. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Teaching Russia How to Mix It Up

It used to be as simple as taking a bottle of vodka from the freezer and slicing up a few pickles. But as Western influences continue to seep into the daily rituals of Muscovites, that no-nonsense Russian style of getting loaded is becoming increasingly complicated and expensive.

Even a relatively simple vodka martini, for example, requires a special glass, a custom-designed shaker and can be accessorized a half dozen ways with fruits or vegetables.

Sergei Tsyro, founding president of the Russian Bartenders' Association and director of the Moscow Bartending School, has pretty lofty ideas about the craft he teaches to a new young generation of Russians. Not only is he giving Russians a new taste experience, but, he believes, he is helping to combat his country's historic problem with alcoholism.

"Part of the problem is the way Russians drink," said Tsyro, who learned his craft from Alex Beaumont, head of the Australian Bartenders' Association and author of "Alex Beaumont's 500 Cocktails," during a cruise on the Alexander Pushkin.

"Three men sit in a kitchen and drink two liters of vodka. This is too much," Tsyro said. "But if they were to mix it maybe with lemonade -- slow down the drinking, they wouldn't get so drunk. I think with cocktails it's 100 percent better."

His students, who each pay $180 for a two-week, four-hour-a-day course, are not out to combat alcoholism. They enroll because for many of them, bartending is a glamorous profession, and Tsyro promises that 90 percent of his graduates will find jobs in Moscow. Last year, 600 eager young bartenders graduated from Tsyro's institute after taking a course that involved one week of work in a bar/classroom and a one-week internship at a local establishment.

Yury Adamtshuk, 25, is a graduate of the school and a bartender at the Moscow Renaissance Hotel. "I like this work because I like to be in the center of the world," he said. "Everyone living in this hotel knows me and my cocktails. The best compliment I got was when they said they felt at home in my bar."

Adamtshuk, a tall, excitable man, has seen the movie "Cocktail" three times. He said he loves the scene in which a tanned Tom Cruise hurls glasses and colorful elixirs artfully in the air while a crowd claps at his bartending prowess. "I can't use his experience here because my work is so fast," he said. "I cannot make a cocktail with classic methods like him. People want their drinks."

Tsyro said good "Western-style" bartenders, like Adamtshuk, are much sought after in Moscow.

Traditional Russian bartenders, according to Tsyro, could all benefit from his lessons. They make drinks too strong, without decorations. And, he said, they are wont to use the wrong glass. "Sometimes they don't put it in a shaker -- they just pour it all into the glass. It's not good," he said.

Luckily, it just so happens that Tsyro sells every kind of glass and shaker around, as well as parrots, dolphins and 3-D paper peacocks on toothpicks.

Tsyro, who said he seldom drinks -- and only red wine when he does -- believes bartending is a glamorous profession for young Russians and can also lead to greater things. Standing behind his bar, between a cardboard Beefeater cut-out and a poster of a half-naked woman drinking Bacardi on a beach, he explains the inner workings of a martini shaker to eight note-taking students.

"They like this job. It's a different life," Tsyro said, nodding in the direction of his students as if they weren't there. "There's money and they talk to people. Businesses start in Russia -- businessmen talk in bars. Some of my students aren't bartending anymore but are big bosses now."