Episode 9: Jennifer Colliau, a true believer, a passionate craftsman, and a prolific cocktail enthusiast

From being a 12-year-old fatherless child,

To owning ‘’Here’s how’’, the glamorous bar in downtown Oakland.

 

Jen shares the story of her life with us. She tells about her highs and lows and everything in between. Her childhood, her baby steps towards craftsmanship, and her extraordinary success story, everything feels like a movie script when written down.

 

After the death of her father, Jen rebelled against education. She stopped studying, despite her advanced placement, which consequently led to poor grades.

 

It was her history teacher who recognized her faltering potential.

 

One day, Jen’s history teacher took her to lunch.

As Jen sat with her books and copies, ready to get a typical ‘’ motivation session’’ from her teacher, she was shocked when nothing of that sort happened. Her teacher treated 14-year-old Jen like an adult. She asked Jen about her life, how’s everything going and had a very cathartic conversation with Jen. They didn’t talk about homework, she didn’t bring up anything related to class or Jen’s poor grades. She basically showed up for Jen in a way that no other adult was. All she got previously were lectures from her teachers about how important it is to study and do well in life. But they could never really convince her.

 

It was a pivotal moment that changed Jen’s relationship with education and history forever and the trajectory of her life.

 

Jen still doesn’t like history but what it did to her was, it made ‘’cocktail history’’ relevant to her.

 

She finds it weird how she remembers so much cocktail history.

 

Creativity was ALWAYS ingrained in her. She looked for challenges from a very young age. When it was very normal for kids of her age to buy candies, she used to MAKE them herself. Not because of any other reason, but for the sheer pleasure of being able to make something. She used to make a lot of candies when she was young.

 

Imagine a small kid, 12 years old, going to the drugstore to buy glycerine for making salt water taffy.

 

Making cocktails, developing bars conceptually, making furniture, making candy, making syrup, all of it fills the same CREATIVE NEED.

Making anything creative keeps her happy. It doesn’t matter what it is, as long as it’s creative and has a purpose, it feeds her needs.

 

Coming back to her knowledge of cocktail history, she explains how Lachlan Rose, a man in the mid-nineteenth century used sulfur to create a non-alcoholic citrus juice to protect the British Royal Navy from scurvy while also providing refreshments. This is why modern-day lime has a kind of funkiness to it.

 

Lachlan Rose’s creation gave birth to preserved lime. Bottled lime juice isn’t supposed to ‘’taste fresh’’. This is exactly why when you go to a bar and ask for a gimlet, what you’re going to get is a gin akori. It’s gin fresh lime juice and simple syrup. An absolutely delicious drink.

 

But that’s not a gimlet, says Jen. Gimlet is made with a kind of cooked lime flavor and from the oils of the lime peels.

The drink is royal. Jen’s team uses Navy strength gin. They use limes, lime zest, lime juice,  and lime sugar. They combine it in a couple of different ways and then they filter it. It takes a couple of days to get the combination to separate.

 

It’s a slow, tedious process.

 

They don’t use any advanced equipment. Jen’s team just runs it through coffee filters, takes the time that’s needed and then puts them in bottles.

 

And when you order a gimlet from Here’s how, they stir the bottled drink down to 25 degrees. Specifically because that drink doesn’t have any added water due to the way they batch it out so it needs extra dilution. It’s strong, it’s sweet, and it’s rich in the bottle.

 

As you can guess by now, Jennifer is not secretive about her recipes and cooking processes.

 

In fact, Jen offers to write down her recipes for you, if you want them from her!

 

‘’Why?’’ You may ask. A good chef never gives away his secret recipes, a magician never reveals his secrets, then why does Jen give her recipes away so altruistically?

 

The answer is simple. To Jennifer, the magic of bartending is not in the recipes, not in the cocktails only. Jen believes that the magic of bartending is in the hospitality, the service that she and her team provides. Helping people have a good time, giving away recipes to people so that the customers always get something extra from her bar, that’s what she finds happiness in.

 

The respect that Jen has for the bartending industry goes beyond just good drinks.

Jen believes wholeheartedly that making good drinks isn’t that hard. She can sit and come up with interesting things to put together. She can step behind the bar and make a couple of versions of the drink, tweak the proportions and VOILA! It’s that easy for her. She doesn’t find it THAT interesting. The gimlet that you can get from Here’s how, is only made of three ingredients and it’s one of the best drinks that Jen has ever produced.

 

Jen has always been this creative. When she first started ‘’small-hand foods’’, she also taught woodwork at the crucible. In her words, you can’t buy lumber for how much it would cost you to buy a Finnish table at Ikea. 

It always costs more to make a piece of furniture for yourself. But it gives Jennifer peace. 

 

Jennifer tends to make big things. This one time, she got annoyed by her pillows falling off from her bed. So, she built a headboard! She was also a cabinet maker for a good period of time. 

 

Jen is very detail oriented. She keeps emphasising on the fact that bartending is not only about remembering cocktail recipes. You need to draw a mental map. You need to know what needs to be done next.

 

How is she different from other bar owners?

She takes in green people and nurtures them to become amazing at what they do. She never lets any of her workers do something that she’d never do.

 

She started off pretty slowly. When she first started making orgeat, she’d get whiskey bottles in return!

 

She gathered vast knowledge about this industry by reading books and researching online.

Jen can also be termed as a bibliophile. The number of bookshelves in her house keeps  increasing very frequently.

 

She’s a learner. She knows all about the chemistry that works behind the scenes of syrup and cocktail making. Jen has a decent amount of knowledge which helps her know what ingredients to use, what the proportions should be, how to mix them and whatnot!

 

Jen did not have to wait for long to find her passion. Once she gathered enough knowledge, researched enough about cocktails, and combined these with her memory of all the historical cocktail tales, she knew that it was the right industry for her to step in.

 

It happened two years after she started small-hand foods. She just made a decision and hung on to it.

 

You’re never going to know if your decision is the right decision.  

Jennifer knew she had a passion for making things. She wasn’t sure if it was the right thing to do. But she did it anyway. Only because it gave her happiness

 

She went to CCA (California College of the Arts). As she was going through the furniture program there, she realized how important it was to keep her audience’s preferences in mind. She learned the idea of ‘’concept’’. She took away something very important from her course there. If an artist or a sculptor decides to make a piece of art or furniture or painting, he needs to think about what his audience will feel when they interact with his piece.

 

If your audience doesn’t feel the way you want them to feel, then you have failed at your job as an artist.

 

This is how commerce comes into play with art. There’s a lot of people who hate this idea. People say that their art is all about themselves and they don’t need their work to be loved by others. But that’s just pure B.S. Jen says that if you want someone to pay you for your work, then you have to take that ‘’someone’’ into consideration. He needs to be fed what he wants. That does not make your work artless, neither does it make the art corrupt. It just means that you, as an artist, are having a relationship with the person who is giving you money for your art.

 

People who make art just for themselves are just jerking off.

The best art considers its audience.

 

This is how Jennifer approaches her business, her bar. She doesn’t think about how she wants to make a drink or how she wants her place to look. The primary concern in her head is always about her audience. How are the guests going to interact with her bar or her drinks? How are they going to interact with Jen if she’s hand curving ice? These are the things that go through Jen’s mind whenever she thinks of approaching something.

 

When you step into ‘’Here’s how’’, you can literally see everything that’s happening behind the scenes, starting from cutting the ice, to making the drink. Jen wants you to witness all the magic that’s happening.

 

She wants her audience to feel like a part of her family.

 

She doesn’t like the approach that most of the bars have nowadays towards their guests. Bartenders tend to think of their drinks as the main attraction. But, in reality, that’s not the thing.

 

People go to bars for the experience.

 

But that doesn’t mean that you can’t make good drinks.

 

This is another thing she learned from CCA. California College of the Arts was formerly known as California College of Arts and Crafts. They changed the name to CCA while she was already studying there. When the college dropped the word ‘’Crafts’’ from their name, it gave rise to a lot of debate. Mainly because, it had been there for so long and the people in and around the Oakland campus were so good at crafts. The Oakland campus mainly featured all the crafty things like sculpture, textile, and printmaking. The problem with the word craft was that by that point it couldn’t get away from its connotations. It was like this very solitary thing that had to do with the maker and not about the receiver, not about the audience.

 

The ‘’craft’’ was already implied. People were being taught about long grain to long grain gluing surface. But the connotations to ‘’craft’’ wasn’t necessary.

 

The same thing applies in the bartending industry. In the case of bars, you’re obviously going to make good drinks, that’s implied. There’s plenty of knowledge out there on how to make good drinks. You need to step up and do something that makes your guests feel good about coming to your bar. This is what Jennifer took away from this incident.

 

You need to know that people have different taste pallets and different needs. You need to train yourself enough to make sure that your drinks are balanced, says Jen.

 

Jen always makes sure that she knows who on her staff is a supertaster, a normaltaster or an undertaster. She is nowhere near being judgemental. Jen does this just to create a sense of understanding within her team.

 

Jennifer is a supertaster herself. 10 different versions of martinis with different proportions of gins and vermouths sounds fascinating to her. But, that’s not a cocktail for everyone. And it’s very normal. Just because she likes it herself, doesn’t mean others will love it too.

 

Different people, different opinions (and taste pallets!)

 

For Jennifer, that’s the difference between her being a solitary artist and a conceptual artist. Jennifer is a conceptual artist. She takes her audience into account.

 

This is what she enjoys. To her, this is the magic of the bartending industry.

Interacting with guests, keeping them happy, the comradery amongst co-workers- this what the bartending industry is supposed to be.

 

As a bartender, the rule of thumb is to make good drinks. Of course you’re supposed to make good drinks! That’s like the first brick of the platform. You’re not even supposed to open up a bar without crafting good drinks. Yet, many bars think this is what the whole game is about.

 

They couldn’t be more wrong. This industry is about crafting people’s experiences. Making good drinks is just the first step. Once you have your drinks ready, you need to be entertaining.

 

You need to give your audience a purpose, an incentive to keep coming to your bar over and over again.

 

Personality and Persona can overcome a lot of things.

Jen wishes that more people paid more attention to the experience of the guests, and not their experience as bartenders.

 

What brings people back is good service mixed along with good food.

 

Jennifer brings in green people to work for her. She teaches what it really means to be a great bartender. Her way of teaching is very simple and easy going. She says that she always used flashcards to remember drink recipes, but she also understands that flashcards don’t always work for everyone. She figures out a way to make her staff function properly within their own comfort zone.

 

What’s important for Jennifer is that her workers know how to make the drinks,

And that they are really nice while making them.

 

Other than that, she is ALSO in a book club with some of her staff.

 

Jen owns a syrup company. Consequently, she has been tapped to make non-alcoholic drinks for a lot of events. She has written a lot of mocktail chapters and articles for different books and publications. 

 

Fun fact- Jennifer doesn’t drink much. 

 

Not that she doesn’t drink at all. It’s just not a daily activity of hers. When she drinks, she either goes for tequila or wine. 

 

Jennifer believes that one does not have to drink to have an enjoyable experience in a bar. 

 

Jennifer talks at and goes to a lot of seminars. She has to deal with different audience every now and then. 

When she goes to seminars that are for the bartending industry, she has to go with one approach. On the other hand, when she goes to seminars that are for home enthusiasts, she has to keep a different approach. 

 

In seminars, she talks about real deep profitability spreadsheets, conceptual development, empirical dilution, ecology. She always meets people who ask for a conversation with her. 

Naturally, it’s mostly women who want to know more from Jen and she’s also more inclined towards women. She wants to help people in every way she can.

 

Although it was never the intention, Jen ends up being many green people’s mentor. She feels like anyone can do what she’s doing. But she knows that women look at her as being a very successful and ideal woman in a male dominated field. She has made things easier for up and coming young women in this industry.

What Jennifer finds hard to accept is the bartending industry being insular.

For four years, Jennifer was the only female night bartender. 

 

People say that they’re just hiring the best applicant, doesn’t matter if it’s male or female. Jennifer disagrees with this and she feels like these people are having a very narrow definition of what best means. And there’s a lot of things that are awesome about people who aren’t like these sexist and racist bunch that affect their customer base in ways that they don’t even know.

 

One of Jennifer’s friends who runs a bar did not realize how white her customer base was until she hired a black bar manager. She immediately noticed diverse her customer base turned into. How good it felt to have people of all castes and creeds in her bar. 

All in all, Jennifer is an amazing employer, an altruistic bartender, and an innovative soul. She loves challenges. She loves helping her staff and being friendly with them. But most importantly,

She loves and enjoys doing what she does.

 

If you’re in the Oakland area across the Fox Theater, you MUST stop by and pay a visit to ‘’Here’s how’’ and watch the magic happen right in front of your eyes. She has a totally open backspace where you can see them using centrifuges, cutting ice, and making these amazing drinks for you!

If you’re interested in the bartending industry or if you’re wondering how Jennifer is living the life that almost EVERYONE wants to live, then listen in. 

Episode 8: Matt Grippo, Shirley Brooks and the famous Venus Rose

 

Matt Grippo is the Bar Manager, bartender, and partner at Blackbird Bar in San Francisco’s Castro District. Matt knows the Bay area well – the people and their tipple picks! He loves experimenting with new flavors and concepts. Matt recently created a limited-edition, off-the-menu selection of cocktails inspired by Game of Thrones which was a huge hit! Matt’s all-time favourite cocktail is Eucharist (Nopa Bar).

 

In addition to dynamic bartending, Matt is actively into writing about cocktails and his experience on both sides of the bar. Most of all however, Matt is a dedicated Father! You’ve heard from the lovely Shirley Brooks in our fourth episode and now you get the whole family together.

Talking about San Francisco, Matt says, “Cocktails, beer, wine, amazing food — it has so much to offer I couldn’t ask for a better city to live an indulgent lifestyle. We are spoiled and I love it.”

 

We get into family life in the service industry. They touch on how the industry comes together and despite some hardship, how life is great!

 

 

Links:

Nickies Bar

Blackbird

West of Pecos

Beretta Bartending Series

Mockingbird

Palio

Speed Rack

Bottom of the Barrell

Cold Drinks

Connect with them on Instagram: Bottom of the Barrell, Matt, & Shirley

Episode 7: Lauren Fitzgerald on Curating a Cocktail Experience

Lauren Fitzgerald, the current Bar Manager at Flores, a San-Francisco-based Mexican restaurant, is a specialist in craft cocktails and Mexican blends. Lauren was born and brought up in Texas and started at Buca Di Beppo. She studied at California Culinary Academy and has some solid input for people considering… After graduation, Lauren, being a vegan herself, joined Erin Tucker’s popular vegan food restaurant Millenium in San Francisco. It was here that she mastered the art of cocktailing and understood the importance of seasonal tastes.

 

In January 2010, Lauren moved to Portland and joined Portobello Vegan Trattoria as the Beverage Director and Bar Manager. She later moved back to San Francisco and started working at the outstanding bar/restaurant Flores.

 

 

Lauren’s favourite cocktail is one of her own creations – Bonita, which is a vodka-based drink, served over crushed ice with a deep magenta float of hibiscus tea and a sprig of mint. A lover of Wine, we enjoyed some amazing Portuguese wine at Hotel Biron in San Francisco. Shhhh… We want to keep it quiet.

 

In this conversation, Lauren shares how and why she’s made bartending a career,  and the importance of context for curating guest experiences. She also discusses why she’s a vegan and how she brings it behind the bar successfully. Oh, and if you want to start a swim-up bar somewhere tropical, Lauren will be happy to help you!

Links:

What is a podcast?

Plant Cafe

Aqua Faba

You can get in touch with Lauren on Instagram by CLICKING HERE.

Vegan Whiskey Sour made with Aqua Faba

Episode 6: Kate Bolton discusses the standards of service & making bartending a career

Kate Bolton is the owner of Portland-based Mint & Mirth, a cocktail catering service that organizes impressive custom cocktail parties for corporate events and private parties.

An award-winning bartender and cocktail specialist, Kate’s hospitality career spans a decade. She began hostessing when she turned 15 and has worked in a variety of locations ranging from Costa Rica to the Bay Area and now Portland. Kate was one of the founding employees of Maven, a cocktail hotspot in San Francisco, and spent 5 years as Bar Managing Partner there. She continues to be a partner at the popular cocktail bar.

In addition to her other achievements, Kate has been awarded Eater Bartender of the Year (2012), San Francisco Chronicle Bar Star (2012), 7×7 Magazine’s Best Cocktail Menu (2013), and Nitey Award’s Mixologist of the Year (2014).

This episode was recorded before Kate bought Mint and Mirth so in this episode we focus on Kate’s standards of service and why she’s been in the industry. Enjoy the show!

Find Kate on Instagram: CLICK HERE

Listen the the interview with Joni Whitworth

(recorded at Portland Bottle Shop)

Links:

Mint & Mirth

Maven

USBG (United States Bartenders Guild)

CUESA (Center for Urban Education about Sustainable Agriculture)

Michael Mina

Tony Robbins

Tribe by Sebastian Junger

Synchronicity

 

Episode 5: Mint & Mirth’s Founder Joni Whitworth on Community, Entrepreneurship and Passion

Subscribe in iTunes, Google Play Music, Spotify, or Stitcher

recorded in Joni’s kitchenette while enjoying Voodoo Doughnuts

Can a craft cocktail catering company build relationships with its competitors, use locally sourced products, practice sustainability economically, socially and philosophically and give back to the community all while making a profit? The answer is a resounding yes!

Joni Whitworth got her start in a traditional bar, but having autism and sensory processing issues, traditional didn’t work for her. So, she tapped into her inherited entrepreneurial spirit. Could she do it her way?

Mint and Mirth started out as test project just to see if she could do it; It turned into a thriving company thanks to Joni’s approach to business and community. It’s all about crafting relationships, building a community, service leadership and scheduling your dreams, which long-time employee, Kayleen Veatch, confirms.   

Joni has since moved on from Mint and Mirth, but what she crafted isn’t just a business. It’s a way of life. It’s an aspiration. And it’s a hell of good time!

 

Remember to schedule your dream!

Notable links:

Episode 4: Shirley Brooks talks raising a family in the service industry

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Shirley Brooks is the Mother Maiden of San Francisco! Everyone knows Venus Rose her lovely daughter that is usually attached at her hip.

We start with some Rose and get in the swing of things after a few ching chings.

On this episode we dive deep on raising a family in the service industry. We talk about how not only make it work but how families can flourish in the service industry.  I dove in deeper as she opens up about her nuclear family and the industry as family.

We have fun talking about her days as a shot girl in Miami and underage bartending in Philly! It’s been a wild ride and this outstanding Bar-Mom has stories! Go see her at Madrone Art bar on Divisadero and Fell.

 

Episode 3: Ryan Fitzgerald

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I’m so excited that we got Ryan on the podcast.  You may’ve heard of Ryan, he owns ABV with his two partners Erik Reichborn-Kjennerud  and Todd SmithThey each have extensive careers in the industry and together on ABV they have been recognized as one of the Worlds 50 Best Bars.

More than best bar, they’ve won best American bar team 2016, best new American cocktail bar 2015, and Ryan is most proud of winning the “bar fight” which was the last pop-up bar contest at tales of the cocktail in 2015.

Ryan has been through the gauntlet to get to this point. From hosting at Red Robin and Chevy’s, working at Applebees, Fresh Choice, and Soup Plantation, he’s been in the industry since he was 14.

He gave the 9-5 life a shot and decided that the crushing boredom was not for him! He mentions a ton of people in this episode, please forgive me if I don’t link everything! He is an example of a success story. If you’re around 16th and Valencia go check out ABV. They have a pop up bar upstairs running until February 2018 called Overproof. I went for the whiskey saloon (Double Back) and it was amazing. Now they are doing tequila and mescal (Lágrimas) which is his specialty!

Episode 2: Larry Piaskowy shares his insights on bartending, self-care & service

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Larry Piaskowy is currently behind the stick at the San Francisco Proper Hotel. GO SEE HIM!

I can’t remember the last time I laughed this much with someone I don’t know! Larry is the consummate bar personality and his energy is infectious.  I can see why regulars follow him everywhere he goes because he is the life of the party!

He started out in the kitchen, making his way from Chicago and has been through the gauntlet to get to where he is now.

Larry_PiaskowyWe connect on some hilarious stories – The ice story, for one. You’ll want to listen to this entire conversation because you can truly feel his passion come through and he drops some wisdom down for people in and out of service industries.

This episode was recorded at the Sunset Reservoir Brewing Company.

Episode 1: Justin Goo and the Human Side of Bartending

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My first guest is Justin Goo. Justin is the GM and Bartender at Bourbon and Branch, the world-renowned speakeasy in San Francisco. If You haven’t been to Bourbon and Branch before, call in to get a password, don’t order a Cosmo and follow the RULES!

Justin has worked in every aspect of the industry from dive bars, nightclubs, restaurants and craft cocktail joints so his experience is diverse and his perspective is unique. He’s spent time at Restaurant Gary Danko and he helped open Alexander’s steakhouse.

He even has a little hobby of going to three Michelin Star restaurants like the French Laundry. Unfortunately, we didn’t get that story on the podcast but let us know on the blog if you want to hear more, cause we’ll have him on again!

Justin reminds us that service is about serving your customers, your community and therefore, yourself. Oh, and enjoying great food and drinks!

Please let me know what You want more of. Leave comments, play nice, and let’s make this a place you want to come back to!

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