What do you as a Mixologist think about beer? Any brews of note for you?
I love beer! We all drink to mood, and if wine, spirits or cocktails don't suit our casual mood of the moment - nothing hits the spot better than a cold (personal preference) thick and flavourful beer. I'll order any stout on tap; I've been enjoying porters as of recent; I've always had a thing for cream ales; I'll drink anything aged in a cask, that includes beer as well; and I'm not embarrassed to admit I've come across some pretty tasty Belgium fruit beers as well.
If you could offer a couple of short pieces of advice to the average bartender, what would they be?
Keep your mind open, ego in check, tongue bitten, eyes sharp and ears tuned; 'The more you know, the more you don't know'.
Surely you have some pet peeves about bartenders -- care to share?
Love anoraks; hate egos.
As a Mixologist/consultant, you work directly with many restaurants on their drink menus -- describe the parts of this process.
Creating a cocktail menu is as tailored a project as you can get in the job. I keep in mind: The capabilities of the account including bar set-up, technical level of bartending as well as service standards; The style/theme of account and its demographic - age, sex, price vs. quality conscious, sports bar, pub, club, etc.; The timing or reason of set new menu - seasonal, festive, special event, sponsored; Whether staff training is needed; And most importantly, the account's vision of the new menu and any specific inclusions requested.
All things considered, I then begin work on creating a (most of the time) selection of drinks, well representing each spirit genre in classics as well as signatures, featuring a variety of flavours yet maintaining a consistent theme throughout. I always present the account with more recipes than wanted, giving management the option to choose their favourites. The account has to be confident, comfortable and excited about the menu or else it's sure to fail - so their final weigh-in is essential.
I spend a lot of time conceptualizing the vibe of each menu. For me, a menu should be entertaining and thought provoking, it must draw you in from start to finish and not in the slightest way resemble a grocery list. I've always had a distaste for menus containing no/little more than the drinks name, ingredients and price. It may very well be my artistic side surfacing - but I consider that a waste of paper.
How did you get started?
I started Bartending in Thunder Bay (Northern Ontario, Canada) at the not so legal age of 16! I was so excited at the chance of 'working the wood' that when I was asked my age, I lied. The Bartender always seemed to be the center of attention, and I was always amazed at the imaginative, colourful, liquid concoctions they could create. I was eager to learn everything about the trade so I enrolled in the Confederation College's Bartending Certificate program shortly after.
A 'small-town girl with big-city dreams', you can imagine the culture shock I experienced moving to Montreal at 19 years of age and Toronto in 2005. I learned very quickly there was a different breed of Bartender out there; Bartenders whose value wasn't measured in the number of rye & cokes they could serve in 5 minutes. I built a diverse resume which included the very credible Keg Steakhouse, the original Peel Pub and the renowned Drake Hotel.
It's been three years since I joined forces with the spirit company Maxxium Canada as Mixologist & Mixxit Trainer, only recently relocating to Edinburgh in a similar role with Maxxium UK. A good friend of mine eloquently stated that I had cracked 'an old boys club'. He may be right, there are very few women in this industry, but none until now have had the advantage of maple syrup.
How were you trained in bartending?
By the bartenders before me. Throughout my career I've had the privilege to work with and train under many of my industry idols who contributed so much to my own determination to re-invent drink culture in Canada, and beyond. More recently I've become an apt pupil, watching and listening intently to every style of woodworker I meet. I also try to have some sort of non-fiction on the go at all times; at the moment Tom Standage's 'A History of the World in Six Glasses' has my attention.
Did you take any courses?
At the time I thought my local community college Bartending Certificate course was brilliant; and at the time it most likely was. But I've come along way since then. Nonetheless, what the course did remarkably well was ignite a passion for fixing drinks. More recently, a trip to the Bols Bartending Academy in Amsterdam was time very well spent. But I confess that the bulk of my knowledge these days comes from tasting classes and distillery visits.
What's your process for creating a new cocktail?
When I'm creating a new recipe I keep in mind several factors: Three Principals of Mixology - Balance which incorporates the use of contrasting tastes (sweet, sour, salty, bitter or savoury), Synergy which is the art of matching or combining flavours like raspberry and balsamic, and Dilution which is extremely important in releasing the spirit's flavour and often misunderstood; 'The Classics' (or cocktail 'families') make a great template, I'll tweak them for a more modern and flavourful rendition like my Mo-Tea-To which is an obvious version of a Mojito adding Green Tea liqueur and iced tea in place of soda that tastes out of this world; Every single ingredient counts, contributing to the overall taste and making the spirit a major component (inexperienced Mixologists will often add too many ingredients making them no longer distinguishable while camouflaging the spirit in too much mix); An open mind - tasting everything and having an appreciation of all spirits and brands is a necessity; I live by two rules: 1 - fresh ingredients as much as possible, and 2 - if it's not good enough for me, it's not good enough for you.
What is your favourite cocktail to drink? To make?
I'll never refuse a Margarita and I love sipping Old Fashioneds - they can be in so many different styles, with a variety of spirits - each one telling a unique story. I love making Tiki cocktails - who doesn't like a Tiki cocktail??? And I love making dessert cocktails for ladies.
What are some of your favourite tools?
My Boston Shaker set is likely my most used tool; it's classic, efficient and doesn't say much but gets the job done. I also appreciate antique bar tools and I love seeing Bartenders put them back into use. I was gifted a glass and pewter capped 1950's cocktail shaker with classic images screened on it that remains my most treasured bar tool possession.
What is your favourite mixology resource?
The Difford's Guide probably gets the most wear and tare from my book collection; I prefer the 7th edition to the ones that came after. I quote David A. Embury's, 'Taut nerves relax; taut muscles relax; tired eyes brighten; tongues loosen; friendships deepen; the whole world becomes a better place in which to live' so often I'm thankful there are no royalties. Ultimately, I put a lot of faith in my colleagues and taste buds.
What does success mean for you?
What does every man want more than money? Recognition.
What are some current trends you've seen in the cocktail market?
I dare say that sadly there's an obsessive fanaticism with the 1800's and earlier at the moment. Cocktail elite are searching for the 'meaning of life' by peering (and much of the time assuming) into the distant past. I think it's healthy and educational to know and appreciate the culture's beginnings, but flagging recipes, techniques and styles used by today's Bartenders because they don't mimic those of yesterday can never be progressive to the industry.
Ice has become as important an ingredient as any other. This development is largely due to modern technical advances making it possible, and somewhat economical (at least for the high end venues) for bars to offer double frozen and/or mineral solid cubes or globes. Premium ice machines are technically described in the same fashion as a performance automobile. The re-introduction of traditional muddled drinks like the Caipirinha and Mojito ignited the need for bars to stock crushed ice meaning most cocktail bars today stock a variety of ice to suit the guest's expectations while meeting quality standards.
The Japanese style of bartending is the next pivotal point in working flair. I've seen Bartenders whose movements exhibit strict precision and delicate detail; much like a Sushi Chef. Internal discipline of the mind and body illustrates a soft, effortless, instinctual ballet behind the bar, much like a Ninja. After all, it is these Japanese Bartenders who mastered the hand chipped ice globe; a dazzling display of patience, focus, determination and dedication.
Where do you see yourself in five years?
Creating better drinks; owning an even more impressive back bar, picking up guest bartending shifts here and there; training, training, training - to infinity and beyond.
If you weren't in the drinks industry, what do you think you would be doing now?
I lost my soul a few years back working as a civil servant. I suppose if I hadn't made a drastic, and much needed, career change I'd still be in that same small, grey cubicle pushing out PowerPoint presentation after PowerPoint presentation and indulging my human, carnal needs with office gossip.
Your hangover cure?
Shamefully honest, but some time on the throne always seems to do the trick.
Your biggest career influencer?
Subconsciously, my parents who raised me in the motel they built, The Windy Lake Motel. The entire family, including sister, brother and grandparents, lived on site and became the main attraction. Till the age of five I watched, and more often then not caused more trouble than my worth when trying to help my parents cook, serve and clean. The influence my parents, the Motel and it's guests have had on me seems incredible looking back. Consciously - the list is too long to write.
First drink you ever tried?
A Whisky Sour as a minor at Thunder Bay's - finest, The Inntowner.
We've all had a bad experience with at least one drink. What drink do you most avoid?
I've not had a great track record the moment Flatliners make an appearance.
£10m comes to you. What do you do next?
Set my family up for the rest of their lives, travel the globe then open a gorgeous boutique hotel.
Bar or cellar at home?
Bar, definitely - wine gives me a killer headache the morning after.
Innis & Gunn and Harviestoun ranges of cask aged ale, as well as Chimay.
A dear Sommelier & Cognac Ambassador friend of mine introduced me to the Amarone variety and since then there's been no turning back.
Scotch Single-Malt Whisky - anything from Islay, anything peated, but ultimately I find The Macallan Sherry Cask range, whose intense and complex flavours parallel even the most peated, is the perfect symphony to my taste buds.
Margarita and I love sipping Old Fashioneds .
The Connaught Bar (www.the-connaught.co.uk/connaught_bar.aspx) obviously. Tearfully beautiful. I also enjoy drams at the Scotch Malt Whisky Society which has the best selection of single malts in the world - hands down.
Mistura, Toronto Canada (www.mistura.ca) - the staff is amazing, the drinks are as impressive as the food, and I know the owner which makes it easy to get a table. Jo'l Robuchon (www.joel-robuchon.com) is nothing short of dining brilliance. Honourable mention is Vancouver hotdog street vendor Japa Dog (www.japadog.com) at the corner of Burrard & Smithe - deliciously killer!
There's something so intense and tragic about Berlin that's utterly compelling; its beauty is dark, conscious and inwardly subjected, you can't help but feel overwhelmed walking the streets. I really felt alive and passionate there. It's no surprise the city is so artistically progressive, and that includes its cocktail culture as well.
Baraka; it's not something you can explain.
It's so close, but I'd have to say Conrad's Heart of Darkness just nudges ahead of Orwell's 1984. Both books are like a poetic nightmare. You didn't seriously think I'd pick an industry related piece, did ya???
Right now, Ryan Adams - 29.
Production-wise, Radiohead's OK Computer.
Just for good vibes, Bob Marley & The Wailers' Exodus.
Heart wrenching, Fleetwood Mac's Rumours.
Guilty pleasures, Coldplay's A Rush of Blood to the Head and U2's The Joshua Tree.
All of the above I suppose, adding Joy Division.