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Guru Mat Snapp

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Mat Snapp, Beverage Manager at Fox Concepts.
Beverage Director At Chic Restaurant Group Fox Restaurant Concepts Is More Than Just A Mixologist: His Formal Literature Training Makes Him A Heck Of Bartender

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By Wayne Schutsky
Modern Times Magazine

April 11, 2013 — Mat Snapp is the Beverage Manager at Fox Restaurant Concepts, the chic restaurant brand headquartered in Phoenix. Snapp is a colorful character and a man of many talents. He has published multiple short stories and has formal education in English and French from Arizona State University. Foodies can find Snapp’s drinks at Fox’s diverse selection of restaurants located across the valley in places like the Biltmore, Scottsdale Quarter, and Arcadia.

MTM: What exactly does a beverage manager do?
MS: We kind of created the position — my position. A regular beverage manager would be someone who monitors inventory and monitors the program, or manages the program for a particular outlet or location.

Because we have so many diverse outlets and so many diverse locations, we needed one person on the corporate level to kind of oversee everything. And, in addition to that, the broader aspect was to create a position surrounding all of the menus and cocktail development, maintaining and encouraging a more integrity-based and classic cocktail culture in our restaurants.

We already have a great wine culture because one of our partners, my boss — a gentleman by the name of Regan Jasper —had been running the program by himself for a long time. He is an unaccredited, probably a master, sommelier. He is a total wine geek, everyone’s favorite guy, etc. He had been running the program for so long that we had this great wine culture, great wine lists and great wine programs, but he had to kind of go shopping for mixology consultants.

Instead, he just said ‘Snapp, I need you to become my mixology person.’ So, I said, ‘Okay Regan, what does that mean?’ He said, ‘Sometime between now and next Thursday, I need you to learn everything there is to know about mixology.’ And I said ‘ Shit...no problem.’

I was also studying a lot of wine to get my sommelier certification, but he said I needed to learn mixology, so I said, ‘You got it, man.’ I started reading books and reading some classic cocktails and learning my stuff, and about a year after that they gave me the position. So now I oversee all of the creative development for the company, and I oversee all of the standards, practices and training for all of the bartenders in the company. And then I do all of the new store openings.

MTM: I did a little snooping on LinkedIn and found out that you have quite the English background, how did you make the crossover into this field?
MS: I do. Five-and-a-half years of English literature, creative writing and French at Arizona State makes for a very good bartender. [Laughs]

And so, the real story behind that is working in the service industry in Arizona, I could work unrelentingly for eight months and then I could go back to where I grew up in Colorado and write for three-and-a-half.  And grow a big old beard, walk around barefoot, go fly fishing for days at a time. Kind of the modern Renaissance, I suppose. A little renaissance man running around in a beard with a camouflage jacket and a six-pack of beer in the river. It’s great.

And then at night you could have a sip of whiskey and write. And it was phenomenal.

At some point — and Regan was one of the people who said you’re going to have to grow up soon. I was like, come on, I don’t want to grow up. I don’t want to do it.

And it turned out, all in one calamitous week, I decided I was going to put writing on the back burner. A project that I had going in New York fell through. So, I said this bar gig, this drink making gig, is really turning into something, so I am going to put some effort, some fire, into that. We’ll put the manuscripts back on the shelf for a little while.

MTM: Drinking is somewhat recession proof.
MS: It is. Absolutely.

MTM: Where do you find inspiration for the drinks you create?
MS: It’s usually out of a necessity. Sometimes there are those great lightning strike moments, where you wake up in the middle of the night and say for summertime I’m going to make a sour cherry paloma with an acai liqueur.

MTM: So, similar to writing in that sense?
MS: Oh, absolutely. You get your inspiration from the bus stop, or the corner, or wherever it is. It comes when you have it. If you don’t stop to write it down, then you’re an idiot. It’s just crazy.

But then when you’re — for example, we just did a little bit of a menu change for spring and summer at the Arrogant Butcher here — and the clientele that comes in and enjoys this restaurant doesn’t necessarily go for kitschy names, things they don’t understand, things that are needlessly or overly complicated. Kind of the thorn in the side of a mixologist, I don’t like to use that term as much as other people do, but you have to make it accessible; you have to make it delicious; you have to make it, in our company, quick.

Because one of the downfalls when you go to a cocktail bar, and you’re like 17 minutes for my what? For my green tea-infused-moki-Himalyan-tea shandy? Seventeen minutes? I’m not going to order another one of those. We have a company standard that it is a six minute ticket time, that’s it. It can be creative as all hell, but all of that creativity has to come before the shift.

You have something that takes too long, longer than your customers hopes, dreams and aspirations to enjoy it, then you’re doing a disservice to them. No matter how great it tastes, or how impressive you are when you’re lighting something on fire.

MTM: What is your process when developing a drink?
MS: Just the same way that you think about something, you think about a character or a setting or a progression, and you think about it and think about it and think about it. You wait for that one moment when you’re like that’ll work, I can do that. I can spin on that.

That same kind of thing happens. As I’ve gotten two years into it, three years into, I can write a recipe without putting liquid into a glass. And I’ll only usually be off by a pinch here or a dash there. So I make a big long list and then I’ll have a day, probably today since this is a nice smooth Saturday, where I’ll go to Culinary Dropout over on the Waterfront or the new one down at the Yard.

I’ve trained everyone in both buildings, so when they see me coming they are like okay great, if I have questions now is the time. Then I’ll get back there and just start shaking drinks. And if I get one that tastes good then I’ll give it to a guest. And I’ll ask them what they think of it. Oh, I don’t care for tequila. Well this doesn’t have tequila in it. Oh I love it, then. Then you get the honest guest feedback right away, as opposed to writing it down and thinking about it, putting it on a menu, and hitting play. Everything has to be run through public scrutiny beforehand.

MTM: You had mentioned trying all of the classic drinks as you became a mixologist. Which one is your favorite?
MS: It started with...oh, shit, what did it start with?

It started with a sazerac. A stirred rye whisky cocktail with a touch of absinthe and Peychaud bitters, sugar and water and lemon zest. It started there.

And then it went to Caipirinha. Just because you learn how to spell it. Once you can spell it, people respect the shit out of you.

A real Old Fashioned. Not an Old Fashioned where the oranges are all dried out and the cherries are those electric red Maraschino cherries you get in the ice cream aisle at Safeway. But when you get a real nice cherry and nice bit of bitters.

Mint Juleps were fun off of the bat. Blackberry Julep. Whiskey Smash. Once you get the momentum going, it’s like finding a brand new author. Or a lost short story. Like, wow, Tony Earley is really kicking my ass right now. ‘For sale, baby shoes, never worn.’ Like, yes, this is a simple cocktail, but it tastes so great.

MTM: On the flip side, what is your favorite drink that you’ve created?
MS: Oh, where do I begin. I’ll give you 46.

MTM: That’s okay. You’re the focus of this story.
MS: Oh, perfect. I’m the protagonist.

MS: Let’s see. I made a cocktail for the North brand called Ducati. It is a grappa and anejo tequila cocktail.

The reason that I made that one was because we were doing all Italian liquor for that program when we revamped it and I hadn’t had a lot of great grappa cocktails because it tastes like rocket fuel. And I said I am going to make it drinkable, and I am going to make it dangerous.

I’m going to put tequila and grappa together. What better name for a tequila grappa cocktail than Ducati. A speedy motorcycle you probably shouldn’t have anyway. So, I like the Ducati, that was a personal challenge for me.

MTM: Snapp’s latest creations can be found at the new Culinary Dropout location at The Yard, a new development just south of Bethany Home Road on Seventh Street. Snapp put together the diverse bar at The Yard, which serves the new Oskar Blues Priscilla. Currently, this location is the only bar outside of the Oskar Blues brewery to serve the unfiltered wheat beer.

Wayne Schutsky is a senior contributor to Modern Times Magazine. He can be reached at wschutsky@moderntimesmagazine.com.
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