Don Julio, Ketel One, Maker’s Mark, Beam Suntory, and more. Everyone has a different philosophy. When you learn to work with different tastes and philosophies, you will see that people will want to work with you more. You need to know what they stand for, know about their products, and make sure you keep in touch. This will definitely help you sell.

What has been your most bizarre client request?

Oh, I’ll tell you a few. In SF, one guy asked me to make a marijuana cocktail. He got his own stuff and asked me to add it to a cocktail. I told him that’s interesting, but it’s illegal, so of course, I couldn’t do it.

Then there was a time when someone asked for flaming shots for their birthday. Long story short, things did get burnt, but luckily no one got hurt majorly. 

There was also this time when someone asked me for an avocado toast cocktail. It was weird, but we had the ingredients so I thought why not. I holed the avocado with a spoon, added avocado vodka and a couple of other ingredients, then toasted a bagel and spread some cream cheese on it - voila!

As I said, I have many stories! There was another time when someone asked me to stimulate hand sanitizer in a drink. I mean, crazy. But then I mixed some orange blossom gin and vermouth, and yes, I’m sure the guest got what they wanted. 

What are some of your favorite places to drink at in San Francisco?

Every district in San Francisco has something for someone. For me, I love North Beach bars. I also love the Mission District. There’s lots of amazing food and drinks there. 

What are some of the drinks trends we can expect to see soon?

IPAs have always been the standard for beers, but now people are loving lighter styles like sours and lagers. There’s also going to be a huge highlight on sustainability. That’s already there, but it’s going to get even bigger. Then mezcals, of course, Japanese whiskey, Cachaça, online cocktails, more global spirits. People are finding new interests, so a lot of things are going to be coming up. A regular of mine got into vermouth. People want to know what they are drinking these days and that’s where all the trends are coming from. 

And lastly, Ramon, what have you been drinking lately?

Bacanoras, mezcals, sotols. I’m a huge agave guy. If I had to say a cocktail, then it would be a daiquiri.

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