Bartender of the Month – Travis Hebrank


Name: ­­­­­
Travis Hebrank

Polite Society Restaurant and Bar

Highland, IL

Favorite Vacation Spot?
This is a toughy… I’ve had great times in Paris, San Fransisco and also in my backyard. So… Let’s say… My backyard.

What are you streaming on TV right now?
Well, GoT just ended for the season, so I’m back to streaming my go-to’s, 30-Rock, Futurama and South Park. Cowboy Bebop is always in the rotation.

Three things you can’t live without?
Air, Water and Food

How long have you been bartending?
Really not terribly long. I’ve only been in the industry for about 4 years. I’ve been bartending for about 2. What I lack in experience I make up for in enthusiasm. I’m also really good at convincing people that I know what I’m doing.

What are some of your hobbies?
I read a lot, play around with music in various forms, go to movies… normal stuff.

Any time a menu uses the word “fresh”. “Fresh Lime” in a margarita… It makes me immediately assume that everything without the “fresh” qualifier is NOT fresh: not a great state of affairs.

What’s the most important skill a bartender should have?
Personality is definitely important (and sadly, often a neglected element), but I think efficiency and accuracy are perhaps more important. It really depends on what type of bar you are working at…. 500 people clambering for budweisers don’t need you to have a cheery personality, they need you to be quick.

How do you approach making cocktails? And how do you incorporate that style into your bar’s cocktail menu?
I tend to start with the flavor/aromatic combinations, because I feel like the structure can generally be fixed relatively easily (with sugar, salt, citrus or bitters). So I tend to start with a flavor idea: I have one cocktail, the Thai Fighter, that started with the idea “wow, Pad Thai is incredible”, so I tried to incorporate lime, cilantro, ginger, peanuts. It ended up working really well.. The menu follows these creations while also taking into consideration what I think people with LIKE, what I think they will ORDER, while always keeping an eye on the season.

What’s your cocktail-making style in in three words?
Creative but Delicious

What do you drink on your night off?
I’m the beverage director at Polite Society, so I have to keep an eye on every aspect of the beverage world… Having said that, I probably spend the most money on wine.

What trends have you spotted in cocktails?
A trend that I dislike: anything that makes it difficult to drink the drink. “Here, smell this, and then dab a drop of this potion on your left ear lobe and then close your eyes and suck on this rock… then drink this cocktail out of this eyedropper.”
Trends that I DO like: trying to introduce people to new things by guiding them in… presenting new ingredients or techniques in a way that doesn’t inflate the bartenders ego, but makes the guest smile and want to try MORE new things.

What’s a cocktail you’ve added to the menu that you think people should drink now?
Well, I feel that I should mention, I’ve got a Pura Vida cocktail that’s going on the menu soon: I reduced a west coast IPA down with a few types of peppercorn and some herbs to make a syrup. Pura Vida Añejo is the base spirit: to accentuate some pepper notes while rounding things out with the oak influence. Lychee liqueur to accentuate the tropic notes of the hops in the syrup. Green Chartreuse to accentuate the earthier components of the syrup. The IPA syrup provides the bitterness and sugar, with a touch of lactic acid. Lemon juice and splash of club soda to finish things off.

I also have an egg white cocktail using a root beer syrup that I made from scratch with 6 different kinds of roots and about 30 other ingredients. I think a Cachaça base is going to win out. Don’t want to get in the way of the complexity of the root beer syrup though.