'Alcohol must be a passion'

Ben Reed, 33, is a "mixologist". He spent three years as bar manager of the Met Bar mixing cocktails for London's glitterati, has written several books on cocktails and now trains aspiring bartenders as a cocktail consultant at IPBartenders, a collective of ex-bartenders based in London.

How did you become a mixologist?

Like many of my peers, I fell into it. I travelled after leaving school, and worked in nightclubs in Hong Kong and South Africa.

When I came back to London, I paid my way through university by working in dodgy East End bars. I became head bartender at a bar in Fulham, then moved to Mezzo in Soho. Nowadays, I train bar staff. In this country, we still don't have entry-level training to become a bartender, as they do in Australia, but there is more training going on. People of my generation have made this job financially viable and worthy of respect.

What skills should you have to be a top bartender?

You have to have a natural aptitude for getting on with people, regaling them with stories of how drinks are made. It's an infinitive learning curve, so you need to be hungry to learn and very self-motivated. You also need to think about the kind of bar you want to work in. For example, if you're working in a bar that serves a lot of rum, you should learn as much as you can about rum - how it tastes, how it's matured - and learn about the history of classic rum cocktails.

What's the best thing about your job?

Travel. You can turn up in New York, and so long as you have a work permit, you'll have a foot in the door. I picked up how to make some of my favourite drinks in the States and the Far East. In Japan, for example, I saw bartenders create ice spheres. It's a ball of ice about the size of a tennis ball, that sits inside your glass, looking beautiful and melting very slowly - so your drink stays cold all night. It's also a very social job, which is great.

What advice would you give to someone who wanted to make great cocktails?

The most important thing when you're making new drinks is to think outside the box. At the moment, we're looking at what we call molecular mixology - creating alcoholic foams and froths, similar to what top chefs are doing with food. You've got to be creative, but you've got to have your feet on the ground while being creative - no one's going to enjoy, for instance, a mint, thyme and parsley martini.

Are there any downsides?

As long as you've got a passion for alcohol, there are no downsides. Although there is a lack of adventurousness about alcohol in this country that can be frustrating - people tend to stick to their pint of bitter. And it's not glamorous at 3am when you're clearing up broken glass and dealing with belligerent customers.

What's the salary and career path like?

The general wage for a basic pub bartender is about £5.25 an hour. The bartenders at a West End bar might earn around £6.50 an hour, plus performance-related bonuses. You might start by emptying the bins in a cocktail bar, then work your way up to being head bartender. The best bars give you a career plan and look after your training. You could think about becoming creative beverage director, or a consultant, writing books and training other bar staff.

For more information about training, go to www.ipbartenders.com