We caught up with Madison Burch, Beverage Director at one of Split’s newest locations, Tavernpointe to have all of our questions about alcohol answered.
You have turned into such a prominent figure in the Atlanta beverage scene, almost overnight. Describe your a-ha moment when you realized that bartending was your calling.
I was kind of thrown behind the bar at a moment's notice when a bartender suddenly quit at a restaurant where I had been waiting tables. It seemed exciting at first, and I threw myself completely into studying and practicing everything that I was learning. My first go-round in the service was on a busy night, finding the rhythm and math to speed and efficiency and how far I had to go was exhilarating, and that's when I realized I was doing something I loved.
What’s your motivation?
For a long time, the math and science with just the right amount of creative freedom made beverage programming the most interesting career in the world for me. Now, in my current position, the real motivation comes from seeing aspiring bartenders and beverage managers who really care about their guests and the product they are serving, and watching them learn new things and get excited about it.
What piece of advice would you offer aspiring mixologists and beverage directors?
Find a mentor (or 3) and really let yourself be developed. You'll find your own way of doing things no matter what, so learn how everyone else does it before you develop your own habits and preferences. It's much easier to take advantage of the mentor relationship early on.
What is the best advice you have ever been given?
Sometimes, the best way to solve a problem is to take the cotton out of your ears and stick it in your mouth.
What do you feel are the most important factors when pulling together a complete cocktail menu?
Look at the list as a guest would, or as a variety of guests would. Make sure there's something approachable and something interesting for as many people as possible. People care about what's in a drink, but they are also very conscious of how they will sound ordering it and how they will appear when drinking it.
How much goes into creating a new drink? What’s the secret formula?
It's usually a quick burst of inspiration in the middle of a busy day. I have an app on my phone where I log any idea I have, and it's one of my first resources when compiling a new menu.
You've managed to put together such a diverse wine selection, what’s the key?
I try to look at flavor profiles as opposed to just hitting key varietals. Having a good selection is synonymous with having a well educated staff who can understand what the guest is really asking for. Again, it's far more important to pair wine with a person's palate than it is to pair it perfectly with the dish they've chosen. I don't care if that pinot noir pairs perfectly with our pasta dish if it doesn't suit the majority of our guests.
The beverage industry is rapidly growing and evolving - what is your favorite part?
Watching newcomers rise and succeed, and meeting people who do what I do all over the world. The differences in trends and approaches between different markets and regions is fascinating to me.
Bourbon and Gin seem to have made an incredible come back. What’s the next hot item?
An educated guess says mezcal, but I'd really like to see some of the more interesting unaged distillates from around the world come into play. I've really tasted the Irish equivalent of moonshine and an Indian brandy made from the fruit that grows around cashews. Things as common to people from their respective regions as white dog is to the people I grew up with, but completely new and interesting to me.
What is the worst thing that you have ever witnessed at bar or restaurant?
My biggest peeve, that still always shocks me, is hearing a guest ask for something that logically can be done, and the server or bartender replies "I don't have a way to ring that in." Nobody cares what buttons your POS has, just go ask the chef and let me know that you're on my side (the side of the guest).
Describe the weirdest drink request you've ever gotten.
Typically the bizarrely sweet, fruity drinks that came around in the 80's and 90's and bear horribly vulgar names are the ones the stop me in my tracks. I'm working on it.
What is the most unsuspecting ingredient you have ever used in a cocktail?
My favorite was arugula with Gin.
What is the one thing you could drink for the rest of your life?
A perfectly poured Americano.
If you could sit at a bar and have a few drinks with anyone, living or dead, who would it be?
The breakfast of this champion is…
Typically an hour old sandwich somewhere around 3 or 4 p.m. when I remember I'm hungry halfway through the day. And an unhealthy amount of caffeine.
What is the Split cocktail called and how do you make it?
We call it " Fresa Piquante ", or the spicy strawberry. We infuse Blanco tequila with fresh ripe strawberries and Jalapeno and Fresno chiles for 2 days, then mix it with a filthy cherry reduction and fresh lime juice.