Nathan Gerdes is a local (soon-to-be) legend. He’s been bartending for more than a decade, and doing so in Portland for a little more than 3 years. He spoke to us this week in anticipation of his upcoming Market Demo, and as it happens we caught him on a particularly good week. Gerdes is riding pretty darn high right now — read on to learn all about it!
Tell me about your work – word on the street is your career is really exploding! Tell me more.
Oh! Well I think that’s about my recent luck in the competitions. I’ve been bartending for 10 years, but only competeing for 2. I’m a member of this local Oregon bartenders guild, and just this year we joined the US bartenders guild, which allows us to compete not just amongst ourselves but with bartenders from around the country. I’ve been doing pretty well, actually been taking 1st place in a lot of them. Its a lot of fun, it gets you out there, interacting with lots of people. I’ve been getting really lucky lately. Usually one particular brand is a sponser – the one that I just won was sposored by Bombay Sapphire, so it’s kind of up to them what the rules are. This one took place in Vegas and the challenge was to come up with an original cocktail that showcases their product. A lot of people come up with really complicated drinks, but I like to work on really nice, simple cocktails – I like things that are more balanced, 3 or 4 ingredients max. There is elegance in the simplicity. There was one recipe that got me into the competition and one that won the final round. They were relatively similar because i like to stay seasonal – your palate changes so much depending on the weather & your mood. Both were for hot Vegas weather – a lot of Gin and lime juice, with some specialty syrups. Technically it was the GQ Bombay Sapphire competition and my official title was “most imaginative bartender in the US”. Now, I get to go to the world competition in Turino, and I’ll be repping the US in the worldwide competition. That’ll be really fun. I’ll be on the cover of GQ, too, with a full spread sometime in the next few months.
Tell me about your typical workday here in Portland?You work as a bartender here Kask right?
I do work at Kask, where the menu is really focused on the history & art of craft cocktails. I actually also work at Hale Pele, a tiki bar. In the past I’ve worked as bar managers etc, where there’s a lot of extra development work along with just simple bartending work. But at the two jobs I have right now I get to work just as a bartender – it’s great, I just show up, mix drinks and then take off. I love it.
How did you come to this work originally? What do you love about it?
It actually all started with culinary. I loved to cook growing up, so I went to culinary school — a small school in Florence — to refine what I’d been taught all my life. My mom is an amazing cook, and she’s always inspired me. After school, I came back & realized that as much as I liked cooking, Im really a cold weather kind of guy – it’s really hot in those restaurant kitchens! I found that during my downtime as a chef, when I wasn’t in the kitchen, I was at the bar socializing with fellow chefs, bartenders, customers. I’m really an extrovert. I realized that everything I loved doing around food (serving people, cooking with seasonal foods, the conviviality) were all things I could do with cocktails, minus the heat from 7 huge kitchen fires blazing all around me.
Tell me about the cocktail culture of Portland? Where is it now & where do you think its headed?
I’d love to see it continue in the direction its going! Something I’m really proud of is – when you look at the cities that are leading the way as far as craft cocktails go it’s SF, NYC and Portland, which is really astounding if you look at the per capita ratios. We’re so much smaller! I think it has to do with the restaurants , the population supports us so well – so many are really educated about food, and they really care. We’re on such a great path of experimentation here. I don’t know what the next big thing is, but I’m sure we’ll have a hand in it.
Ok – What’s your drink? At the end of the night, what do you pour for yourself?
I get that all the time from customers actually. My drink is always changing. Honestly, at the end of a shift, it’s usually just a beer. Sometimes some whiskey neat. One of my favorite things is just a nice digestif – maybe a fernet.
Share a Recipe?
This is one of my most favorite recipes I have created. It is a deep, complex, and spirit driven cocktail similar to a Manhattan :
1.5oz Old Overholt Rye Whiskey
.25oz Gran Classico
.25oz Punt e Mes Vermouth
.25oz Combier Pamplemousse
2 dashes Regans Orange Bitters
Combine all ingredients in a stirring vessel, add ice, stir, and strain into a classic cocktail glass (serve up). Garnish with a Grapefruit swath.