Friday, March 4, 2011

How Female Bartenders are Causing a Stir in the Mixology Scene

By: Michelle Tham
For decades, classic cocktails and contemporary mixology have been attributed to the image of the gentlemanly ‘barkeep’  - well-groomed in a vest with a hint of ‘shaker bicep’ under the sleeve.  On the other hand, girl bartenders are too oft perceived with their skirts short and pouring shooters in a nightclub.  Although it’s stereotypical, it is a reality that professional female bartenders (like in so many occupations) are outnumbered by their male counterparts.  But the slow train coming is about to speed up.  

Last week, the Los Angeles Times reported on the increasing influence of females on the creative cocktail movement and the general awesomeness of having more women mixing with confidence behind the bar.  It’s an appreciation that has been echoed by Top Chef Masters champion Marcus Samuelsson and one that has been well overdue for the tough and talented ladies that are developing innovative drink menus and creating deeply intelligent and creatively delicious cocktails.

Craft bartending (aka. mixology) is no longer a trend, but rather a movement that is raising our understanding and appreciation of spirits and the cocktails we mix them into.  A talented group of bartenders continues to grow quickly as they impress imbibers at bars with not only deft knowledge of the classics (think Manhattans, sazeracs and vesper martinis), but also creating modern originals using molecular techniques, culinary prowess and the bold exploration of flavours.

So how do you get in on this rising movement of stylish and tasty cocktails?  It is our firm belief that every independent woman knows how to mix a solid cocktail – it’s a ladylike life skill, right up there with changing a tire, networking like a pro and effortlessly rocking 4-inch heels.   Every HUG should know how to make a proper martini for herself and sip bourbon without making a face.  From this point forward, this is a no pre-mixed Cosmo zone!

Research & Development.  Start by visiting a bar on quieter nights of the week (usually Sunday to Wednesday) and get to know a bartender when they have the time to talk.  Great bartenders are a wealth of knowledge on everything from the origins of classic cocktails to the physics of ice density.  Ask questions about the ingredients in your favourite drinks and the proper way to make them.  Have him or her introduce you to something you haven’t tried before and explore the possibilities of new favourites!

Practice, Practice, Practice!  Start building your home bar with the basics: vodka, white rum, rye whiskey, tequila, gin and both red and white vermouth (start with these and grow from there).  Use your new found knowledge from your friendly bartender, check out the books they recommend or click over to YouTube for visual how-to’s on basic technique from Imbibe Magazine or executing classic recipes with the Small Screen Network.  Learn by doing and then have fun by drinking the fruits of that labour.

Embrace your Inner Martha.  Once you have the basics down, it’s time to get creative using your chef-like skills.  Take classics to the next step!  Make your own flavoured sugars or infused liquors using in-season herbs or dried fruits.  Try fine-zested lime in white sugar and allow it to infuse for a week; it will emphasize the lime flavour for mojitos and caipirinhas. That strawberry preserve you made from last fall?  Try a scoop of it in a textural fruity cocktail with balsamic vinegar, vodka and soda.

THE RECIPE: The French 75  
This one’s a classy classic from the Prohibition era of 1920s named after the guns used by the French in WWI.  It’s fresh and crisp tasting with an appeal of sophistication.  Easy enough for you to make at home and the kind of order at a bar that makes it sound like you know what you’re talking about.

1. Add 1.5oz of gin, ½ oz of fresh lemon juice and teaspoon of fine sugar to a shaker with ice
2. Shake and strain into a chilled champagne flute
3. Top up the glass with dry sparkling wine (about 3oz.)
4. Garnish with a lemon twist to float

Michelle Tham is a former cook-turned mixologist-then restaurant manager in Toronto.  Check out her cocktail creations at the upcoming cocktail competition MADE WITH LOVE on Monday March 7th 6pm at Dolce Social Ballroom (647 King Street West) where she’ll be showcasing her talents as the* first* female to compete in Canada for this annual event.  Tickets are available at the door and online at and include 10 cocktail tastings from Toronto’s top bartenders, a selection of finger foods and the opportunity to vote for your favourite bartender (and of course, we’re cheering for Michelle and hope you’ll support our HUG mixologist too).

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