Mixology | Profile: The Baldwin Bar’s Ran Duan

One of the most imaginative bartenders in the US, Duan explains how he ended up behind the bar and what drives him to succeed.

Christopher Osburnby Christopher Osburn

Ran Duan moved to the US from China when he was three years old. “My dad had a full ride to LSU for Opera,” says Duan. “Unfortunately, opera did not work out so my dad decided to join the cult of Chinese people opening up Chinese restaurants.” Fast forward twenty years and the family owns restaurants in Woburn and Brookline, Massachusetts.

Ran works at the Baldwin Bar in the Woburn location of Sichuan Garden. Prior to bartending, Duan attended Johnson & Wales before graduating in 2009. “I moved back home. It was during the recession so I couldn’t really find the right position for me so my dad asked me if I wanted to help out.”

Also: Trip Out With Alie and Georgia

One thing led to another, and he fell into cocktails. “I learned more and more and progressed in my knowledge at an exponential rate and I just fell in love the industry and the guests most importantly.”

This love of cocktails led Duan to the Bacardi Global Legacy Cocktail Competition in early May in Sydney, Australia. This was his third try to take the American spot in the competition. The first year, he tied for second place at the nationals. The second year, he finished second behind Boston bartender and friend Naomi Levy. It was Levy who represented the US at the Bacardi Global Legacy Cocktail Competition that year in Moscow. “This is my third year competing and I finally made it.” Duan didn’t end up winning the competition. Frank Dedieu of France took top honors, but Duan plans to be back next year.

Harvard Professor Lawsuit

“I was the guy,” says Duan. “My family’s restaurant got sued by a Harvard professor for four dollars.”

If you don’t already know the story, I’ll do my best to explain the strange happenings. Ben Edelman, an associate professor at the Harvard Business School visited the Brookline location of Sichuan Garden. He ordered a few items and had calculated that the final cost would be only $53.35. When he got the bill he was surprised to see that he was charged four dollars more and wasn’t happy about it. A barrage of back-and-forth emails where Duan attempted to appease the customer ended with a lawsuit over $4.

“It turned into this big viral media campaign,” says Duan. “This was kind of funny because when I was developing my campaign for Bacardi Legacy, I wanted it to emphasize my family, my background and my heritage.” This turned into Duan explaining that he became the man he is today because he wants his family to be seen as an example of what you can achieve in America if you work hard. “When I started doing interviews for Bacardi Legacy everyone was like, ‘You’re that four dollars guy.’ Trying to get me attention for that and I could not escape it.” He decided to turn that into a story of who he is. “Because, you can’t hide the past, you can only embrace it. So, this is why I’m embracing everything that has happened and taking it in strides.”

Trends

“Obviously sherry and banana are really big now.” That’s why they are in his cocktail. “I see different textures being used. Instead of just eggs, I see dairy in different forms like yogurt and whey.” He also sees many bartenders using seaweed extract to make textural differences in their drinks. “We saw a trend in molecular from 2010-2015, but it’s kind of coming down a little more. I feel like the vintage style cocktail speakeasy has fallen off the trend a little bit as well.”

Duan believes that the future of drinks is lowered alcohol cocktails, as well as bartenders paying more respect to the classics while giving them their own contemporary identities. “I feel like guests are more and more aware of the product. They are more aware how to make it and more aware of what they want. My guests are learning to drink smarter, not harder. Lower ABV cocktails tend to be a little more complex.”

His Drink

It’s called Father’s Advice. “It’s inspired by some advice that my father gave me.” He said “The greatness of a man is not measured by his wealth, but by his integrity to love and his abilities to put someone else’s needs before his.” This is what his father said to him about six months ago the first time he saw his young grand son. “He was telling me about how this was why he worked so hard for twenty years to make a living for me. This is why we moved from China.”

fathers-advice-ran-duan

Father’s Advice

  • 1½ oz. Bacardi gold
  • ½ oz. Cardamaro
  • ½ oz. Italian red vermouth (preferably Punt e Mes)
  • ½ oz. Amontillado sherry
  • ¼ oz. banana cordial (preferably Giffard Banane du Brésil)

Stir with ice, strain into a coupe glass, garnish with orange swath and a cherry.

Drink photo: The Alcohol Professor