Spanish Bartender Alberto Aldave On His Career In Cocktails

All Mixed Up: Alberto Aldave, Brand Manager for Jebsen Group

Our continent loves a good drink. To cool off from our temperate weather and hot food, you can find us huddled in an airconned bar, sipping on something cool, sexy, and clean. To celebrate our boozing culture, All Mixed Up explores the stories behind Asia’s famed mixologists, bartenders, and cupbearers that make our tipples and what makes them tick.

Raised in Madrid, Spain, Alberto Aldave’s humble beginnings as an aspiring film student took a sharp turn at the height of the 2008 global financial crisis. From experimenting with camera shots and editing down video clips, Alberto’s impromptu career change had him working with shots from behind the bar, instead of behind the camera.

Bringing his aesthetic sensibility to the tipples he creates Alberto’s illustrious career in bartending includes some of the most renowned names in hospitality; including Bar Americain by Corbin & King, The Chelsea Harbour Hotel, and The Ritz London. His gorgeous glasses of innovatively coloured cocktails have been served to the likes of Madonna, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Jose Mourinho, and Jude Law (to name a few).

His next challenge brought him to Hong Kong, where he would spend his time working at venues under the Dining Concepts umbrella, and the beloved late-Dear Lilly bar in IFC. After gathering an impressive skill book under the operations side of the industry, Alberto began to oversee hospitality from a different perspective as Brand Manager at Jebsen Group.

Speaking to The Beat Asia, Alberto walks us through his cocktail creation process of distinct glassware and floral garnishes, the joys of bartending, and the influence of his work on the next generation of bartenders.

All Mixed Up Alberto Aldave, Brand Manager for Jebsen Group 1

How did you stumble upon world of mixology?

I studied in the wrong time, which was around 2010 - the crisis of the Lehman Brothers. So I ran away to London and I applied everywhere: restaurants, cafes, bars, whoever would take me.

I didn’t know any English. But I was very lucky, the next place I gave my CV to [Bar Americain by Corbin & Kin] asked me to come back [to watch] the bartender do a show for all the staff, to see how it looks – cocktails and everything. They had a waitress that is Spanish, and they offered me to start as a bar cleaner.

I would come on my days off and work behind the bar as the assistant of the bartender. Whenever a ticket came with the cocktails, I [would] just choose one for the whole day. For example, whenever a whiskey sour [would come], I'm in charge of that for the day. Each day I was doing different [cocktails], and in three months I learned the entire menu, then they promoted me as a bartender.

My mentor came to me and said, “Listen, you are very good here, but you need to increase your profile. You need to work in restaurants and in hotels, you need to have more [of a diverse] background. You cannot stick here for ten years.”

All Mixed Up Alberto Aldave, Brand Manager for Jebsen Group 2

What are your core philosophies when it comes to mixing drinks?

I divide my career in bartending [into] three [parts]. When I was learning, when I was working at the Ritz, and when I came to Hong Kong where I was managing and creating.

In the beginning, I was not able to create cocktails. I was just good memorizing recipes: what is trendy, what is tasty, what is cool; I try to get a good knowledge of that.

Then when I went to my second stage, which was the Ritz. In those places, the ‘wow factor’ is the key. They want something tailored, something especially for them, in a very tall glass with a nice garnish, of course, [it’s] tasty. But taste is not the most important thing in this case. It's just [for] the picture, you know?

When I came to Hong Kong, I was in charge of many places, so I [had] to do menus all the time, and that was when I started to create more. My signature is fresh cocktails, which is [also] my favourite.

I take the ingredients this morning, and I make a cocktail today. I prefer something that is refreshing, fruity, not necessarily sweet, something between sour and sweet, and I try to do something that everyone can like, rather than what I like.

All Mixed Up Alberto Aldave, Brand Manager for Jebsen Group 3

What do you enjoy most about what you do?

What motivates me is to be the centre of the attention a little. When you are an introvert, you don't need people, you can do your own thing.

You walk in the street, nobody cares about you. You are not famous, you are not rich, you are not tall, you are not super handsome, you’re just a normal person, right? But when you are in a bar, you wear a dress suit, you create cocktails, and you are elegant with the people. You [can] become someone.

Sometimes that’s good, right? You have exclusivity, opportunities there that you will not have outside of the bar to meet people from all walks of life.

All Mixed Up Alberto Aldave, Brand Manager for Jebsen Group 4

Where do you draw inspiration from and how do those influence your drinks?

The way I create is the opposite of the bartender. Bartenders, they will start doing the taste [first]. Once they say, “Oh, this taste is amazing”, they just choose the glasses, maybe they put an olive, [and] here you go, right?

I don't work like this.

What I do first is I choose the glass. I choose a glass with potential. [For example] with this glass, and this colour, and this garnish… It’s a harmony here that you see.

Once I have the look of the cocktail, I get feedback from the people. They say, “Oh, this cocktail is a killer”, “This one will be very hard to make during the service”, and then I say, ‘You’re right,” [or] “You’re wrong”.

But it's good to see other people's reactions. Once I have the look, I need to invent one cocktail. Pink, blue, yellow, orange, white, black, whatever. I come to my knowledge of ingredients: cranberry can make [the drink] pink, blueberry can make [it] purple, passion fruit can make [it] yellow.

One needs to be with gin, the other one needs to be with rum, the other one needs to be with tequila, whiskey, etcetera. Whiskey cannot be pink because it's brown, so all these factors come together.

Usually, I like to do flowers outside. [I do] glasses in two ways, glasses that are not common, or a very common glass, but in a way that makes you say, “I never realized you can [make] a cocktail with this glass.”

All Mixed Up Alberto Aldave, Brand Manager for Jebsen Group 6

How has your current position as the brand manager influenced your perspective on hospitality here?

[Before I joined Jebsen] I was so focused in operations, standards, and creation that I didn't understand the other side.

When I [joined] Jebsen, I am a supplier, I work for the brand. And then you get to know all the media, all the contracts with the venues to a sponsor and this and that. I got to understand that I wanted to influence people [to] make something that is missing.

For example, not many suppliers are doing cocktail competitions, so I start to develop that, to grow the junior bartenders. You motivate them for a big competition like the Diageo World Class, train them to be killers, they [could go] from bartender to bar manger within one year.

[During] all this, you give them freedom, for the good and for the bad. This is more or less what I try to do, create opportunities for them to grow.

All Mixed Up Alberto Aldave, Brand Manager for Jebsen Group 5

What's in store for you in the future?

I want to have my own cocktail bar in future, that is my ultimate goal. It’s the last part of the journey, you know what I mean? From cleaner, to bartender… [its] full circle.

I want [the] place to be successful in terms of making profits - not to be famous, not to be number one - [but] just as a business. People come back [for] good customer service and I wake up every day and I believe it’s a good beverage program.

What I want for the future for the customers to link me with something that is cool. When I am in my sixties, [I want them to] remember me and think, ‘Alberto was doing nice cocktails’ or ‘Alberto was having good concepts’.

I want people appreciate the time I did. Because at the [end of the] day, when you are behind the bar, you are serving.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Enjoyed this article? Check out our previous All Mixed Up profiles here.

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