Micah Olson is set out to do bartending right.
Just by seeing him in action, behind the bar, it’s clear Olson loves what he does. He’s part-owner of Crudo and runs the bar program, for which his enthusiasm is more than evident. He greets customers he knows by name and shakes the hands of those he doesn’t.
Olson appreciates the independence the bar allows him, whether it’s experimenting with new flavors and mixtures or taking care of his own guests.
A bookcase sits off to the side of the bar, one shelf full of books on the specifics of bartending: drinks, taste, flavor.
Olson started as a line cook, eventually moving to the front of the house. As a server, he became interested in wine and after two years of learning about wine, got his Introductory Sommelier Certification from The Court of Master Sommeliers. He’s worked at Phoenix staples such as the Royal Palms Resort and the Sanctuary on Camelback, where he was the wine buyer.
It was at the Sanctuary that his mixology career began. Olson got the chance to take a mixology class, learning about the use of fresh juices, making in-house syrups and going back to basics with classic cocktails. He was offered the bar after that, finally allowed the freedom to come up with his own menu.
“A wannabe cook” is what he calls himself, which explains some of the books on the bookshelf: he has both The Flavor Bible and The Flavor Thesaurus, which he consults often but is familiar enough to know what goes well with what.
The bar computers have a button for Micah: “Dealer’s Choice,” the one Olson uses when he makes up a drink, after doing a bit of question and answer with the patron. Whether it’s regulars who’ve had everything on the menu and want to try something new or indecisive newbies, Olson’s personal touch gets thrown in, when he makes a drink just for them.
This improvisation isn’t a new skill for him. During Arizona Cocktail Week in 2014, Olson won the high-energy competition Last Slinger Standing. It’s “March Madness bracket formula meets Iron Chef”, and with single elimination, it’s a tense few hours. With a creation he can’t even remember, Olson won last year and served as a coach during this year’s competition in February.
His menu at Bar Crudo is unique, but he’s not striving to be different, he says. Using the classics as stepping-stones, Olson relies on fresh and house-made ingredients to solidify a signature’s style. Fruits and herbs are common on the menu, allowing him to be even more creative with flavor profiles.
“I’m looking just to do things in a correct manner,” Olson says.
While Olson will be adventurous when visiting a new bar and drink specials and favorites, he has his own favorite drink. Because it’s guaranteed to be what he asks for, whiskey on the rocks is what he drinks most of the time.
“I know what I’m getting and that’s very comforting,” he says.
Customers at Bar Crudo will have the same response. Whether ordering a drink from the extensive menu or having Olson come up with a new drink, patrons will know what they’re getting, thanks to Olson’s vast knowledge of the mixology world.