Whisky 101 With Mark Herrera
Known for his world-class skill in cocktail mixing, Mark Herrera didn’t just bolt his way to the top when he represented our country for the Diageo World Class Southeast Asia Finals in 2015. He managed to remain in the nightlife scene as he became the head bartender of the famous chill spot in town, Yes Please.
And it looks like the cocktail master isn’t stopping anytime soon as he’s taken part another role, this time a mentor for who could be the winner of this year’s Whisky Live Manila, one of the most anticipated events in the bartending scene. On the other hand, the mentee Lyka Sinfuego, a graduate from Our Lady of Fatima University“”despite being a culinary student””is eager to take on the challenge and absorb as much knowledge in the craft as she could from her mentor.
Whisky Live is an annual event happening in all the major cities of the world like New York City, London, Paris and Tokyo“”so now that it’s happening here on the 20th and 21st of October at the newly opened Shangri-La Hotel at The Fort, /ESCAPE lets you in on some first-hand deets straight from Mark himself.
/ESCAPE: You’ve been in the industry for 5 and a half years now. What was your greatest motivation during your early years?
Mark Herrera: My greatest motivation when I was just starting was my family. I want to help them, provide a comfortable life and give back all the support they showed me.
You also mentioned that you are into flairtending. What is it and how is this different from bartending?
MH: Flairtending is a part of bartending itself. It’s just that it uses, or should I say, showcases the flairing skill as a way to give art or entertainment to guests when creating cocktails.
Have you always wanted to become a bartender? If yes, when did you realize it?
MH: When my wife and I saw each other again during college and got back together, I met her friends and colleagues who were into bartending and I saw them flairtending. I started joining competitions and that was when I knew that I wanted to be a bartender.
We heard that you represented our country for the Diageo’s World Class Philippines. Would you say that it made a huge impact on your career? How?
MH: Yes, definitely. When I was given the opportunity to join and represent our country for Diageo’s World Class Philippines, it paved way for more exposure. I learned more about the craft and met new people in the industry, which helped me develop and enhance my career.
Who’s your biggest bartending influence?
MH: That would be Erwan Heusaff and Din Hassan. They’ve been a big influence on me. They inspire me and they have become my mentors ever since I entered the craft cocktail scene.
What’s your favorite cocktail to make?
MH: Whisky Sour. Because it is a well-balanced cocktail, just like me.
What cocktail would you offer someone who’s having a rough day?
MH: When someone is having a rough day, I would offer her a Whisky Sour. For me, it helps relax the senses and makes me feel happy. I will offer it hoping that it could have the same effect on someone else.
For you, what makes a good bartender?
MH: A good bartender doesn’t only know how to make and mix cocktails but he must have the knowledge about the craft itself and doesn’t stop learning. He must also be someone who can deal with different types of personalities, someone who is flexible and has the ability to adapt to his environment, and lastly, he must have the heart and the passion for what he’s doing.
What sets Yes Please apart from other bars?
MH: The mood, the vibe, the place, the people and the booze is what sets Yes Please apart from other bars. Yes Please is not your ordinary cocktail bar. It sums up the word fun.
Name one thing that makes you say “Yes Please”Â.
MH: Extra rice! (laughs)
What’s the best advice you can give to aspiring bartenders?
MH: It’s all about passion and knowledge for the craft. My colleagues and I put our hearts and minds into what we are doing and we strive to enhance our knowledge by learning along the way. We also make sure that at some point, we promote our country, The Philippines, by using our own resources when making our cocktails. That’s how we’re different from everybody else.
If there’s one word that would best describe Whisky, what would it be and why?
MH: Life. Because centuries ago, it served much purpose“”as medicine, as a form of currency, etc. And now it serves as a source of living for bartenders.
Why should they attend Whisky Live Manila?
MH: If you’re a whisky fan, it’s a once in a year event where you’ll be able to try a lot of whisky brands. It’s also an event that is not just about whisky but is also about friendship and camaraderie.
Tell us more about the Mentorship program, what should the participants expect to learn?
MH: The participants should expect to learn the basics“”bar tools and equipment, its uses and proper handling. I’ll also tackle whisky itself: its brief history, different kinds and how to create cocktails out of it.
As one of the mentors, what aspect would you be focusing on?
MH: Since they are students, I’ll be focusing more on basic bartending and cocktail mixing. The foundation of being a good bartender and the key to making an excellent cocktail lies in the proper usage of tools and equipment as well as in the proper methods and techniques used.
What’s the first thing that you’d like your apprentice, Lyka Sinfuego, to learn?
MH: I would like her to learn about the craft itself. As I said, the basics of bartending, so in case she wants to continue in this field, she already has an idea.
What do you think is her strongest trait that could make her win this year’s Whisky Live Manila?
MH: Her eagerness to learn despite it not being her chosen field. Although she’s more into baking, which is a part of the hospitality industry as well, she’s still very eager to learn the art of the beverage industry.
Photography by Dana Malang (@danamalang)
Words by Marielle Mapili (@mapilimayie)
Assisted by Sara Paredes and Maxine Sabandal (@maxinesabandal)
Shot on location at Yes Please (@yespleaseph)