Breaking into the Boys Club of craft cocktail bartending

Presenting the Chaparral Superbloom at the University Club
Atop Symphony Towers. Mikayla Rafferty
At some point during the long, convoluted history of alcohol, not only did drinking become a craft, but the field of artists making the delicious concoctions that dance on our tongues - and in turn, make us dance on the bars - became dominated by humans of the male persuasion. 

Craft cocktail bartending - especially in a city like San Diego - is primarily conducted by white, hipster, cisgender boys covered in tattoos, donning thick beards or mustaches, and rocking out-of-date band t-shirts or the "dapper" style of bow-ties and fancy vests. I am not sure how this came to be the norm, but it did.

I've mentioned this to many people, and most won't believe me, but on their next trip to the super-trendy-to-be-seen-at bar/pub/speakeasy, they'll notice that it's true.

Because of this stereotype of what a craft cocktail bartender looks like, it can be incredibly difficult as someone who doesn't fit these parameters to be taken seriously when you apply for a job - or worse yet, when someone sits down at the bar you work at and asks for a drink. 

I have had customers patronize me because they think I am younger than I am - not realizing that I have been bartending for more than 10 years, thus being at least 21 years of age plus 10. I have walked into interviews knowing as soon as the interviewer opens his mouth that I have zero chance of getting the position. On one occasion, I even had a man tell me that I wasn't a "real bartender" because I worked at a brewery/pizzeria (which, for the record, had a full bar that I created seasonal cocktails for). 

You might think to yourself "But I know some great female bartenders," but that still doesn't mean that we are as incorporated into the cocktail scene. Just ask Brandy Zadrozny of the Daily Beast, who wrote an article on the subject of women breaking the craft cocktail glass ceiling

Amongst my favorite bartenders of all time was one of my best friends, Johanna Skaife. She had an infectious laugh that reverberated off the walls of our restaurant and a cult-like following of regulars who'd spend hours hanging out with her during her too short life, 

Johanna saw something special in me that signaled to her that not only did she want to train me to bartend, she felt that she needed to (she called it gumption and she said that every bartender needed it). She trained me during her free time at home and after about a month approached our manager to tell him I was ready to be promoted from a server to a bartender. If it wasn't for Jo, I don't think that I would be a bartender today (nor would I have gone to culinary school) - and thus, I wouldn't be writing this post. 

Making the jump from working at the brewery/pizzeria to craft cocktails was difficult - no one wanted to hire me without having previous experience from a similar bar - but I eventually transitioned to the University Club Atop Symphony Towers, where I was able to gain the experience and knowledge that I needed to fill in the gaps in my resume. 

Through the University Club, I received an incredible opportunity to compete in the Distilled Spirits Festival's Cocktail Competition during the San Diego County Fair in Del Mar last month. 

Post-competition toast with some of the bartenders in the Distilled Spirits
Festival competition at the San Diego County Fair on June 24, 2017.
From left, First Place winner Jacob Inez (Campfire), Dean Joseph Pryor
(Ironside), George Heatherington (Searsucker), Cory Charles Alberto
(Grant Grill), Lauren J. Mapp (University Club Atop Symphony Tower), Jason
O'Bryan(Lion's Share) and MC Willem Van Leuven (Herb & Wood;
President of the U.S. Bartenders Guild San Diego Chapter.
Peter Hefti

As if being a novice competitor against nine other bartenders from some of the best spots in San Diego wasn't nerve wracking enough, I was also the only woman on the list. While some of the men were cordial to me throughout the day, only 2 or 3 of them chatted with me, and about half ignored me for the entire day, whilst socializing amongst themselves - it wasn't until after they had tasted and loved my Chaparral Superbloom that most of them actually came to chat with me and find out where I work.

During my competition slot I was nervous, shaky and felt like there was a battalion of erratic butterflies residing in my stomach. Leaving the bar, I was certain that I hadn't done well enough to place.

Me with my Third Place certificate, cheesing it up, at the
Distilled Spirits Festival. Peter Hefti
Being awarded third place during the competition was an incredible honor - especially when women in the crowd approached me to say that they were proud to see a woman up on the stage (one even shouted out "Girl Power!" while I was walking through the steps of my recipe for the judges). 

Inspired by my Indigenous roots and Southwestern ingredients, the Chaparral Superbloom that I created for the contest features Basil Hayden's Kentucky Bourbon in a colorful spin-off of an old fashioned. I start by burning sage in a smoking gun to fill the glass with smoke, an homage to the spiritual cleansing of using burning sage to smudge away bad spirits in many traditional, Indigenous cultures.

Chaparral Superbloom
The Chaparral Superbloom as served at the University Club
Atop Symphony Tower. Lauren J. Mapp
1/4 oz.   Agave Nectar
1/2 oz.   Prickly Pear Juice*
2 drops  Boy Drinks World Serrano Chile Bitters 
1 TBS    Dried Sage**
2            Micro Marigold ice cubes***
1            Sugar Encrusted Sage Leaf****

Smoking Gun
Jiggers - 2/1 oz. and 1/.5 oz.
Glencairn Whiskey Glass with lid (can substitute a rocks glass and a coaster)

1. Fill the burn chamber of a smoking gun with dried sage. Turn on smoking gun, light sage on fire. Place tube in upside down cocktail glass. Fill glass with smoke until cloudy, place lid on glass (if using glassware without a lid, use a coaster to seal in smoke), then flip over glass to set on bar.

Filling a glass with sage smoke using a smoking gun at the
University Club Atop Symphony Towers. Mikayla Rafferty

2. Measure bourbon, agave, prickly pear juice and serrano bitters into mixing glass, add a scoop of ice and stir with the mixing spoon for 20 seconds to combine ingredients. Place cocktail strainer on top of mixing glass, and pour mixture into the whiskey glass without letting too much of the smoke escape. 

3. Add two micro marigold ice cubes to glass, and garnish with a sugared sage leaf. Serve with the lid on.

*For the prickly pear Juice, I took The Perfect Puree Prickly Pear Puree and strained it through a chinois so that I could get the color and flavor from the prickly pear juice, and still have the clarity that I wanted for it to be reminiscent of an old fashioned. 

**Do not use finely ground sage - it won't burn as evenly in the smoking gun.

***For the ice cubes, I made them two days ahead of time. First, boil distilled water, then let it chill in the refrigerator. Then, pour into the ice cube trays, filling halfway up. Place the flowers on top so that the petals lay flat facing down on the water. Freeze, then fill the rest of the way with ice. If using a Glencairn glass, make sure that either the ice cube will fit into the opening of the glass, or to only fill the cube halfway so that it can be placed in at an angle.

****For sugar encrusted sage leaf garnish, take a fresh sage leaf and dip it in cane simple syrup, then sprinkle with a light dusting of cane sugar on each side. Place sage leaf on a wire rack and let dry for at least 3 hours (overnight is best). If making ahead of time, place leaves in a sealed container with two silica packets to absorb moisture and keep sage from getting gummy.


Unknown said…
I love everything about this. I also respect the hell out of your passion, drive and achievements. I only hope I can get into the University Club to meet you and try this drink!!

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