Bartender doesn't seem adequate for what Simon Moorby does, nor is the fixture behind the bar at Hogwash Whiskey Den keen on "mixologist," either. "Spirit wizard" conveys the alchemy of crafting drinks, Moorby says, noting cocktails have a storied history rooted in apothecaries that dispensed herbal blends, tinctures and tonics to promote wellness.
Bitters, for example, were historically administered as a digestive aid. Now they add complexity of herbal, citrus or spice notes to drinks, such as the old fashioned, a classic cocktail Moorby likes to change up with seasonal flavors like spiced apple or clove bitters.
Knowing the history of cocktails is important, says Moorby. "No one considers themselves a chef without reading Escoffier," the French founder of the so-called brigade system of cooking found in fine dining, Moorby says. Moorby frequently collaborates with Raising the Bar's Renee Cebula, a self-styled cocktail historian, to offer themed cocktail classes at Hogwash.
Moorby learned his craft on the job while working at Seattle's Naga, the lounge inside Chantanee Thai restaurant, which in the 2000s grabbed attention for its spirit-forward, artisan cocktail offerings.
By the time Moorby moved back to Spokane, where he had lived since age 12, he was a budding spirit wizard, but lacked the combination of skills, mindset and support to master his own addiction to alcohol. Fortunately, the founder of Hogwash Whiskey Den, Jeremy Hansen, took a chance on Moorby, who has been with Hogwash — and sober — since 2016.
"I see people at their worst on their best day," Moorby says. "It's just part of the profession, and that's just a constant reminder why I choose not to imbibe anymore. I've had a lifelong struggle with it."
The holidays can be especially challenging for people, and even more so for those who don't drink alcohol, he says. And although someone's reasons not to imbibe are numerous and varied, the options for what Moorby calls zero proof drinks — versus mocktails — have been limited to sugary syrups and juices.
New ingredients like Seedlip's line of zero-proof spirits have enabled Moorby and others to expand the range of nonalcoholic options. Even as Moorby continues to refine the Hogwash drink menu with zero-proof variations of popular cocktails, he acknowledges the inherent challenge of spirits that don't contain alcohol. Because they're water-based, explains Moorby, and since bar drinks are served cold, that means figuring out a way to chill them without diluting the flavors.
Those interested in learning how to master mixing would also do well to invest in basic bartending equipment: jiggers for measuring, a long cocktail spoon, a shaker, assorted glasses, such as a pint size beer or wide-mouthed glass for mixing. A Hawthorne strainer with a semicircle of coiled wire and little wings on the side for sitting on the rim of the glass — it looks a bit like Princess Leia in Star Wars — keeps the ice in the shaker so you can pour chilled contents into your serving glass. The julep strainer looks like a bristleless hairbrush with a series of small holes, while a fine mesh strainer like you'd use for loose tea leaves is an ideal filter for pulp and other fine particles.
Above all, the key to making good drinks, with or without alcohol, says Moorby is "quality ingredients, proper technique and the right mindset."
Every day is a day to celebrate, he says.