Food & Drink

MSP's Bartender of the Year Shakes Up the Cocktail Scene

For some bar patrons, bartending is about serving up as many drinks as possible, as quickly as possible. The bartenders themselves are somewhat of an afterthought; nothing more than a conduit between a bottle of Jack or a Bud Light and the customer’s hands. Similarly, many bartenders are merely looking to splash together some liquor and soda, and grab a few bucks to help pay the bills.

But for others, bartending and cocktailing is as much an art form as it is a service. It’s this outlook that has made Chad Moreau a trailblazer in the Twin Cities' bartending and craft cocktail community. As a bartender, brand representative, and overall ambassador of cocktails, Moreau can be found behind the bar at Parlour -- the closest thing to a speakeasy you’ll find in the Twin Cities, with innovative drinks and palate-stimulating cuisine -- and also at Lyn 65, which specializes in crafting simple but creative bar fare.

“Creating cocktails is a sign of respect between a bartender and a guest. It’s meant to heighten your experience and say, ‘Come in and sit down; we’ve created some really special things for you to enjoy,’” said Moreau, Twin Cities' bartender of the year.

Chad Moreau
Courtesy of Chad Moreau

Flexing creative muscles to create great cocktails

With over a decade of experience behind the bar, Moreau has ingrained himself in the local and national bartending communities. Through this experience, he has been able to flex his creative muscle by using fresh ingredients to make cocktails that are worthy of a standing ovation. His fascination with making magic in a glass, he recalls, started at the Town Talk Diner in 2009.

“At that point they were really at the forefront of the cocktail movement,” he said. “They had some really talented chefs there, and they were taking a different approach to cocktails. They used chef’s techniques and different flavor profiles to create drinks that were a part of the dining experience, so that’s when I really started to want to try and experiment more.”

From there, Moreau would bounce to the popular Bar 508 in Downtown Minneapolis. While the bar is known more for its atmosphere than its cocktails, Chad began infusing different liquors with fruit, and also playing with the idea of making drinks that were out of the ordinary.

“I didn’t just want to make Captain & Cokes all of the time,” Moreau recalled. “I didn’t really have any instruments, but I knew I wanted to create an experience for our guests.”

Chad Moreau
Courtesy of Chad Moreau

Pouring 'em out, bringing 'em in

Flash forward to January 2013, when a North Loop restaurant and bar opened with a focus on innovative, exciting food and drinks. Parlour, located in the downstairs of Borough, was created in response to the growing consumer demand for a higher standard in cocktail creation. In addition to the tried-and-true classics like the Parlour Old Fashioned, the menu boasts an amazing array of drink options like the Youthful Expression, a combination of Jamaican rum, banana, lime, and egg white, and the Pep Talk, which combines green chili vodka, Yellow Chartreuse, honey, lime, and tonic (they also offer Hamm’s beer and Miller High Life ponies, upping their hipster cred 10-fold). As one of the foremost leaders in the specialty cocktail movement, Moreau was quickly drafted to the team.

“[Parlour] recruited sort of a dream team of bartenders,” Moreau said. “It was a group of people who recognized how the culinary and cocktail communities go together, and that cocktails should enhance the overall dining experience. There were plenty of times before that I would go to a restaurant and have a wonderful dinner, and then the cocktail I ordered didn’t meet the standard for the rest of the meal. Parlour changed that.”

In addition to time spent behind the bar showcasing the very best in beverages, Moreau is also responsible for exposing the public to the next generation of amazing bartenders through the annual Iron Bartender competition, which is the Twin Cities’ answer to the popular Food Network show, Iron Chef.

Since 2009, Moreau has been involved in growing the event thanks to his involvement with the United States Bartenders' Guild, which organizes the event. The show brings more awareness of bartenders to consumers, Moreau said.

Chad Moreau
Courtesy of Chad Moreau

Taking spirit expertise to the streets

These days, it’s just as likely that you’ll find Moreau in front of the bar, chatting up patrons and educating people about various cocktails and liquors, thanks to his new job as a Diageo Spirit Specialist.

“I want to grow the USBG membership locally at places like 508 that aren’t necessarily known for craft cocktails. By reaching more people and teaching new bartenders, the art form is just going to continue to grow,”  he said.

As a global leader in specialty brand liquors (Smirnoff, Johnnie Walker, and Crown Royal are all a part of Diageo's portfolio), Diageo was drawn to Moreau’s time behind the bar, which made him an attractive choice to serve as an educator, ambassador, and spokesperson for their brands at bars including Parlour, amongst many others.

“I get to educate bartenders and consumers about various brands, including the heritage, production, and the best cocktails to use them in,” he explained. “It gives me the chance to buy people drinks and talk about cocktails. It’s the perfect job for me.”

While he sees the importance of growing the creativity and expertise of craft bartenders at establishments like Parlour, Moreau also sees the opportunity to educate bartenders all over the Twin Cities.

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Patrick Strait is a writer who has seen the movie Coyote Ugly a bunch of times and assumes that qualifies him to bartend. Follow him on Twitter at @patrickstrait.