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At the Bar with Latin Grammy's Mixologist David Rios

Master mixologist David Rios is a busy man. Not only does he own three businesses – an event planning company, Café des Kobuk in Barakaldo, Spain, and The Jigger Cocktail & Disco Bar in Bilbao, Spain (which he co-owns with his brother) – he is also Diageo Reserve’s World Class Bartender of the Year 2013. Rios, who bested 44 other global finalists en route to claiming the prestigious title, is the first ever winner to hail from a Spanish-speaking country.

A twenty year hospitality veteran, Rios has worked as a bartender, maitre’d, and sommelier at some of the restaurant industry’s most renowned establishments, among them San Sebastian’s Mugaritz, rated No. 4 in this year’s World’s 50 Best Restaurants. Tonight, he’ll serve his liquid confections at the Latin Grammys, where he’ll be the event’s exclusive mixologist.

We sat down with Rios last week to get his take on current cocktail trends, tips for making the perfect drink, and a few of his favorite recipes. 

What makes a great cocktail?

You must start with good ingredients and good products. From there it’s a matter of knowledge and respect for the ingredients, as well as attention to detail and the desire to do something well. But knowing your ingredients and their characteristics is key. This takes a lot of education.

Are there any definitive rules for pairing cocktails with food?

A lot of people like to recommend complementary flavors. I prefer contrast and impact. Sweet cocktails with sweet desserts are great, but to change the mentality and do whiskey with dessert is more interesting.

What is your inspiration for staying on top as a bartender?

I’m 37 years old. I have twins; a girl and a boy. And I own businesses and will open a new bar in three weeks. I think I was the only one in the Diageo contest that was older. The other bartenders were in their twenties, and perhaps didn’t have the responsibility or the experiences that I have. I’ve worked as a sommelier, a maitre’d, a bartender, and I worked at Mugaritz, one of the world’s best restaurants.

Also, I think my personality is such that I work hard every day and find inspiration in my kids and my family and my surroundings. It’s very important that every day you wake up with a dream and you chase that dream while keeping your feet on the ground. Sometimes it’s very difficult because I create so many new cocktails every day. For magazines in Germany and Peru and…but this is the challenge of being a world class mixologist.

Of the many cocktails you’ve created, which is your favorite?

The DreamCatcher. It was the first cocktail I made in Diageo’s World Class Contest. It was inspired by a trip I took to Scotland with my family – inspired by my wife, my kids, the castles and the countryside and the atmosphere in Scotland. It’s very special. I presented my drink in the contest in a diorama, with background Celtic music and a smoke machine to represent the fog of Scotland. The Dreamcatcher cocktail is the precursor to the DreamCatcher2 cocktail that I will serve at the Latin Grammys.

Next up, the most popular ingredients for 2014 and an official Latin Grammy's cocktail...

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