Maker Profile: Andrew Olsen
In the six years since Andrew Olsen started bartending, he’s made a name for himself in the world of craft cocktails. Not only is he connected to some of Kansas City’s most beloved culinary establishments - Bar Manager at Bluestem since June 2015, and before that he was on the team at The Rieger, just to name the most recent -Olsen has also established himself nationwide. The list of awards he’s won is impressive: Zagat’s (first ever) National 30-under-30 List, a National Finalist in the 2017 Diplomatico World Tournament, a National Finalist in the 2016 Woodford Reserve Manhattan Experience, a National Finalist in the 2015 Beefeater MIXLDN, a National Finalist in the 2015 Four Roses Charity Cocktail Competition. Besides his notable accomplishments, Andrew’s just plain a cool guy. Thanks to Andrew to taking time to chat with us about his craft, his travels, and his favorite things to do (and eat) in KC.
How did you get into bartending?
I started bartending out of necessity after I finished my enlistment with the United States Marine Corps. Over the years it grew into more opportunities and became something I felt I would enjoy doing. I quickly discovered the many layers of drink culture/bartending.
I imagine it’s a complex culture. When did you start competing? What is that world like?
Started competing in 2015 with a little thing for Four Roses Bourbon. Had a blast and really decided that I was going to compete not to just win but to get to travel and network with people I may not normally get hang out with. It’s been very rewarding and I’ve met some of my better friends due to competitions.
Where is your favorite place to travel?
Recently, it’s been NYC and Chicago for regular and realistic trips. I learn so much about work stuff but also get to see how my friends handle work life balance in other cities. Love bringing back those habits to my day-to-day. But, my all-time favorite place to travel is Jamaica. I went for the first time last year (March ’16) and just returned from a trip at the end of June. Such a raw and proud culture. Never apologetic and always beautiful and fascinating.
Jamaica must be incredible. What was a highlight of your most recent trip?
I spent A LOT of time with just bartenders (teaching and speaking at seminars) and from different parts of the island. Really incredible what has changed even in the last year. Style, showmanship, product use, education...all much higher and vast than the trip before.
What’s the best part about being at bluestem?
Colby and Megan (Chef Owners) really let me operate with a “carte blanche” attitude. I’ve been able to put my personality into the bar and really make it feel like home.
How do you develop cocktail recipes? What do you go back to for inspiration?
When building recipes for our cocktail menu, I generally start with what flavors go with the season, then I decide on the glassware. This helps dictate what style of drink I want to go with for that flavor. It’s done this way because it challenges me in a way that keeps me always thinking outside the box and steers me away from being repetitive.
Do you prefer any seasonal flavors over any others?
Nope. I’m really an equal opportunity cocktail flavor user. Nothing is off limits but if I had to pick favorites I’d say melon (any variety) and all baking spices.
What’s your favorite cocktail to make right now?
I truly enjoy making drinks with egg whites. I think they look so incredibly sexy. If it ain’t sexy, why do it?
How do you wind down after a long day (or night) at work?
After work (day or night) I relax by catching up on seasonal sports, reading, going over the next day’s task, or finishing up more work. KC is a city of hustlers, right? I’m just trying to do my part.
I’m starting to see the recipe for your success! What are your hobbies?
I enjoy exercising (weight lifting, running, biking, basketball, etc.) Recently, my girlfriend and I have enjoyed semi regular guacamole crawls around KC. We keep track of how each one measures up to our scale we have created. Judging the chip, the guac, and margarita quality.
That’s a brilliant and delicious idea. What’s scored the best?
Port Fonda has some excellent guacamole, but I also just did a dinner with Anakaren Ibarra (Happy Gillis) at Ca Va for their most recent patio party and she made some that was absolutely FIRE! Straight outta Michoacan!
What are your biggest pet peeves?
People who chew with their mouth open. END OF STORY. Nope. No thanks. See ya later. Bye Felicia!
What’s your go-to breakfast food?
Breakfast casserole form “You Say Tomato.” Holy smokes it’s so good. But also, cinnamon rolls. My girlfriend has coined Saturdays as “Cinnamon Roll Saturday.” I’m cool with that.
Yum! Between guacamole crawls and Cinnamon Roll Saturday you’re doing the foodie thing right. Thanks for taking time to chat with us! I’m sure you’ll be seeing us at Bluestem to try some of your cocktails very soon.