Food and Drink

Despite Popular Opinion, Bartending Has Always Been a Women’s Sport

Freshen your drink?

You don’t have to have worked in the bar scene to notice that it’s a male-dominated industry.

Walk into any bar—especially the high-end variety—and you will see mostly male bartenders. They’re familiar figures to us now; the person that shakes my drink is a man, the person who knows what whisky I’d like is a man, the person whose word I’ll take easier is a man’s. Like in many other industries, we’ve allowed men to be the figureheads, even if they weren’t the only ones to create it.

Historically, men have been the ‘drinkers’. Even now, as sex and gender are becoming less polarised and people are being seen closer to equal, we still think of men as ‘being able to hold their liquor’ better than women. Physically and scientifically, this is mostly true, but it’s the idea of being able to do ‘more’ and ‘take it’ more that is damaging in the lack of visibility for females in the bar industry, and in general. It also adds to the—dare we say toxic—masculinity that builds up wall upon wall of ego, making it difficult for other, more feminine, voices to break through.

Although many of us might look at the men in suspenders stirring drinks around us and be quick to adopt the ‘it’s a boys club’ theory, it runs much deeper than that. I mean, boy’s clubs had to come from somewhere, right? 

Let’s go back to the beginning. 

Every cocktail nerd has heard of Jerry Thomas’s 1862 paperback ‘The Bar-Tender’s Guide’ because it was the first book to include and title many of today’s classic cocktails. It was also the first book to categorise cocktails to their methods, such as sours, martinis and punches. Back in the 1800s, Thomas was known as what is now called a flair bartender; someone who makes drinks with an almost circus-like performance, juggling tins, spinning stirrers and throwing bottles. He ran four different saloons across New York, toured Europe, and worked in different hotels and saloons across America. Although Thomas’ book does include some of his own creations, it’s mostly full of old classics and recipes that originated in house management books that were written by—you guessed it—women. 

Mrs Beeton’s Book of Household Management

One of these women, Isabella Beeton, published a book called Mrs Beeton’s Book of Household Management a year before Thomas’s in 1861. Beeton’s book covers everything from diseases of infancy, to how to shuck oysters, to the distillation process for liquors, fermentation, different remedy concoctions and explanations for every cooking process you’ve probably ever heard of. A large part of her knowledge was in cocktails and mixed drinks. Things like a ‘tomato juice cocktail’ now known as a Bloody Mary, a silver sour now known as a Classic Gin Sour and a Sherry Cobbler, still known as a Sherry Cobbler were among hundreds of her household recipes. 

While Thomas’s book, which is more widely known for classic cocktails today, sold 8,000 copies in its first edition, Beeton’s book sold 2 million copies in its first edition and includes hundreds of mixed drink recipes. The only book to outsell Mrs Beeton’s Book of Household Management at the time was the bible. 

It sounds shocking, but when you think about it, it’s quite simple. The only people interested in Thomas’s book were bartenders who were making money from making cocktails. Making cocktails wasn’t a common hobby for men, it was a job. His book served a purpose to them; it could help them to study and expand on their craft and in turn, make their business more successful. For most of them, it was about money. They were learning essentially about the processes women had been perfecting for centuries, through the words of a man, to grow a money-making industry. On the other hand, Beeton’s book was for any and every woman. The ratio of working male bartenders and wives was pretty drastic, as you can imagine, therefore explaining her book’s insane amount of sales back in the 1800s.

Yet, when you research the history of classic cocktails and bartending, the earliest recordings are all of men and only men. The way society was in the 1800s, men occupied public life and public life was all that was being documented. The drinks were being made by men, for men, in bars where women weren’t allowed to be. There’s this legacy of bartending, the art of making mixed alcoholic beverages that’s been passed down through male generations right up until today, but the question remains: where did they get their recipes? Where are the women in this story?

Women were doing the household managing, they were caring, cleaning, cooking, hosting dinner parties. They were the chief mixologists and entertainers of the home. When Jerry Thomas was writing out the Old Fashioned recipe, had he seen it before? If so, where? It could’ve been at a dinner party thrown by someone’s wife, or by his own wife.  Perhaps, he’d been given a ‘whisky on the rocks with bitters and sugar’ as a ‘remedy for throat sores’, thought “hey! that’s yum” and gave it a name. 

We’ll really never know, but if you think outside the box and the bar, outside what was happening in the public world and into what was happening in the private world, women were at the forefront of mixing drinks. 

Before the industrial revolution and before the Golden Age of drinking that many bars are inspired by today, liquor, on the whole, was used for three things; preservation, household medicines and entertainment. The people that knew how to use it for those purposes, were almost all women. 

Thankfully once the industrial revolution died down, women started working their magic behind the bar and going down in history for their work. One of the most well-noted is Ada Coleman, who was the head bartender at the Savoy in 1903. She was the second woman to ever be a ‘head bartender’ and one of the only female bartenders to create a classic cocktail that would go down in history as her own called the Hanky Panky.

Ada Coleman at the Savoy.

Now, we’re not saying that Jerry Thomas doesn’t have any credit. His work continues to be extremely influential and his place in the evolution of the cocktail-making craft is not to be cast aside. Without his words being published at such a pivotal time for the cocktail bar, the industry may not have grown at such a rapid and industrialised way, becoming the incredible space for creative business and experiential drinking that it brings today.

I think it’s just simply worth noting that women hold an extremely vital part in this history too, and it’s time we gave it back to them.

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Food and Drink

The Best Ways to Dress Up Your Summer Beers

From micheladas to shandies to fruit infusions, the power is in your hands-and kitchen.

Photo by Cole Saladino for Thrillist
Photo by Cole Saladino for Thrillist
Photo by Cole Saladino for Thrillist

Today, just about any flavored beer a person could dream up already exists in a can, from micheladas to shandies to, yes, pickle beers. But there’s still much to be said for the DIY versions of these dressed-up beers.

For one, they’re fresher (you could squeeze your own lemonade for a shandy right this instant). For another, they’re customizable: spiciness, fruit choice, how strong you’d like the final drink to be-all those are in your hands. And perhaps more importantly, they’re fun. Whether you want to spend two minutes constructing a beer-lemonade shandy or spend an hour infusing your IPA with real chunks of pineapple, there are plenty of ways to get creative in gussying up your beer this summer.

Embrace red beer

A brunch staple across the western half of the U.S., “red beer” is essentially a stripped-down michelada: just your preferred light lager of choice, plus tomato juice. But the devil’s in the details-folks can get mighty particular about their red beer specifications.

My preference is Coors Light with just a splash of Campbell’s tomato juice. It’s a pet peeve of mine when bartenders go too heavy on the tomato juice; it’s called red beer after all, not tomato juice. To make this yourself, start with your light lager of choice, then add just a splash of tomato juice so that the beer has a strong orange hue. Sip, taste, and add more if necessary.

Upgrade your salt rim

Another component of some micheladas, salt rims are more versatile than they might seem-and they complement several styles of beer. Just coat the rim of a beer glass with lime juice or water, then dunk the glass in a shallow dish of salt. Try the following combos:

• Mexican lager with a Tajin rim: Try substituting Tajin seasoning for straight salt for a bit of a chilli-lime kick. Pair this with a red beer for a michelada-like vibe.
• Gose with a herbal-salt rim: Goses are a beer style with a light salinity already, so pouring them in a glass rimmed with a rosemary salt or basil salt can add an additional flavour that doesn’t clash. Try mixing and matching fruited goses with herbal salts-how about a watermelon gose with a basil-salt rim?
• Dark lager with a smoked salt rim: Smoked salt is a surprisingly versatile ingredient because it’s way less powerful than liquid smoke. Try a dark lager (like Modelo Negro or a bock) in a glass rimmed with smoked salt for a subtle campfire vibe.

Marcos Elihu Castillo Ramirez/iStock/Getty Images
Marcos Elihu Castillo Ramirez/iStock/Getty Images
Marcos Elihu Castillo Ramirez/iStock/Getty Images

No shame in a shandy

Radlers and shandies are often used interchangeably to refer to a light-coloured beer blended with fruit juice (typically lemonade or grapefruit). Packaged versions exist, but with so many fruit-flavoured non-alcoholic beverages on the market, it’s worth playing around with some creative combos in your own kitchen. A good rule of thumb is to start light with the base beer, either a pale lager, cream ale, blonde ale, or (if you’re really a hop head) a pale ale. From there, most people blend in a splash of their favourite juice.

But here’s my preference: Use a fruit-flavoured soda. I find that adding straight fruit juice to beer often makes it too sweet and a bit flat. A high-quality fruit-flavoured soda, like the ones from Sanpellegrino, adds carbonation and fruit flavour with too much sweetness. Also, go easy on the ratio of soda to beer to start, because you can always add more soda. I find a ratio of about one part soda to three parts beer is ideal.

Infuse your beer with fruit

Your French press isn’t only for coffee-it can also act as a device for infusing fruit or other flavours into beer. If you end up with a bumper crop of strawberries or melons from the farmer’s market, this is a great way to use them.

1. Start with a new or perfectly clean French press to avoid coffee flavour leaching into your beer (unless that’s what you’re after).
2. Pour in your beer of choice. Almost any style could work here: light lagers, blonde ales, saisons, IPAs, even porters and stouts. Pour the beer into the French press, leaving a couple inches empty at the top.
3. Add some cut-up fruit. The possibilities are limitless: porter and raspberry, IPA and pineapple, blonde ale and mango, wheat beer and oranges, saison and cherries…
4. Allow the fruit to infuse. How long to leave the beer in contact with the fruit is up to you, knowing that the longer the mixture sits, the more pronounced the flavours will be. Start with 10 minutes, push the plunger down slightly, pour and taste some of the beer, and wait longer for a more intense flavour.
5. Push the plunger down all the way. Pour your infused beer into a glass and enjoy!

Make a mighty michelada shrub

Micheladas are typically a mixture of Mexican lager, lime juice, tomato juice, and salt. But recently, premixed michelada shrubs (like those from Pacific Pickle Works and Real de Oaxaca) have popped up, adding some vinegar tartness and other ingredients like Worcestershire sauce and spices to the mix.

A shrub combines vinegar with fruit or, sometimes, vegetables, and they’re easy to experiment with at home. Michael Dietsch, author of Shrubs: An Old Fashioned Drink for Modern Times, suggests that if you’re creating a shrub to mix with beer and tomatoes, beginning with a base of apple cider vinegar or malt vinegar (to match the malt in beer) plus lime is a smart start. From there, savoury additions like soy sauce will lend a Bloody Mary feel-just be sure to use a light hand with those umami-packed additions. Because vinegar and soy or Worcestershire sauce are tangy and savoury, Dietsch notes that you may want to add just a pinch of sugar to your shrub for balance.

From there, the sky’s the limit. Swap apple cider for white balsamic if you’re feeling bold, or add orange juice as well as lime. But regardless of what ingredients you use, Dietsch says it’s important to let a shrub sit and mellow for a couple days before using it. That time will let the intensity of the vinegar mellow and will ensure all the flavours meld together in perfect harmony. Once the shrub has sat a few days, give it a taste, then add a few splashes of it to your favourite Mexican lager.

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Kate Bernot is a certified BJCP judge and freelance reporter whose work regularly appears in Craft Beer & Brewing, Thrillist, and Good Beer Hunting. Follow her at @kbernot.

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