Bottled Up! with Alex Carruthers

Alex Carruthers. Adam Chilton photo

This wild child has carved his own path in the industry, securing his place in the bar scene at an early age after passionately needing to be around live music. Currently working the wood in Gastown’s beloved music spot, Guilt & Co. as well as repping the new and alluring spirit called Trakal, he doesn’t stop there, concurrently pursuing acting, music, and his motorcycle license. He’s so damn charismatic, I can’t help but think of Brian Flannagan from the movie Cocktail, but don’t ever tell him I said that. This month’s feature bartender is the one and only Alex Carruthers.

Laura: Mr. Carruthers, tell me what is going on in your world these days?

Alex: Hello, hello, hello. I feel like I’m always trying to figure that question out… I’m not very good at standing still. I recently went back to school to get my Motorcycle Mechanic certificate, something I’ve wanted to do for a long time. I’m also playing a lot of music, and focusing pretty intensely on the band I’m in. We finished our album down in Seattle at the legendary London Bridge Studios and are now in the process of getting it out to the world. I’m also a liquor rep for Trakal, a Patagonian spirit that I’m really excited about. And I’m looking forward to getting back into audition rooms after taking a bit of a break from acting.

L: How would you describe the Vancouver bar scene? What makes it different from other cities that you’ve travelled to, or worked in?

A: The bar scene here is pretty close. Most active bartenders cross paths frequently, through events and pre/post work drinks. I would argue that a large portion of Canada’s finest bartenders live and work here, and, as many individuals in the city have proven, they stand up to the global competition. Honestly, I’m not sure I can put the difference into words, every scene is just…different. Every city has its own quirks and feel, and I think that rubs off in many different ways.

L: You’ve had a chance to work in some pretty awesome spots around the city.

How did it all begin for you though? Tell us about how you got to where you are now?

A: I started bartending when I was 19. I use to have a fake ID so I could play/watch music at this popular spot in my hometown when I was 16. By the time I was 19, I had already built a great relationship with the owner and had multiple years of experience in the industry (barbacking/serving). When I asked for the job I had no real idea how to bartend, but the guy gave me a chance. On a busy Saturday night, I had my first shift. The place was packed: four people deep at a massive L-shaped bar with people frantically yelling drink orders alongside five other bartenders moving back and forth between fridges, back-bars, and tills. I was super nervous and immediately felt like I bit off more than I could chew. I walked behind the bar and the owner welcomed me, brought me over to this old cash till and said, “this button’s for well-drinks, this button’s for the draft beer…well, you’ll figure it out.”  Then he laughed, gave me a pat on the back, and wished me luck. I just kept going after that.

L: Right into the fire! Do you think it’s hard for new bartenders to break into the scene here in Vancouver? Any advice on how to wet your toes?

A: I think breaking into the bar scene here can sometimes feel a little difficult. Vancouver can be a little cliquey sometimes. But in many ways, it can be hard for someone to break into any city’s bar scene. If you don’t have a lot of experience, I’d recommend bartending at a nightclub or pub. There you will make a lot of simple drinks (beers or highballs, etc.) but it will show you how to work quickly and efficiently. It’s also an easier environment to get a job than at a high-end cocktail bar. Becoming a good barback at a place you really like is also great experience and can allow you to move up the ranks after gaining experience and knowledge. Patience is important; a good bartender has a great amount of knowledge and experience under their belt.

L: Any mentors that come to mind?

A: I have had a lot of mentors throughout the years, and continue to search for mentors in every aspect of my life. When it comes to bartending, one of the things that stuck with me was a bartender I met in San Francisco who said, “see all those bottles behind the bar, they all have a unique story. Some of those stories are hundreds of years old. The best bartenders are tellers of tales.”

Alex Carruthers. Supplied photo

L: In addition to bartending at Guilt & Co. you are an ambassador for Trakal. How did you get into that?

A: I tried Trakal for the first time last year at the bar I used to work at and as soon as it hit my lips I was hooked. I immediately started asking around to see where I could get it, and after meeting one of the owners I quickly realized it was a brand I wanted to work for. It’s just such a unique and cool spirit. I think becoming a brand ambassador was a natural progression for me, but I didn’t want to work with a major conglomerate… my interests leaned more to a growing brand that I enjoyed and believed in. So it was a perfect fit.

L: What exactly is Trakal?

A: Trakal is our iteration of Patagonia — in a bottle. My business partners were fascinated by Patagonia and wondered why, like other regions of the world, it didn’t have its own spirit. They set out to capture its essence and what it stood for and I’m now fortunate to work with them and share it with friends around the world.

L: Do you have a guilty pleasure drink?

A: My guilty pleasure in drinks are the shitty 80s drinks, like Pina Coladas, and things with crazy neon colors. BLUE BOLS.

L: YES! That might be my favourite answer yet! How about the most memorable drink you’ve ever had?

A: The first time I met one of my best friends was when I sat down at his bar in Calgary and watched him make me a Manhattan. He was so smooth and graceful—I was super impressed and inspired. Ha, he forgot the bitters, but I was still stoked. He’s now a brother to me and we both live together here in Vancouver.

L: And what drink makes you cringe (to drink or to make)?

A: Caesars or Bloody Marys. Order your ketchup pops from someone else. Thanks.

L: Ketchup pops! I’m stealing that term for sure.

So bartending has a pretty wet and wild reputation as a job… particularly for those who have not worked in the industry. What is a misconception people have about bartending?

A: Personally, I don’t think the misconception is in its reputation. Ha! The service industry breeds a certain lifestyle that I’ve experienced in every bar and in every city I’ve ever been a part of. That being said, I don’t think the majority of people realize the consequence of living in that environment for a prolonged period of time. Being a bartender isn’t as glamorous as I believe many people think it is. It can take a serious toll on your body and mind. I’ve seen it happen to many of my friends, and it’s happened to me.

L: I’ve appreciated that you’ve spoken out about that, too. The industry can chew people up and spit them out, and we need more conversation around the culture. Music seems to be a great outlet for you though. Your band is called Legend. Where can we see you play next?

A: Right now Legend is working out some of the business side of things, but we will be playing a show sometime in November.

L: I’ll keep my ear to the ground. Thanks Alex!

Adam Chilton photo

SHOTGUN ANSWERS

Dog or cat? Dog.

Negroni or Boulevardier? Boulevardier.

Most overhyped bar trend? Too many ingredients.

Most despised bar term? Mixologist.

Most underutilized spirit? Trakal.

First drink you ever had? Labatt Honey.

Pinot or Cabernet? Pinot.

Go-to hangover cure? Hydration packets.

High school prom song? Lol, no idea.

THC or CBD? CBD.

—by Laura Starr

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