Posted on | September 1, 2010
Written by | Alia Akkam
Once again, we return to magical New Orleans, a city where classic, well-crafted cocktails are as much a part of the cultural landscape as gumbo, to present this year’s “10 Mixologists to Watch,” our annual September cover feature.
During July’s now world-famous Tales of the Cocktail, when New Orleans becomes a breeding ground—and huge party—for celebrating all things spirits, over fifty up-and-coming bartenders from across the globe showed their passion for and commitment to the industry by serving as hard-working apprentices throughout the five-day event. These talented ladies and gentlemen, who got up—or stayed up—to be ready to painstakingly juice and muddle at 8AM are the future of the mixology world.
It is from this impressive group of individuals that we chose 10 as our “Mixologists to Watch.” Although we will always continue to celebrate the bar pioneers who have shaped the spirit of our industry, it is inspiring to know there is a pool of remarkable new talent we can soon look forward to seeing make their mark.
Before the Tales festivities unraveled, we gathered this year’s crew at French 75, one of the French Quarter’s most revered bars, at the iconic Arnaud’s on Bienville Street. The old, beautiful bar, was not only a dramatic setting, but seemed to juxtapose the spirit of New Orleans’ rich cocktail past with the future of mixology.
On the next few pages, you’ll meet our mixologists. While they all work at different establishments—from relaxed neighborhood joints to tony hotel bars—in different parts of the country, catering to a diverse clientele, you will notice similarities. Their creative and confident approaches to mixology favor the use of fresh, local ingredients, a trend within the industry that has clearly morphed into a green movement that is here to stay, and most importantly, a commitment to putting the customer first. Maybe it was the historic backdrop, but we’re thrilled those old-fashioned values are sticking around for the next generation.
Until next year!
1 JARED SCHUBERT
Jared Schubert works in bourbon country, but his first experience with Kentucky’s native spirit wasn’t exactly pleasurable. “Over time I grew to love it. I started with very mellow bourbons like Maker’s Mark, and then I graduated slowly to the high-proof, high-rye products that are out there. Now bourbon is almost the only thing I drink; I guess there is a little joy in repetition,” the Louisville bartender says. Schubert, formerly of 732 Social, who now works at The Village Anchor Pub & Roost, is glad to see a bourbon Renaissance in full swing. “Just like the rest of the country vodka is king here, but every once and a while people get a little daring and step out of their comfort zone,” says Schubert, who is currently in the midst of a mezcal kick (“I’ve had the pleasure of tasting a few of the single village mezcals from Del Maguey, and I think I’m in love”). To Schubert, nothing is better than a guest’s reaction when they taste something for the first time and it elicits an emotional response. “That’s what I’m most proud of, that’s why I’m doing what I’m doing,” he says. “Sometimes I get so excited about all the wonderful products and techniques that are out there, that I forget about the guest. We as bartenders are here to serve the guest, find out what they want, accommodate that need and keep them coming back.”
2 NAOMI SCHIMEK
Los Angeles, California
“I started working in restaurants at a young age, and the day I turned 21 they threw me behind the bar. It’s all I’ve ever known, and I suppose I could choose to do something else. But I get to make people happy, be creative and do what I love for a living. What’s better than that?” points out Naomi Schimek, who bartends at the newly opened First & Hope Supper Club adjacent to the opera house and Walt Disney Concert Hall in Los Angeles, which attracts a sophisticated, jovial crowd. Schimek especially enjoys Farmer’s Market Thursdays at the bar: “I start out the day at the market taking my time to choose the absolute best of what’s organic, local and in season from my favorite farms. Herbs from my own garden supplement that, and then we lug it all downtown and set up a gorgeous, colorful display in baskets on the bar. The guests choose what goes in their drink and we balance it out for them. I really enjoy the whole journey from planting a seed in the ground to a beautifully crafted cocktail and the smile on someone’s face.” On any given day, Schimek, who has trained under cocktail greats Audrey Saunders, Marcos Tello, Chad Pope and Christy Solomon, likes experimenting with ingredients from orange-steeped habanero peppers to herbal hydrosols. When she’s not at the supper club, you can find her indulging her love of food and cocktail pairing with Angela Gomez, a private chef, on Anarkitchen, a web-based performance art show she deems a “DIY Pee-Wee’s Playhouse taking over the kitchen.”
3 SIERRA ZIMEI
San Francisco, California
In the heart of San Francisco’s downtown, Sierra Zimei works behind the bar at one of the city’s most well-known luxe hotel properties, the Four Seasons. “I have always loved hotel bars. The service is generally fast and professional, you can meet people from all over the world and brag about your own city and you usually get free snacks. In the past decade, I have seen hotel bars go from waiting rooms to comfortable lounges. San Francisco has some truly great hotel bars, and it’s fun to see the locals embracing them more,” says Zimei. At the Four Seasons, Zimei enjoys making cocktails with fruits and herbs like the “Trust Fund,” a refreshing blend of Plymouth Gin, St-Germain, bitter orange marmalade, Champagne and mint. “My biggest challenge as a bartender is making sure people are 100% satisfied with their experience. My customers have high expectations and I want to make sure they are not only met but exceeded. There are some people that can be challenging, but we have a reputation to maintain and take every step we can to make their experience a pleasant one,” explains Zimei. Zimei believes top-notch customer service should be the priority of any bar: “We are not here to judge our guests, to tell them their taste in Tequila is unacceptable or that they are wrong for wanting vodka. We are here to host our customers and ensure they have a good time. They chose to bring their money and time to you and you have a responsibility to treat them properly and hospitably.”
4 NEIL KOPPLIN
Neil Kopplin worked in restaurants since he was 14 years old, but the only position that ever really spoke to him was behind the bar. “You have the opportunity to be a gracious host, have a good conversation, meet someone new every night and hopefully make the drink that will make your patron happy,” he explains. Kopplin enjoys his nightly rituals behind the bar at Clyde Common, helmed by Jeffrey Morgenthaler, inside Portland’s buzzing Ace Hotel: “Whether it’s a slow night and I can talk to three people about the space-time continuum, or it’s slammin’, and I need to bang out 300-400 drinks, I love every minute of it. And here’s the real beauty: When it’s done, it’s done; have a drink and go home.” Clyde Common is primarily a vibrant establishment, unlike many other lifeless hotel bars, Kopplin believes, because the Ace is directly connected to its community, an aspect that is very important to Kopplin, who encourages making cocktails reflective of the locavore movement. “If you do no more than compost the discarded fruit pieces or juiced rinds, that would make a world of difference in moving toward sustainability,” he assures. Kopplin is exercising his own green thumb with his most recent project, Imbue, the Northwest’s first “Bittersweet Vermouth,” a partnership with Jennifer Kilfoil and Derek Einberger of Patton Valley Vineyards in the Willamette Valley. “We are taking painstaking steps to stay as local, organic and sustainable as possible,” Kopplin adds, pointing out the vermouth’s use of locally sourced herbs and spices. “We put the same level of emphasis on that philosophy as we do in creating a consistent and delicious product.”
5 CHAD DOLL
One evening, Chad Doll, bartender at Bryant’s, Milwaukee’s oldest cocktail lounge, was drinking at Milk & Honey, where he had the good fortune of being served by the revered Sam Ross. “I had no idea what craft cocktails were before that experience, and wanted nothing more than to learn everything I could after,” he recalls. “I thoroughly enjoy the challenge of my work and the level of patience, self-motivation and passion it takes to excel.” While Bryant’s has never had a cocktail list on offer (“Each cocktail has to be unique to every patron’s specific tastes,” Doll points out), if a guest watches him behind the bar, they might notice his affinity for, say, combining gin and rye in a cocktail. “Using two spirits as the base for one cocktail, or utilizing the characteristics of a spirit as a modifying ingredient, can add such amazing depth and character,” he notes. Or, if they are members of his educational Sporting Fraternity, they will see him making neo-classical and culinary-inspired cocktails like the “Olivier de Serres” with walnut-infused bourbon, fresh beet and sour apple syrup, tangerine and coriander gastrique, fresh lemon juice, Peychaud’s Bitters and Regan’s Orange Bitters. While Milwaukee is typically more well-known for its beer than cocktails, Doll says that trend is shifting: “Aroma, texture, balance and depth are both a beer and cocktail drinker’s Eden, so it seems only natural for there to be a seamless transition.”
6 SHARON FLOYD
New Orleans, Louisiana
At first, it seems like Sharon Floyd is a bit of a contradiction: when she’s not behind the bar at Iris in New Orleans, she’s leading students through yoga poses. Yet for Floyd, the parallels are obvious: “There is a popular sentiment that the more you drink and the worse your hangover, the better time you must have had. Why? Show me the person who seriously enjoys a hangover,” she comments. “Part of the beauty of the mixology movement for me is its emphasis on creating a drink worth savoring, rather than a drink with volume that can be measured by a yardstick. I am already delighted that the trend towards naturally flavored and colored spirits has arrived and I hope it’s permanent. I think there is a place for mixology in the mainstream.” Floyd further explores the connections between these two seemingly disparate worlds in her blog, ConsciousCocktail.com. It is inevitable, though, that Floyd would have a sharpened sense of spirituality, living in New Orleans, one of the country’s most fabled cocktail cities. “Some great cocktails were birthed among the buildings in the French Quarter and biking those streets to work to make those same drinks is very special. There is some mystique in imagining into a past that I was not physically a part of, but is still celebrated enough for me to experience in the present.” At Iris, where cocktails using fresh juices are Floyd’s specialty, the emphasis is on cocktail and food pairing. At the full-service restaurant guests typically order just one or two cocktails with their meal to “expand their flavor palate.”
7 RACHEL KIM
New York, New York
Working at Cocktail Kingdom, the website specializing in selling quality mixology tools, Rachel Kim is always tinkering with barware. “It’s there that I think I met the bar spoon of my dreams: a Japanese 40cm, double coil teardrop ended one; it’s the perfect weight and really nicely balanced. There’s also a new ice pick that’s a weighted pitchfork shape, perfect for breaking down block ice,” she muses. Luckily, Kim actually gets to use these stylish gadgets; when she’s not at Cocktail Kingdom, doing everything from processing orders to catching up on cocktail history, to tasting bitters, she also tends bar at Prime Meats (along with fellow mixologist to watch, Frank Cisneros). “Ultimately, I bartend so I can make people happy, both by making them tasty drinks and creating a great experience,” she says. Most recently Kim was at Momofuku Ssam Bar, David Chang’s esteemed NYC eatery, where one of her own delicious libations was featured on the cocktail list, the “Roscoe Sour”. Made with Beefeater 24, lemon juice, rhubarb syrup and celery bitters, it created a “fresh, vegetal crispness that stands up to fattier dishes and fits the season. It’s really great to collaborate with the chefs and it’s through that process that this drink was created. When rhubarb season hit, the chefs made a few combinations of syrups and juices for a dish and as they experimented, so did the bartenders.” The Brooklyn-bred Kim loves living in NYC, where cocktails have soared to an art form: “Every night that I go to a bar is at least an education, and at its best, an inspiration.”
8 CHRIS CHURILLA
Christopher Churilla is a modern-day Renaissance Man: DJ, writer, art student. and, of course, bartender. “They appeal to my need for creative expression and social interaction,” he shares. Churilla tends bar at Loca Luna, a Latin-fusion restaurant in Corvallis, where cocktails like the “Flora Viejo” with reposado Tequila, simple syrup, Fee Brothers Grapefruit Bitters, housemade elderberry chrysanthemum bitters and grapefruit zest are among his creations. “It’s lightly spicy and fruity with underlying tones of raisins, oak, and flowers. It took me months to develop the bitters for that drink, but I think that’s the beauty of using handmade ingredients,” he explains. Churilla gets especially revved by Oregon’s bounty of locally-made products. Currently a Fine Art major, Churilla’s side project is a book showcasing the state’s thriving beer, wine and cocktail craft movements, which he plans to illustrate along with fellow local artists. “We have such a rich horticultural community. It is deeply rooted into our philosophy of the culinary experience. Oregon is also fiercely independent which gives rise to small artisanal products that don’t get much attention outside of the Pacific Northwest,” Churilla notes. But that isn’t stopping his plans: “I want to raise the level of awareness of Oregon’s premier cocktail and spirits scene to world recognition. In order to achieve that goal I will continue to write in my spirits blog and try to publish my book while painting in my free time to maintain my sanity —really, I’ll be doing the same thing I’m doing now but with more gray hair.”
9 FRANK CISNEROS
Brooklyn, New York
“I was shocked the first time I went to a proper bar and saw Tom Collins’ and Whiskey Sours coming out of a bar gun and eyeball measured,” remembers Frank Cisneros, who once recreated classic cocktails in his basement from a recipe book discovered at a vintage store. Cisneros, who splits his time working at two popular Brooklyn establishments—Prime Meats and Dram—as well as a NYC brand ambassador for Lucas Bols Genever, initially gravitated to the world of wine (he passed his sommelier exam in 2009). He was led there because of his love for deejaying, which he felt was similar, both arts requiring a vast amount of esoteric knowledge, technical skill and the ability to work a crowd. Now it is making cocktails that occupies his evenings. “I feel like I’m still developing my style—how I stir, how I shake, the types of drinks I create—and I feel that the places I’ve worked at have informed it quite a bit,” Cisneros explains. After having worked at eco-friendly NYC restaurant Counter, where he put on the first Green Spirits Festival in 2008, and first forged his professional path as GM and beverage director, Cisneros has seen the green spirits business evolve tremendously: “Like the farm-to-table movement in food, I don’t think that green spirits are a trend—it’s a step forward in the direction of honesty in consumerism that we all crave.”
10 CRISTIANA DELUCCA
Tales of the Cocktail attendees may have met Cristiana DeLucca at the Grand Marnier Bar Room Brawl, where her bar, The Drawing Room in Chicago, competed against a handful of fellow lauded cocktail establishments from across the country. “I would love to see another competition like that where you pit bar against bar, and not just individual bartender against individual bartender. It’s such a great twist on a bartender competition,” she says. DeLucca, a graduate of Beverage Alcohol Resources’ BARSmarts program and The Academy of Spirits and Fine Service taught by Bridget Albert, has been a fixture at the Charles Joly-helmed Drawing Room bar for two years, where she’s seen her clientele grow more ambitious with their drink selections. She says of Albert: “I admire her so much for her ever-growing wealth of knowledge, diplomacy, talent and leadership; she put Chicago on the cocktail world map.” On any given night at Drawing Room, you’ll find her right beside Joly, experimenting with Rittenhouse 100, or Dimmi liqueur. One of her recent creations, the “Anthurium,” with blackberry puree, basil, lime, Aperol and Right Gin, currently off the menu, still garners requests. “Charles is one of my closest friends and confidants, a brother and a mentor. He leads by example and he’s set the bar really high for me to keep learning, growing and succeeding in the industry,” DeLucca reveals. “We have so much fun here; there are five of us behind a bar that spans maybe 10 feet, so we’ve learned our own rhythm with each other.”