Article By: Brandy Rand
TROY CLARKE – President of Boston Chapter of the United States Bartender Guild (USBG)
Sales Manager at Martignetti Companies • Co-Owner of 1224 Cocktails Bar Bag
Troy Clarke is used to juggling a lot of roles at the same time. With a long career in the hotel business, Clarke has overseen food and beverage programs, banquets, meetings, and events across the world at properties like the Sheraton, Hilton and Ritz Carlton. From crafting drinks behind the bar to overseeing weddings (including his own at the Ritz Cayman Islands where he and his wife met), Clarke embraces what his roles in hospitality have taught him. His passion for service is evident in his time spent educating bar staff on beverage programs though his distributor sales role and as President of the Boston USBG.
BRANDY RAND Tell me about how you got in to the drinks business and what you are doing now:
TROY CLARKE I got into bartending when I was working at a restaurant and the bartender didn’t show up. They asked who wanted to bartender (not who knew how!) and I told them to put me in. I always wanted to be the one – in command making drinks and telling stories. I didn’t even know how to make one drink, but figured if I just poured, everything would be okay.Now I own my own business, 1224 Cocktails, which produces professional bags for bartenders, suppliers and enthusiasts. I also work full time for United Liquors as a sales manager in the Excel division, and am the President of the US Bartender Guild. I have a family – my wife Natasha (who is expecting!) and my children Ethan, 8, Arabella, 5 and Riley, 2.5-year-old.
BR You’re serving as president of the USBG Boston Chapter. For people who don’t know about the organization, can you describe its goals?
TC We believe tending and owning bars is an honorable choice. Our goal is to empower bartenders to take charge of their careers [by]working with our committed partners through peer-to-peer learning, expert instruction, service projects, and competition. Since knowledge is power, our chapters hold cocktail competitions, sponsor intimate seminars with internationally recognized brand representatives and forge relationships between top bar talent in 35 cities and counting. We offer all our members opportunities to compete, travel around the world and spread knowledge in the pursuit of elevating our craft.
BR What are some of your priorities for the Boston USBG chapter as president?
TC When I took over last June as president, I set out to grow our awareness, increase our membership, build a strong team amongst the chapter, and help strengthen our community. We have made great strides in this. We started with only 12 members and we are now at 111. Our goal is to be at 25O by the end of 2O14. We are especially committed to growing our chapter outside the city: north, south and west. We want to impact our communities beyond the city to tap into the rest of the talent our great state has. We also want to be known as the resource for those up and coming bartenders. As an educational pillar for those who want to grow, we have a Master Accreditation program along with monthly trainings. The USBG has always been a go-to source in our industry for suppliers and we want to keep that up.
BR What’s your favorite part of being behind the bar?
TC Talking with customers and being [in]that place where people come to enjoy themselves.
BR Best day on the job so far was when . . .
TC When I know that I have helped someone better themselves in our craft, growing the next chapter in our amazing industry . . . taking time with those who want to learn more and can advance further.
BR How would you describe the bar culture in Boston to a visitor:
TC Hospitable; we are a small big city and always willing to ensure our guests enjoy it. We will recommend places to go and then pick up the phone and let them know you’re coming. It’s the personal touches that make a difference and I think that makes our city stand out.
BR Favorite cocktail to make:
TC The one a guest allows me to create!
BR Least favorite cocktail to make:
TC I don’t really have a least favorite, but I will say what I don’t enjoy is working with processed ingredients. I really feel that our customers deserve fresh, high quality product from the bar and it’s our responsibility to provide that.
BR How important is education for the modern day bartender?
TC Extremely important; it is becoming a requirement at some places to have some form of knowledge to even barback, never mind bartend.
BR What advice would you give a bartender just starting out?
TC Understand your craft, take the time to hone your skills and take it seriously. This is not just a way to make a quick buck, it is a true profession. Educate yourself, put in the extra time needed and it will pay off ten times over. Attend trainings, travel, learn about flavors, respect the past – it’s your history. Know what past bartenders did and take it further by honoring those who did what you do now. Truly enjoy this profession and the people in it; when embraced there is nothing like it. Most important have fun and smile!
BR We’ve all heard the phrase “bartender’s choice”. Why do you think more and more customers look to bartenders to make their drinking decisions?
TC I hear people say, “I make decisions all day long, make me something special”. So with a few simple questions we go to work. Understanding what they like – sweet, sour, bitter, floral, robust, subtle – helps us build the cocktail. Also, for the first drink you want to gain their trust, play it safer. Then once you best understand them, begin to break barriers like “I don’t like gin, or I can’t drink whisky, etc”. Sometimes they just have not had a cocktail crafted correctly. But most important, they are the guest and we are not here to tell them what they want. It is our responsibility to ensure they have a great time and not judge if they love a particular spirit, or a certain style of drink.
BR Do you have a secret ingredient or cocktail-making technique you’d like to share?
TC Well, then it won’t be secret anymore . . . actually this is the one thing I love about our side of the industry – we share everything. It’s not like famous chefs with their secret sauce, or distillers with their secret mash bill – bartenders want to share. It’s a form of flattery when someone features your drink, unique process or techniques used to make things. This is one thing I love as it really promotes the community of our industry. We all have signature things we do that intrigue our guests and keep them coming back, and that’s what makes the bar such an exciting place to be. So to answer your question . . . you will just have to find me behind the stick some night in Boston!
BR Drink trend you are most excited about right now...
TC I am really excited about the growing awareness of non-alcoholic menus and the bartender’s ability to service all our guests. We are in the industry of hospitality and service and to have this be an afterthought is the same as saying we don’t have vegetarian options, or peanut free choices, etc . . .
BR If you weren’t in the beverage business, what would you be doing?
TC Wow, I have never thought about this as I have been involved in this industry since I was 13 in some way or form. I don’t think I would do anything else because it is truly my passion and what I think about every day!
WHY YOU SHOULD JOIN THE USBG
Recognized worldwide, the USBG offers career support and opportunities to bartenders and industry enthusiasts. Clarke is committed to growing the membership of Boston’s USBG chapter and is giving our readers a special discount on annual membership of $6O (normally $1OO). Email Troy at firstname.lastname@example.org to take advantage.
HEALTH INSURANCE Through a partnership with Custom Benefits Consultants, the USBG offers health insurance for purchase to all members and their dependents.
USEFUL MONTHLY MEETINGS Find out about supplier cocktail competitions, educational events, what’s hot in Boston, and network with peers in the industry who can help you launch your career or even your own business.
ACCESS TO USBG PULSE This custom community platform gives members instant access to the entire national USBG membership – 24OO and counting. Immediately connect to venue operators, industry leaders and high-profile bartenders through this portal.
INTERNATIONAL RECOGNITION The USBG is the only organization in the US tied to the International Bartenders’ Association, a worldwide group for professional bartenders
DISCOUNTS ON USBG MASTER ACCREDITATION The USBG has created the USBG Master Accreditation Program to take away the ambiguity and set a standard once and for all. The USBG will challenge members and beverage professionals all over the country to prove their merit by studying for and passing a series of three tests.