9 Questions with an Award-Winning Mixologist: Breakthru Florida’s Nick Nistico

Jun. 22, 2017

Did you know that less than 1% of active bartenders in the world enjoy the title of being BAR 5-Day certified? It’s a level only achieved by the true masters of the craft.

Luckily for us, our Nick Nistico is one of them.

The Atlantic City native has crafted an award-winning resume that reads like Meryl Streep’s IMDB page. During a two-year stretch from 2013 to 2014, nobody in the world won more bartending competitions than Nistico. Most recently, he was awarded another Wine & Spirits Wholesaler of America medal, this time securing the top prize – “Best in Show.”

As one of the top mixology minds at our company, Nistico wears a lot of hats – and not just his famous flat-billed ones. We recently sat down with Nistico to learn more about his story, as well as how he’s helping bring the Florida bar scene up to the top shelf.


Describe your work day. What kinds of projects are you working on with customers?

Nick Nistico, Breakthru Florida Beverage Program Specialist: Lately, I’ve been doing a ton of hotel property trainings, spending days training various restaurants on how to make cocktails and teach them all about their portfolio. I’m not just working with big operations, though. I’m also developing a mom and pop restaurant from scratch.


How did you get started in the alcohol industry?

I began by taking restaurant jobs when I was in school. When I moved to South Florida, I became friends with people who knew movers and shakers in the mixology movement. I aligned myself with the right people and the timing was right.


When did you know that working in the alcohol industry was what you wanted to do in your career?

I love the hospitality industry in general. I love working with people and helping beverage programs get better. From the consumer to the bartender, crafting a quality beverage experience is what drives me. For instance, I recently did a classic cocktail training for resort guests, all of whom know nothing about mixology, and those people walked away knowing how to make an Old Fashioned. These are older people who now, for the first time in their lives, know how to make a great cocktail and they really appreciate my help. That’s the best compliment.


What would you say has been the top highlight of your career?

I moved to NYC and opened the American Cut in Lower Manhattan, and at the time NYC had the best bar programs. It was a risk to move from Florida to New York and I wanted to know I was capable of working in the hottest market. That program that we put together kicked ass. The people we groomed in that program have branched out and started their own things. We made a big impact. It was a challenge, but it was so amazing.


What are the top 2-3 cocktails you are seeing that are trending?

The top cocktails haven’t changed much in the last 30 years. Vodka soda. Gin and tonic. Martini. Bloody Mary. Being able to master those classics and putting a unique spin on them with fresh, new ingredients is what’s important. Simplicity is king.


When you are training bartenders, what are a few of the most important aspects of bartending that you emphasize in your training?

Number one is hospitality and self-motivation. If you’re unhappy, quit. When you’re unhappy, you won’t be good. You’ve got to know the basics – the steps of service. Know how to address a guest, drop a menu and explain the menu. I train a bartender to talk to cocktail gurus and also train them on how to relate to basic consumers. That’s the most important part.


What’s your favorite part about your job?

My favorite part is having the creative outlet to where I can research and develop fantastic bar programs. I enjoy meeting new people and going to accounts. When you see a program or person come full circle and see some great progress… it’s the best. It’s the most rewarding thing.


If you weren’t working in the spirits industry, what would you be doing?

When I was younger, I wanted to be an astronaut. When I heard NASA was scaling back space travel, I decided to look for something else. Before I got into hospitality, I was in the exotic animals’ trade. I was importing animals from all over the world. Everything from snakes to alligators and crocodiles.


Any predictions for the spirits industry for the next year or two?

Our industry continues to follow the culinary industry. It’s all about farm to table – driven by fresh ingredients. People want to know where things come from. When you travel, you want to drink local. Everything local!


Please enjoy the following cocktail recipes, courtesy of Nick Nistico.

Old Forester Benne Wafer Old Fashioned

Jägermeister Cold Brew

Sugar Snap Pea and Lettuce Tanqueray Ten

Heirloom Tomato and Pineapple Tanqueray Ten.

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