Hot Bartender: Making Drinks in Downtown Rochester


Chris Fierst was born in the Brainerd Lakes area and moved to Wales at the age of 10. He spent 10 years there and moved around England for a couple of years before moving back to Minnesota in 2011.

I asked Chris if he always knew he wanted to be a bartender, and he replied, “I don’t think you ever really know. I think for me it was about the people. People are interesting. The little things that set people apart, the ability to help them in their situations, which are in each way different but some ways the same.” Similar to our previous “Hot Chef” features, Chris says, “I enjoy the people I meet every day and the experiences I get to share with them.”


Training as a bartender is ongoing for Chris. He states that you take a little bit from everyone as you learn. His first teacher, Chris says, was “a stereotypical pub landlord in the south of Wales: Howard. He’s really who I learned my ‘bar banter’ from. When I was in Cardiff, Phil Emery was the guy I spent most of my time around. [He was] a good friend and a great liar.” 

Interested in being a bartender yourself? Chris suggests not bothering with bartending school but to start from the bottom and work your way up, like he did. “And listen,” he says. As you are learning, remember Chris’s advice: “Quality ingredients really make a drink, and I encourage the home enthusiast to not buy the pre-mixes and don’t try and do too much. Simplicity is often the best way to go.”


Taking inspiration from both the staff and what he feels like putting together at that moment is how he ends up creating some wonderful cocktails. So what does a mixologist like Chris like to drink at home? Well, he does own a whiskey bar, but he also always keeps milk and orange juice in the fridge too. What are Chris’s favorite items to mix alcohol with? “Ice and women, but not icy women,” he jokes.

Chris’s favorite gadget that he uses in his mixology is the smoking gun. He explains, “It is an actual gun that quickly infuses foods and drinks with natural smoky flavors, equally useful behind the bar to enhance a whiskey drink.”

Chris’s thoughts for the industry’s future center around whiskey. “Whiskey is going to be the next big thing behind the craft beer and craft cocktail movement,” he says. “You can see a re-emergence of flair bartending in some bigger cities [as well].”


When Chris is not learning new things, designing new drinks or mixing, he is your typical guy. “[I don’t do] anything out of the ordinary,” he shares. “I like solitude after a long work week. I do a lot of exercise, swimming and road trips on the motorcycle. I’m an avid Minnesota Wild supporter and enjoy hanging out with my close group of friends.” 

If you’re looking for some good stories to hear and to have a drink with a friend, Chris is available. Just stop down at the Half Barrel, located at 304 1st Ave SW, on the corner of First and Third. Ask for Chris because, “A nice glass of whiskey I can enjoy with a friend or two,” is his favorite drink in the world.

Dawn Sanborn is a food and wine lover herself, and says “Until you’ve actually drunk Ouzo from Greece, in Greece, you’ll never understand the allure.”