Bartender of the Month - December 2018: Al Sotack, Jupiter Disco

Al Sotack, 37, is an owner of Jupiter Disco in Brooklyn, NY, where you can find some creatively named cocktails.

But, the Hazelton, PA, native isn't just known for coming up with cool drinks (though, we truly do appreciate his tasty concoctions).

Pull up a chair, order a beverage and read on for our chat with Al, Liquor Lab's December 2018 Bartender of the Month.

What’s your drink of choice (to drink)?
My favorite drink is a Vieux Carre, but I don't really drink that many of them because I order what I'm in the mood in any situation and that's a really specific mood and bar for me. So I guess, whatever I'm in the mood for is my cop-out answer. 

Drink of choice (to make)?
This is the weirdest question to me, because I don't really like making one drink over another, apart from it being what a person ordered. I guess whatever my wife is telling me to make is my favorite drink to make.

How did Jupiter Disco come to be?
My best friend Maks Pazuniak and I got drunk together for like 5 years and when it was over we had a bar and a substantial amount of debt.

The menu is broken down into three parts: Introduction To Orbit/ When The Kite String Pops/ Generation Ship. What do these categories mean?
Oooh! A question I can answer (sort of)! Our menu moves like a lot of menus these days: from easy going to challenging. This is a style I see around a lot more in menus these days but it wasn't as popular when we did out first one at the Franklin in Philly (I think it was our third menu there). This has a tendency to match up with sours to stirred as stirred, boozy drinks have a higher likelihood of being challenging or bitter or whatever. So when I developed this menu I wanted a metaphor that worked with the sci fi theme but also worked with the easy-going/challenging thing as well as the time the drinks took to prepare. So "Introduction to Orbit" is you're just leaving the atmosphere, a relatively safe place to be in space but then WOOPS THE KITE STRING POPS and you're just out in the void. (This section is also named after my favorite metal album.) And a Generation Ship is a sci-fi trope - the voyage so long that you can't complete it, only your descendants can... which is really true of all our trips, but that's another story.

How has the NY bar scene changed (for better or worse, or for the most ridiculous) since your bartending days after NYU?
In like a million ways and not really at all at the same time. There's a million craft cocktail programs now. You can get daiquiris with fresh juice and a history lesson at corner bars all over the city, and it's wonderful.The sad thing, for me, is some of my favorite bars - the downtown dives of yesteryear - are an endangered species. Walking in the East Village or the Lower East Side is like a trip down amnesia lane. So many great bars are gone. They've pushed a lot of the wonderful weirdness of the NY I moved out of, into the boroughs - but not all of it. There's still a few wonderful spots left in the old neighborhoods if you know where to go and a lot of cool freakshows a little further out that would have fit right in back in the day.

Speaking of which: what did you study at NYU and how has it helped you in the cocktail industry (and totally okay if it hasn't at all)?

I studied English (with a focus on writing) and Sociology. I think understanding sociology has colored most of my life and attitudes, and I'm really glad I had a chance to study it, along with the all the critical theory stuff I had a chance to study at a pretty good liberal arts program.

How does the cocktail culture differ between NY and PA?
Was there still a cocktail culture in PA after I moved? KIDDING JESUS KIDS DON'T GET YOUR ARM GARTERS ALL BUNCHED UP. Seriously, though, I'm overdue for a Philly trip. My only trips to PA are to the coal region to see my folks and eat Senapes (look it up) so I don't feel qualified to talk about cocktail culture in PA at all right now. All my drinking there is at old coal cracker bars where I drink lager drafts and listen to old stories and try to ignore the cigarette smoke.
How did your first bartending gig impact your career? Where was it, and what did you learn there?
I had covered shifts at bars before, but my first full time job was under Tim Cooper, and I've written about this a bit in Munchies, so it's public record, but Tim was my first bar mentor, and I'll be eternally grateful and resentful towards him for my introduction into the culture. He taught me how to make a Brooklyn once, and then said, "Don't worry, you'll never ever make that shit."
Who in the industry has inspired your path? Who do you look up to as a mentor and what have they taught you?
I think Alex Day was another big influence for me, having hired me for the Franklin in 2009 as head bartender when it was a surprise to some folks. Joaquin Simo as well, who helped with that initial program there and who I worked with later briefly at Pouring Ribbons. I got to work with so many killer peers at Death & Co later, and I learned a lot of what to do and what not to do there. Maks and his mentor Kirk were also important to my evolution with their Rogue (later Beta) Cocktails book. Lastly my wife, Jade Brown-Godfrey, who generally tells me when things I make suck. Which she does a lot.  
Anything else you’d like to add about bartending and what you’re excited about in the industry?
I'm excited our industry has made a huge push in 2018 to be responsible and socially aware. F**k knows we needed it. We still have a looooooong way to go in terms of the way we deal with social issues (substance abuse, misogyny, racism, transphobia, ableism, mental health to name just a few), and I'm excited for some smarter, younger bartenders to keep the industry moving in the right intersectional direction because its an even bigger industry now then when I started and still be funny and charming and awesome behind the stick while they do it.
If a drink was named after you, what would it be called, what’s in it and why?
The Sotack Spazz. I can't tell you the secret ingredient for legal reasons.