CAP program opens new doors
By Savannah Mul
Juan Meyer, a local Connecticut bartender and Beverage Manager at Z Hospitality Group, was selected to the Cocktail Apprentice Program, CAP for short, at this year’s Tales of the Cocktail in New Orleans. CAP is an exclusive mentorship program for “up-and-coming bartenders” to learn alongside industry veterans during the yearly cocktail festival. Meyer was one of 40 bartenders selected from across the nation as first time apprentices. We had the chance to catch up with Meyer upon his return. He spoke about mentorship, the constant learning cycle after Tales, and well-being.
Q: What inspired you to apply for the CAP program or how were you selected if it wasn’t based on the application process?
A: I wanted to apply to the CAP to further my knowledge behind the bar, not only in cocktails, but in technique, execution and presentation. With Tales of the Cocktail being the largest cocktail convention in the world, it attracts some of the best bartenders all around and I wanted to be part of the CAP family. For the application process, we had to submit an essay and CAP Team Leaders (White Coats) reviewed all the essays and made decisions [based] on that.
Q: Tales of the Cocktail is such a big event and, historically, a great place to network. How did you feel when you were picked to CAP?
A: I was ecstatic of course. I was selected to be part of the largest and most prestigious bar team in world. I did not expect to get in this year because it was my first time applying. I heard of people applying for three years in a row before ever getting accepted to the program.
Q: Why do you think it is so important to go?
A: If you’re an individual in the service industry, a server, bar back or bartender you must make it out to Tales of the Cocktail at least once. It’s 20,000 like-minded individuals with a passion for the industry all gathered in one of most charming cities in the world to celebrate the cocktail. People come far and wide to host seminars and share their knowledge, experiences and cocktail recipes with you.
Q: Did any of your mentors work alongside you throughout CAP? How was that experience?
A: Tales of the Cocktail is dominated by industry leaders from around the world and all walks of life. Everyone in CAP is a mentor to me. I worked in a team of 71 CAPs from 11 countries and there was not a weak link in our team. Everyone had something to bring to the table and everyone had something to teach you. An answer is only a question away because everyone worked long hours right beside you — all the Red, Gray, Black and White coats.
Q: If this was a return visit as guest or CAP, what was different than previous years?
A: This was my second year returning to Tales of the Cocktail and my first year as a CAP. The main difference was being a CAP and the people and knowledge was more accessible. It was only an arm’s length away. You are working alongside the best people in the beverage industry and you get a lot of one-on-one with presenters, cocktail authors, industry leaders and cocktail historians. You get to experience the best of it all, from very rare and very old libations from around the world.
Q: After experiencing 2017 Tales, what are you most excited about in the industry?
A: The industry is moving forward in many directions and it’s not just about the cocktail and being behind the bar. Now, it’s more of where the cocktail comes from, the ingredients, the history, traditions, the story, the inspiration and the travels behind your cocktail that you are presenting to your guest.
Q: What did you see as far as new or emerging trade trends?
A: Trends will always be trends and as trends come and go, industry professionals are focusing on longevity. The industry is progressing to where one used to bartend for a few years while getting your degree in a field of your choosing, to a careered beverage professional where you might start off as a bartender and progress further in the beverage industry, with a strong focus on health and well-being.
Every year we lose industry leaders due to health effects from living in the fast lane, and it’s okay to say “no” to that one last drink or the after-after party where you are up till sunrise. The focus is on getting healthy and staying healthy. It’s a focus of mine that I’m taking very seriously because I’m in the beverage industry till the very end.
The other trend is sustainability. And, reducing your establishment’s carbon footprint by recycling, composting, biodegradable products and eliminating single use items wherever one can. There is the “TRASH TIKI” movement if you really want to get serious, but you will have research that on your own time.
Q: What will you bring back to Connecticut now having experienced CAPing at Tales?
A: Being a CAP is a great honor and privilege that only a few in Connecticut have experienced. I want to share the knowledge and experience that I gained from my week in NOLA with anyone and everyone. Be open-minded to change or do something unfamiliar, take a step back and listen to someone’s opinion and you might learn something new. Have a thirst for knowledge … reach out to that bartender you follow on social media and ask questions. There is always someone out there that has more experience and knowledge than you and they are willing to share what they know with you. We are all in the same game, not only to make money and pay bills, but to further our industry we all love so much where equality, humanity and longevity is the name of the game.
Q: Anything else you would like to add?
A: If you have not applied for the CAP program in the past, please do. If you already applied, apply again until you get in. You will not regret it at all. If you don’t learn anything in the CAP program, which is very unlikely, I guarantee you will have 71 new friends you can call family by the time you leave New Orleans. Remember the CAP program is a mentorship program and the mentoring does not stop once you leave New Orleans, it’s only the beginning!
This interview has been edited and condensed.