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Wednesday, August 20, 2014 |  Madison, WI: 63.0° F  A Few Clouds
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Madison's new breed of bartenders: The Curious Collaborator, Hastings Cameron
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Hastings Cameron
Hastings Cameron
Credit:Emily Julka

Where: Tornado Club, Underground Food Collective
Previous: Samba, Underground Kitchen
Drink of choice: Whiskey, anything he has not tried before
Conversion experience: Manhattan Cocktail at Rye in San Francisco
Makes his own: infusions, tinctures (a tincture is distinguished from an infusion by the use of very high proof alcohol)

What's shaking: Cameron got his bartending start at Samba, where then-sommelier Bob Hemauer encouraged his insatiable cocktail curiosity. "Still, when I go out, I try to order things I haven't had before just to stretch myself," says Cameron. "I drink beer or whiskey, but depending on the cocktail setting I'll drink anything - especially if there is interesting contrast."

Next, as "bar witch" for Underground Kitchen, Cameron had the opportunity to develop a fresh produce-driven cocktail style that he still employs at the collective's pop-ups and catering jobs. "There was always byproduct from the kitchen," he recalls, "like the time we made a drink from house-made grapefruit marmalade that had turned out too bitter to serve."

As the term "collective" suggests, Cameron's drink development style is often collaborative, sometimes with many people involved in the process. Cocktails undergo criticism and tweaking on their way to their final form in a process reminiscent of a poetry or fiction workshop. Leftovers are the raw material and inspiration for creative, but well-crafted drinks. He describes the process: "The best drinks are where this natural movement from kitchen to bar happens. One or two people will run with the ingredient, start working on a drink, adding ideas, and then wake up the next morning and polish it."

Cameron is still inspired by the cocktails he had in San Francisco: "In San Francisco there are more cocktails that involve clashing elements that aren't necessarily balanced but the cocktail itself is balanced. You get hit with a flavor, then it mellows out, and then you get hit with another flavor, depending on garnish and liquor."

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