Booze

Not Your Typical Gig: Master of Spirits

In this recurring column, Not Your Typical Gig, we interview men with out-of-the-box careers to get a glimpse of what goes on behind-the-scenes of their unusual jobs.

BLURB

NAME: Jeff Naples
CITY: Des Moines, Iowa
COMPANY: The Beard Behind the Bar

How would you describe what you do?

By trade, I am a Master of Spirits, but I like to refer to myself as a storyteller of culinary adventures. I host an online spirit “how-to” series called The Beard Behind The Bar, where I educate people on spirits and fun ways to make cocktails from simple to advanced, and how to use spirit brands from their local wine and spirits stores. 

I also teach virtual and in-person group classes, a hands-on approach to mixing drinks and a conversation point with friends. And I also create cocktails and menus for restaurants, bars, and spirit companies around the world. From developing recipes with James Beard-award-winning chefs to providing at-home cocktail classes, I’m the one-stop shop for all things in a glass.

How long have you had the gig for?

Nine years making drinks and 16 years in the hospitality industry.

How did you get into this line of work?

Completely by accident. In my early 20s, I was a former athlete whose baseball career had ended abruptly, and I found myself a broke college student studying psychology who enjoyed the nightlife. One night, a nightclub owner asked if I was interested in a job as a nightclub promoter. I quickly became a nightclub manager, and then started working for a company that helped bars, restaurants, and nightclubs get up and running. I was never into cocktails and admittedly hesitant about alcohol. The psychology major in me was always curious about the science behind why people drank and what made a bar or nightclub successful. 

So I decided to jump into learning about spirits. Lots of books and learning led to one course, which led to another, a certification, a test and another certification, and so on. Within a few years, I was getting asked to speak at conferences on spirits, bartend for spirit brands, and build menus with some top-name chefs. 

I decided early on I never wanted to just work at a bar. I had this theory that what people drank would affect what they tended towards in food. I pivoted to the “culinary cocktail” and building drinks that incorporated flavors to enhance and complement the tasting notes or ingredients of main courses and what the chef wanted to highlight in a menu or dish. It opened up a whole new world of creative possibilities and flavors.

Photo Courtesy of Jeff Naples

What kind of skill set does it take to break into this line of work?

A passion for history and imagination are good skills to have. Also, the gift of gab—being able to chat about anything to anyone is never a bad thing.

What does your workday look like?

Some workdays are spent researching recipes, while others are spent test-kitchening and taste-testing. Most drinks start as a concept and end up with five to six iterations that could be the final drink depending on the guidelines and parameters of the assignment.

Weeks leading up to filming are filled with research and development days, which involve sampling a lot of products and talking with spirit makers. Then they are followed up with pre-production meetings. Shoot days for the show, we are usually on set for five to eight hours. Travel days are also required to fly to different locations for filming with celebrity guest appearances. On-set days usually consist of two hours of recording time, lots of prep, food styling, B-roll, intros, promos, and photography. 

How many months out of the year do you work?

I can really work as much as or as little as I want, but I usually prefer to stay busy. So 12 months. Sometimes one day a week, sometimes seven days a week.

Favorite part of the job?

Hosting live event shows and expos, or making cocktails for high-end pop-up dinners.

Least favorite part of the job?

 Late nights away from family. 

Please tell us about a moment that made you love your job even more?

Being asked to speak at the Culinary Vegetable Institute about “drinking your veggies.”

Are there aspects of the job that ever make you think—this is crazy, why am I doing this?

Sometimes the energy suck of being on camera or having to be a personality can really drain you and leave you feeling depleted after coming off the stress of going non-stop for weeks on end.

What does the job require you to wear?

Aprons, chef coats, and always a fresh pair of Nikes.

What essentials does the job require? 

Lots of energy and good people skills.

CHECK OUT JEFF

IG @BEARDBEHINDTHEBAR