Have you ever had one of those days when you just felt like knocking back a few drinks — at work — to take the edge off? For local Customshop mixologist Chip Townsend, taste-testing his alcoholic concoctions is all part of the job description. Townsend admits, "The job gets increasingly more difficult as the day goes on. Experience and know-how help you find the flavor combinations you're aiming for before you're too drunk to tell the difference." But even when Townsend is slightly juiced, the mellow mixologist can still mix a damn good cocktail. Townsend began creating his own cocktails "at a high-end Chicago sushi bar in 2003." The ability to generate unique blends with a more diverse and exotic list of ingredients — as well as pairing cocktails with food — is what differentiates mixologists such as Townsend from the generic bartender. Experience a liquid sorbet to clean your pallet or slip away into a smooth state of intoxication. Visit Townsend at Customshop and allow him to shake things up for you. Cheers!
Creative Loafing: Tell us about yourself; what other diversions occupy your time?
Chip Townsend: I grew up just outside Chicago and went to college in Urbana-Champaign, where I first found myself moonlighting in the food and beverage industry. My English degree and I joined Chicago's restaurant scene pretty promptly after graduation. I went to college to learn how to write, which is something I do less than I should these days. Playing music has always been a huge part of my life as well and remains an important form of expression and a means to some semblance of sanity.
At what age did you have your first alcoholic beverage?
I was fairly young and don't remember exactly when or what it was, but I think it was a sip of one of my dad's beers, maybe an Old Milwaukee — I remember touring the Schlitz plant on a family trip to Wisconsin in the '80s. I know I started asking my mom for the cocktail onions in her Gibson martinis at a pretty early age. I'm also told that the bar stool in my parents' kitchen is the same one they used to perch a 3-year-old me on when they took me with them to the local tavern. Mixology begins at home, it seems. It's funny because I never saw myself getting this far in the field; serving and bartending were just skills I could rely on to pay the rent. The more I learned, the more interested I became, and I don't plan on stopping the learning process any time soon.
What is your favorite mixed drink?
The simplest drinks are always the best. If you can shake a good straight-up vodka or gin martini, I'll take it with cocktail onions. If not, I'll have a Scotch, neat.