This cocktail connoisseur has spent more time in a bar than your average wino. John Lermayer is now more than a decade deep into an illustrious career that’s seen him presiding over some of the hottest bars in America’s steamiest city, Miami. He currently graces the counter of The Florida Room at the Delano Hotel, tending, mixing, and pouring for an endless stream of VIPs. This dapper, manly mixologist—who Canton names the best bartender of 2010—also has lucrative side gigs, like consulting and designing for bars. Is there anything he can’t do? Well, we asked.
What’s the difference between a bartender and a mixologist? Mixologists have funny mustaches.
What’s your favorite part of the job? Most annoying part? My favorite part of the job is making people happy and getting them to try new things. The most annoying part is dealing with ignorance on a daily basis.
How do you name the drinks you create? Naming cocktails is actually more difficult than creating them for me. I just try to identify origins or ingredients of the cocktail and adapt a name that works for the venue or spirit.
How is your approach to mixology different from everybody else’s? It’s not is some ways. I just try to make whoever I’m serving happy, and not concentrate on how many bitters I have on my bar. It’s all about the people I serve, not the drinks.
What was your inspiration for the cocktail you created for Stoli? I drink a lot of Stoli Oranj, so it’s a flavor I am familiar with. I just wanted to blend it with some of my favorite spirits right now. And I was very happy with how it came out.
What’s your idea of the absolute perfect setting in which to enjoy a cocktail? At a great bar with a great bartender, and I’m good to go.
What’s the best compliment you’ve ever received as a mixologist? My favorite word in the English language is ‘delicious.’ So any time I am told that my drinks are delicious, I am happy.
What does it take to be a great mixologist? Is it a god-given gift, or something you can learn? Anyone who understands food or balance can apply themselves to make great cocktails, but it takes a certain love and ability to serve people to be a great bartenders. And patience.
How does someone know they’re drinking a cocktail you—and you alone—made? I had the pleasure of meeting and being served by so many great bartenders, I am not sure how to answer this.
What’s your favorite go-to ingredient and why? Agave-based spirits. It’s just the most amazing flavor on Earth.
What’s the most important lesson about mixology you’ve learned in your years on the job? Just when you think you are really good, you see someone else that is way better. You can’t learn or practice enough, it changes everyday.
Read more Midnight Mixologists interviews here.