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Mixing Abroad 

Ciaran Wiese helps spread Tucson’s cocktail culture nationally through apprenticeship program

When it comes to cocktail-week-style events, there's one that's known internationally as the crème de la crème and that's Tales of the Cocktail in New Orleans.

This year, one of Tucson's own will lead a pack of high-level bartenders in helping organize the event.

Ciaran Wiese, bar manager at Agustin Kitchen and Scott & Co. alum, was selected to be one of six black coats at this year's event as a part of the Cocktail Apprentice Program. According to the folks behind Tales, his promotion reflects past merit both at the event and here in Tucson.

Wiese says black coats are at the top of the Tales crop with the white coats, leading a group of grey coats and newbie red coats—a name in which he says is a Star Trek reference because the first-timers are more "expendable." Other black coats this year hail from Ireland, Texas, New York, Toronto, and Chicago.

As a team, all of the coats will be in charge of making sure the cocktails stay batched and flowing for every seminar, which usually holds about 300 attendees per event. More specifically as a black coat, he's at the forefront of planning, keeping the whole thing running smoothly from start to finish. Just like at his own bar, Wiese says being a black coat means being ready, willing, and able to teach.

"I'll teach anyone anything if they're passionate," he says. "I like helping people out while being hands on—that's what I like about bartending."

Although anyone who has spent time drinking around town knows that Tucson has some pretty amazing talent, Wiese's role is something like an ambassador for the scene, showing what the Southwest and more specifically Tucson is capable of.

"I feel like Tucson is already known in the bartending scene—especially in North America—for having badass bartenders," he says. "It's just a matter of getting people to come here."

With a steady influx of talent moving from Tucson to bigger markets, Weise says there are definitely challenges to getting Tucson's name on the map. After all, even Wiese spent a year in Portland and a year in New York before settling back in Tucson.

"Tucson is blowing up right now and I'm curious to see what happens," he says. "That's the whole reason I'm in Tucson: I love Tucson so much."

It's worth noting that of the entire western market, Wiese was selected to be the representative of the region. He also recently hired Connor Mansager to join his crew when Mansager returned to Tucson after working in Portland and New York, much like Wiese did himself. Mansager is one of the only bartenders in the state to have been trained in the rigorous BAR 5-Day cocktail and spirit certification program.

Clearly, then, both the city and Agustin Kitchen specifically are not short on talent behind the stick. Creative cocktails using handmade tinctures and shrubs, small batch liquors and infused spirits explore flavor and balance at Wiese's bar in a unique way.

Wiese says if the city's beverage folks could join forces to create an event to pull attention to Tucson, he thinks it would be the catalyst the town needs. For now, though, you can find Wiese mixing up drinks and teaching his crew while getting ready for Tales of the Cocktail in July.

More by Heather Hoch

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