- interview by Sara Gorelick
Hands down, one of the nicest of the guys in the industry is Todd Appel out of Chicago. And one with a colorful history to boot.
With a B.A. in European Diplomatic History from the University of Minnesota, an M.B.A. in International Business from the University of South Carolina and a language concentration in Portuguese, behind the bar might be the last place his classmates would expect to find him. Fortunately for all lovers of a great cocktail, Todd came on the industry scene in 2002. He was working as an interest rate futures trader at the CBOT (a most complicated sounding position), but had a passion for cooking. When he left the hard life of a trader, he didn't have a penny to his name and needed a job fast. But he wasn't about to settle. "I wanted something where I could use my latent skills and talents and also be in a crazy multi-tasking environment... bartending was perfect," he said.
But he didn't stop there. Todd has a long list of credentials, including Certified Mixologist from Bar Smarts and USBG Spirits Professional. He works at his own company, Piranha Bros Cocktail Event and Cocktail Consulting. He's also starting a business to hand craft and sell citrus cordials. Not one to pass judgment, Todd works with all quality brands and spirits. "I always try to make sure I am not comparing apples and oranges when making judgments on spirits or brands," he said. He has designed cocktails for a variety of brands, including Future Brands, Bacardi, Pernod-Ricard, Absolut, Beefeater and Plymouth Gins, Sauza, Partida, Moet-Hennessy, Grand Marnier, Jim Beam, Cabana Cachaça, Diageo, Ketel One, Don Julio, Cognac Ferrand and others.
While Todd might be known as a master mixologist, he doesn't like to be branded by title either. He finds that neither "bartender" nor "mixologist" work. ""Mixologist' is pretentious and way too many of them aren't real bartenders; they never got their hands dirty or know how to free pour and deal with 5 deep bars," he said. "'Bartender' still has the stigma of just a 2-brain celled creature behind a bar that will get you drunk with crappy mixers and brown limes." Hoping that time will heal the connotations, he prefers what his good friend Ben Schiller calls himself, "a barman."
Todd lives by the standard of making a drink he would like and also one he could serve to his mother. His favorite cocktail is one that he made called The Solleone. "It is simple," he said. "I like my cocktails to be minimal so you have harmony in your glass. 3-4 ingredients, base spirit forward."The Solleone
Build in a rocks glass filled with ice (all ingredients including grapefruit peel). Pour into shaker. Very hard shake. Pour all contents back into the rocks glass.
* This can be made up in a cocktail glass or into a long drink topped with soda as well.
** Don't shake as hard for the long drink because you don't want as much melt as you would up or on the rocks because of the soda top.
Todd can be found in Chicago with his rather impressive US beer can collection (totaling over 3,000 different cans), making cherry cordial. (A Wisconsin native, he loves sour cherries from Door County or the Michigan side of Lake Michigan.) His must have ingredients include homemade syrups and cordials, and he won't be caught without his bottle opener, which he twirls like a gunslinger. With passion and a clear love for his craft, Todd offers this bit of advice, "Keep it real, be yourself, always question trends and the system and do this because you love it, not because you want to be a star."