Mixologist Andrew Volk
Business and Pleasure – the Perfect Mix
A mixologist walks into a bar. No, there’s no groaner punchline coming. It’s just a fact of life each day for Andrew Volk. As owner of Portland Hunt & Alpine Club in Portland, Maine, Andrew isn’t just walking into any bar. With cocktails ranging from classic cool to ingeniously inventive – and palate-enhancing Scandinavian fare – Hunt & Alpine has earned its own regular place at the bar in Portland’s buzz-worthy food and drink scene. Named by Food & Wine Magazine as one of the Best New Mixologists in the country, Andrew uses his well-honed skills and passion for the craft in serving up a special experience for guests. As Andrew shared: “We want the drink in front of you, in front of every individual guest, to be perfect for you.” He did a lot more sharing – mixologists do that – in a conversation with The Maine Thing Quarterly.
MTQ – No doubt you’ve heard your share of stories behind the bar. How does your own story begin?
AV – I grew up in Vermont outside of Burlington in a small town. I went to college here in Maine – up in Waterville – and really didn’t know what I wanted to be when I grew up. I studied international studies which meant I was really good at talking to people and reading and writing and thinking about things. I ended up, after school, driving around the country and eventually landed in Portland, Oregon working in restaurants. When I moved there in 2005, there was maybe one operating distillery in the city. When I moved away six years later, there were over a dozen operating distilleries. So there was this huge boom of craft cocktails and craft distilling. I got really fortunate in working for some of the people who really knew what they were doing and got national attention for it.
MTQ – So it’s clear you have an affinity for cities named Portland. How did you come full circle back to Maine?
AV – I met my wife, Briana, who is from Portland, Oregon while I was working there. She was in advertising as a creative copywriter. She got a job offer in Portland, Maine. And for us, knowing that we were going to end up in a place like Portland, Maine – in a community where we could really grow our roots – it was a pretty easy answer. When we got to Portland, Maine we saw this phenomenal food scene, which is great because the sea is near us, the farms are near us. There were a lot of great bartenders and they were all working behind the shop bars. There really wasn’t a bar that focused on cocktails and spirits the way I had experienced in Portland, Oregon. So after a couple of whiskeys and a couple of beers, Briana and I started saying: “Hey, we should open a bar.” I woke up the next morning and started writing a business plan.
MTQ – And that business plan became the successful Portland Hunt & Alpine Club.
AV – We opened Portland Hunt & Alpine Club in September 2013. The goal was to create a place that focused on cocktails that were made consistently and with thought and care – and focused on hospitality and on the knowledge of spirits and what we were putting in our drinks. The same way that chefs have been doing here for years, we were doing that with drinks. So we’ve been open for three years now and are actually working on our second location. It’s not Hunt and Alpine II. It’s a totally different kind of feel and space but we’re really excited about being in Portland. It’s a really great community.
MTQ – Craft distilling has become quite a thing in Maine. What’s your impression of craft distilling in the state, and do local and regional spirits make guest appearances at Portland Hunt & Alpine Club?
AV – Yes, we’re absolutely thrilled to have so many distillers in the state. It’s a great thing to see, hand in hand, with the rise of craft beer. It’s great for bars like Hunt & Alpine – to be able to go down the street and shake hands with these guys and see how everything is made. The more understanding that bartenders and my staff have, the more understanding our guests will have about how gin or rum or whiskey is made. We try to carry products from everybody from the State of Maine because there’s really cool stuff happening here all the time.
MTQ - You were recently named one of the country’s best new mixologists by Food & Wine Magazine. What does that kind of recognition mean to you, and to the food and drink scene in Portland?
AV - It was a wonderful surprise and honor for Food & Wine to mention me as one of the Top 10 new mixologists. For a wonderful publication to recognize, “Hey, this guy up in Portland is doing cool stuff.” I think it gives everybody in the country a second thought. You don’t necessarily have to be in Chicago or in LA. You can be in Portland, Maine making great drinks. There are people up here who have phenomenal stuff and are getting national recognition. In a small place like Maine where you can have your quality of life – and live four minutes away from your work – and look forward to raising a family and run a restaurant, it’s really a wonderful thing.
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