Yeray Monforte on the importance of education
Spanish bartender Yeray Monforte, the winner of this year’s Patrón Perfectionists Cocktail Competition, is determined to pass all the things he has learnt in his career to a new generation of mixologists.
*This feature was originally published in the June 2019 issue of The Spirits Business
I fell in love with mixing different liquors to create cocktails. For me this is amazing and I knew I wanted to dedicate my life to this career,” says Spanish bartender Yeray Monforte.
Monforte discovered his interest in hospitality in 2013. Since then he has spent his career learning as much as possible about mixed drinks and quality service, enrolling in masterclasses and workshops, and reading whatever he could. “Teaching and knowledge are the most important for bartenders,” he says.
Having found his passion for cocktails, Monforte began working his way around Spain’s top bartending destinations.
“I started in a typical bar on the beach called Bianco Rosso,” he says. “We were making Mojitos and that style of cocktail, but the first cocktail I fell in love with was the Cosmopolitan. The Cosmopolitan is vodka, triple sec, lime and cranberry juice and the result is amazing – this was my first cocktail and it changed my career.”
After learning as much as he could from Bianco Rosso, Monforte was ready to travel to a new bar in a different city – one where he could experience a different aspect of the on-trade. Starting out in Ibiza, Monforte began splitting his time between work during the summer and study through the winter months. When the next summer season came around, he would travel to a different city to explore the different aspects of the on-trade in his homeland.
He says: “For the first summer I worked in a bar in Ibiza, the next summer I went to the Canary Islands and the next summer I went to San Sebastián, in the north of Spain. For me, it is super important to know about these different cultures and different clients.”
Monforte says that despite remaining in the same country, the clientele he served and the drinks he created in each location were completely different. In Ibiza he worked in a restaurant called La Punta, mixing drinks for diners to enjoy. In the Canary Islands he learned the fast-paced work required for a late-night party bar, and in San Sebastián he gained an understanding of the needs of more discerning drinkers. “Clients in San Sebastián are super exclusive,” he says. “These people prefer a lovely cocktail, but they always want a long explanation of why we put one ingredient with another.”
A PASSION FOR FERMENTATION
While living in San Sebastián, Monforte also enrolled in a mixology course at the city’s School of Gastronomy. It was during his studies here that he uncovered an interest in the use of fermentation behind the bar, a subject he is excited to talk about.
“I can speak about fermentation for eight or nine hours,” he says. “It’s very good making cocktails with fermented ingredients because they are acidic, and this is perfect for the balance without the use of citrus. Over the past two years I have been working every day to write about mixology and fermentation, and now I’ve written a book on fermentation and in three or four months it will be out and in the streets.”
As if researching and writing a comprehensive breakdown of fermentation behind the bar weren’t enough, Monforte has also spent the past two years working at renowned Barcelona bar Dr Stravinsky. He says the award-winning venue has been crucial to his development as a bartender.
“Working at Dr Stravinsky has been the most beautiful experience in my life,” he says. “For me, working here has changed my life. I am the head bartender at the moment but I feel part of Dr Stravinsky. When I entered the bar two years ago, I was just a young bartender, but now since working here I think I’m much more respected in Spain.”
It was also while working at Dr Stravinsky that Monforte had the “unforgettable” moment of being crowned the winner of the Patrón Perfectionists Cocktail Competition.
“The experience in Mexico was amazing,” he says. “Now I have 20 friends around the world, and that is because of the experience in Hacienda Patrón.”
Monforte wowed the judges with his cocktail, Wind, which was made with Patrón Silver Tequila, orange honey, lemon juice, olive oil, egg whites and fino Sherry. The drink was inspired by his upbringing in Spain, with olive oil used in honour of his father’s work as a chef, and fino Sherry used to represent his grandfather’s work in the Sherry industry.
During his presentation at the competition, Monforte even used the Valencia, which is a device used to collect samples from ageing barrels of Sherry (see main photo). “The Valencia is for tasting wines from the barrel after one year, also it oxygenates the wine as it goes into the glass,” explains Monforte. “My grandfather was a Valenciador, and he worked with this piece of equipment and showed me the technique around 20 years ago. For me, it is part of my identity.”
After a week competing at Hacienda Patrón and exploring Mexico with a host of the world’s top bartending talent, Monforte says the moment he discovered he had been crowned the winner brought a tear to his eye.
“The first thing I did was call my parents, because in Spain it was early morning and they hadn’t slept while they were waiting for the results,” he says. “At this moment I cried a little and I was saying in Spanish ‘mum, dad I won the competition, I don’t believe it’. It was just five or 10 minutes after they announced I had won.”
TRAINING AND EDUCATION
Monforte is now focused on the future and how he can further bartending talent around the world. Having always believed that training and education are vital to the industry, Monforte now works at the Gasma gastronomy university in Castellón, passing on his knowledge to the next generation. He hopes to dedicate more of his time to this. “In four or five years I want to dedicate 70%-80% of my time to sharing my knowledge with new bartenders,” he says.
“Teaching the next generation is most important. In six months you can become a bartender with good technique, but you might not know the classic cocktails and you might not know the difference between Bourbon or Scotch whisky. For me this is super important, it’s 50-50 work and knowledge.”
With his eyes set on the future of the on-trade and his place in the industry, Monforte takes a moment to consider the teachers and co-workers who have helped him become the bartender he is today. “I have worked hard every day and have had many important teachers along the way,” he explains. “My first was Ivan Talens, one of the more famous bartenders in Valencia. My current boss, Antonio Naranjo, is one of the best bartenders in Spain. He is one of my best friends and is also a great teacher.”