Yes it’s a biggie. My 200th episode and who should join me but one of the biggest names in cocktails and my constant companion during lockdown.
199 episodes ago I had a mic and “bottom’s up” to end the show. Now we have reached the 200th episode – I have a mic, bottoms up and 199 episodes of Lush Life Podcast!
This is due to the hard work and dedication of everyone involved with A Lush Life Manual and Lush Life podcast, especially my producer Evo Terra who was with me when Lush Life was in the idea stage and who has remained my work partner throughout my Lush Life Journey.
Everyone who sat across from me has become part of the Lush Life family. I’ve been inspired by all their stories and lucky enough to have tasted some of the best drinks in the world thanks to their time and generosity.
Of course there would be no show if you didn’t listen to it and I thank you for tuning in every Tuesday!
Planning my 200th episode was easy, I spent my lockdown with Lynnette Marrero. For those of you who don’t know her. Where do I even begin. Her bio is longer than this entire podcast. She began her career working at the Flatiron Lounge in NYC along Julie Reiner and has worked as a bartender, senior bartender, bar consultant, and Rum Ambassador for Diageo.
She is now the Bar Director at Brooklyn hotspot The Llama Inn and the newly opened Llama San. She’s won tons of awards for her work, including the James Beard Award as one of America’s Leading Female Mixologists 2009, She’s received the Tales of the Cocktails’ Spirited Awards for World’s Best Bar Mentors and the inaugural Philanthropy Award with co-founder Ivy Mix for their work in Speed Rack.
She most recently won the Altos Bartenders’ Bartender Award 2021. The award is voted for by a group of bartenders who are asked to name one peer who pushes the boundaries of what it means to be a great bartender.
How did I spend lockdown with her – well, Marrero launched the Masterclass.com Mixology platform in March 2020, just as the world went insane, helping home bartenders live life one cocktail at a time. How could I not have her on the program.
Our cocktail of the week: Clara Bow
This easy bourbon cocktail recipe From the master, Lynnette Marrero, herself! Just by adding a bit of St. Germain makes all the difference!
- ½ ounce Grenadine* (to make your own, see below!)
- ½ ounce St. Germain elderflower liqueur
- ¾ ounce Fresh lemon juice
- 1 ½ ounces Bourbon
- 5–6 mint leaves
- Mint sprig, for garnish
*If you wish to make the grenadine: You need 16 ounces pomegranate juice and 8 ounces demerara sugar
- Combine pomegranate juice and demerara sugar in a saucepan and place over medium-high heat.
- Stir until the sugar is completely dissolved, about 5 minutes, and set the pan aside to cool.
- Express the oil from the citrus zests into the pan, and drop the peels into the liquid.
- Once cool, remove the peels from the liquid and store the grenadine in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 1 month.
Please enjoy this transcript of my interview with Lynnette. Just remember that I own the copyright in and to all content in and transcripts of Lush Life podcast, with all rights reserved, as well as my right of publicity. So if you want to use any of this, please email me!
Susan: Now, I am so excited to have you on the show because you and Ryan were my pals during lockdown, because the minute I saw that you were doing a Masterclass on cocktails. Literally I was in there.
Lynnette: I love that.
Susan: I was supposed to be at Bar Convent Brooklyn. Unfortunately, I couldn’t make it. I was supposed to meet you because you were the headliner for Spirits of Peru. And I thought since this is my How to Drink series, we could start getting into your life by learning more about your love of Latin and South American and Caribbean spirits and what they are and why you love them and what the flavors are.
Lynnette: Yeah, absolutely. I mean, I think it all comes from the things that we loved growing up. For me, I’m of Puerto Rican descent, Nuyorican. That means that I’m first-generation born in New York itself. But the traditions of food and flavor were always something that carried through.
And as I got through the craft bartending world, I started at the Flat Iron Lounge with Julie Reiner and I learned classic cocktails and fresh juices and combinations and putting it together. I think I gravitated towards that world because I did love cooking and putting things together in that way.
And that came from my early exposure to lots of flavorful food. And that led me to working in restaurant bars, which is for me, it was a place where I could just broaden my experiences, have access to more ingredients. And this was definitely before cocktail bars were bringing in a bunch of molecular tools and things, we were just starting to get there because we were going back to classic cocktails, which don’t use a lot of those. But I love the flavors that you could have with an arsenal of kitchen ingredients.
As I worked with different restaurants, at Freeman’s, which was a classic American restaurant, the America’s version of gastropub, but with high-end cocktails, so, you had some sort of influence, but it kept getting deeper.
My first sole consulting gig was with a chef Akhtar Nawab. Brian Miller and I decided to do that project together and it was an Indian cuisine and we just talked through and we’re like, well, rum and Tiki actually fits in that space. Cause you’re thinking about spices flavors, flavor building, and we put together quite a crazy rum list.
And that was someplace that I was very comfortable in because that is a traditional, drink where I’m from and where my family is from. And then, I became a rum ambassador for Zacapa. And did that full-time…
Susan: Wait, we have to go back for a sec before we go forward. All right. Going back to your childhood and these flavors. When I think of South American spirits, Puerto Rico, obviously rum is the first thing I think of. Was there always rum in your house and what things were your parents making or cooking that brought to mind the flavors that you brought with you or should I say forward into your career?
Lynnette: Sure. So, I mean, what the biggest one is Coquito, which is like our version of eggnog for Christmas, which is a coconut, cinnamon, a little vanilla. Depending on what everyone’s house recipe is that can be condensed milk and evaporated milk. Or you can do it from a fresh grating of the coconut, egg is optional. A lot of families don’t really use the egg but you could use it for something richer, but those kinds of things were always a little cheeky thing at Christmas that my mom would make every year. But the flavors, specifically, you would see a lot of roasted meats, pork. Rum was definitely around. And so, you can smell those flavors and aromas and they all go well, right? All the baking spices and things go with that type of cuisine, so a lot of that high flavor.
Susan: Was there a specific rum that your family always had around?
Lynnette: We always had Bacardi. That was always around all the time. It was between Bacardi and Don Q were the two, depending on which house, that you would see, and that was, because they were supporting the island. Further on, as I started to get more exposure, they were things like Ron del Barrilito which is from Bayamón, which is where I have a lot of family, so I would go and visit there every summer.
I started to see these products and things, but there’s lots of other beverages that would make your palate. There’s a thing called Malta which is like a brewed malt heavy, rich, almost like molasses malt beverage that’s non-alcoholic, but would challenge your palate as a kid. You’re like, whoa, this is bitter. And you would taste that and you’re like, ah, but it was about having a palate that was exposed to a lot young, lots of spices, lots of aromatics. There are lots of different things that you don’t get here, like Recao, which we could find now in New York, places that carry these things.
Yeah, cilantro and lots of this flavors, lots of heavy flavoring things, so definitely desserts would come into play. So, things like Flan with good caramel, Tembleque, which is a coconut pudding with cinnamon on top. So, those flavors always were around and I think how you were eaten childhood really does make a difference. It’s like if you’re gonna have a challenged palate yes or no, and it takes time then to figure out where you go from there. So, I was fortunate.
Susan: I’m totally made fun of here because I love Hershey’s Chocolate and everyone in England is like, oh my God, that’s horrible. I actually met a Professor of Chocolate and he said, “Don’t make fun of her for liking Hershey’s. It’s what you like as a child, when you eat as a child, that makes that impression and you can’t help what you love.”
Lynnette: 100%. I think that’s the spices and the flavor building and having that, I think it’s very advantageous, so I like things with bold big flavor. So that led me to working with chefs, because I think there’s a similar learning how to flavor build and learning how to adjust levels in your cocktails in different ways is something that always intrigued me.
Especially as we were coming into craft cocktail scene and kept moving and evolving. The next steps were always figuring out how you would just now take those classics and make them more unique and do rifts on them but bring in these other elements.
Susan: So, when you started drinking alcohol at 21, when you were in New York studying, were you drawn to those types? You know, were you drinking Rum and Coke or rum or Mojitos and those kinds of things or were you just like drinking beer and whatever was around.
Lynnette: I was never a big beer person. I mean, I’ve grown into a craft beer palate because mostly because of sours and stouts later. No, I was straight, to your point, I was drinking Mojitos and those kinds of cocktails that you were getting in good clubs and places. But then I would have little sweet palate and do things like the Midori Sour was like one of my favorite things to order at a great cabaret bar in mid-town.
Susan: I was a Fuzzy Navel lover.
Lynnette: And then it was like a classic, especially at that time to them. I was going to take it light. I’m going to have orange flavored vodka and soda.
Susan: So sorry, I interrupted you as you started working with restaurant bars. Did you feel like, oh yeah, this is my home because I can mix all of these things from my childhood together with my love of drinking.
Lynnette: 100%. I think also so much too, when you sit and talk to chefs, a lot of what comes to bring out in their cuisine, or at least the ones, the chefs I worked with were our family recipes and what they brought with them from their childhood too. So, you’re going through this exercise together. And when I met Chef Eric Ramirez and we opened Lhama Inn in 2015, the first things he talked about were cooking with his mom and his grandmother and bringing those recipes from Peru.
His grandmother is of half Italian and half Japanese Peruvian backgrounds. So, lots of different flavors, lots of different culinary influence and in Peru itself has that as well. So, there’s influence a bit from the Chinese, there’s influence from Japan. and then when you get down to the core flavors, like using all the different peppers, et cetera, and then how rice plays in and beans, which are also the other cultural things that we share.
You know, there were all these recipes that he was talking about coming from his family and specifically from the women in his family we still do to this day, make his grandmother’s version of Chicha Morada which is a purple corn drink that every household has their recipe. That’s an excellent ingredient for cocktails. Let’s use that. Let’s take that.
Our first menu was all about taking rifts on classics and substituting and bringing in something like pisco, which for, the general American public, especially in 2015 was like, well, I don’t know, what’s pisco? And you’re like, it’s an aged Brandy from Peru. And then they’re like, what does that mean?
So, putting it in context that they would just enjoy it. So split basing some cocktails, maybe pisco and tequila rifts, maybe pisco and rum rifts which we did. And that would help give people an accessibility to the ingredients.
That was just a way that we started to introduce it. It made sense because he was also bringing Peruvian cuisine at that at a higher level to Brooklyn, like Williamsburg trendiness and the ideas were just finding ways to communicate what these spirits with these ingredients, with the flavor profiles were.
Now I love seeing that pisco is being used, so many more piscos now have made their way to the United States or even distribution around the world, because there’s a bigger demand and playing with them. That was a wonderful way to understand and learn a new culture of flavors and to help advocate for those spirits and help give them exposure.
Susan: When you started off what was the progression for the South American spirits? When you started working, I assume it was rum, maybe not as many rums as are today, did you feel that there was one other thing, then it was pisco time and then it was aguardiente time. And then it was something else time, how did that work as you were growing as a bartender?
Lynnette: Yeah, I think what’s interesting is, like I said, I started working after, doing the program at Elettaria with Brian Miller. I actually took a two-year stint working with Zacapa Rum and they were just starting with Diageo at that time. That was when they were working in a joint venture and I was exposed to a whole different style of rum.
Guatemalan rum is very different from the rum I grew up with, maybe I was using some Guyana Ram. I was using El Dorado in our program. I was using some Lemon Hat in our program. I hadn’t been exposed to things like Guatemalan rum and this elegance and flavor of something that can be aged in high altitude a lot longer and starting to see those more premium rums coming to the market and see how they were working on changing the perception of rum. I think that a lot the time too, at the perception of Latin American cuisine as well, as there’s a perception that these foods should be inexpensive, you should be able to get that.
I think that rum suffers that same thing that you, it should be cheap and easy to get. And I think there’s a whole bend about the agriculture, the process and making sure that the people who are making it are compensated properly for these things. And this idea of changing a whole perception of a category is really hard.
I think what I’ve loved seeing in the last, no more than 10 years of seeing rums, and rums had its moment every year. If this is going to be the year of rum, this is gonna be the year of rum. It’s been steadily growing and the category’s been getting more share.
I love seeing that you have more people investing in it from the communities of where it comes from. You’re really seeing this authentic, really, wonderful way of bringing this beautiful spirit, that can be grown in so many places that I love it, because it has so much terroir, where a rum is made, where the cane is grown, all of that makes such a difference to what that end product is. You can see that all over the world when you taste them. I think that’s why that category is so exciting.
Susan: Was that a real surprise for you when you started drinking? Did you think, oh yeah, rum is Bacardi and Don Q, I mean, was that a huge surprise to you as well? When you started playing with rums?
Lynnette: Yeah. I mean, I think I was lucky cause I was at Flat Iron Lounge, so we had access to things that were coming in, I even had early exposure there to Pisco Barsol. It was one of the first brands that was coming into bars and saying, “HI, try my unaged Brandy, try my pisco.” You know, and, so I had an early exposure while I was starting to bartend to have access to more of these ingredients.
It was really enlightening to see things other than Cristalina rums and taste aged rums that were different from the aged rums that I would taste Puerto Rico, which can have a bit of an oakier profile, a little bit more, because you’re at high-temp real extraction from the wood really quickly and that’s a different styles. So, you’re making styles, rums that are more bourbon-like. Then to be able to taste some other rums from all over the world, things like El Dorado 12 and Zacapa and some of the Rum Clement from Martinique where you would taste cognac style rums that had a different flavor profile, and an elegance.
It was a definitely a very eye-opening. But because I had done that project Eleterria with Brain, I had already seen the range of rums. We had a really great program and rum was able to really help us, really make a program that worked with so much of the food. Because you had this toolkit of flavors that you could adjust and balance levels depending on what the menu items were going to be. But I think now that we see it, I think, through the agave boom, and then you’re seeing Mezcal Soto, Bacanora, all of these, the whole agave range is exploding.
I think in general, there’s just an interest in spirits that help you travel to places, and this idea and probably more so because of the pandemic, but really experiencing culture, experiencing a place through its food and drink. And that’s what I’m interested in. That’s where I see, at this last Bar Convent Brooklyn, we didn’t just have Pisco. We had the most piscos ever shown. We also had vodka being made from these Peruvian potatoes, which have excellent agriculture, red potato versus the purple potato, and seeing that into a few of the brands, like, 14 Inkas or Catorce Inkas and you’d see ones made from quinoa and then you would see an Amazonian gin using all the botanicals that you can get in Peru. so different flavor profiles layering into that things like Camu Camu which is a very high acid, berry or, Aguaymanto, which would be gooseberries, in there and these really beautiful flavors and things that are very unique.
Then some other, like really cool herbal liqueurs coming from the high mountains where people were making these kinds of spirits for many, many centuries. One is called Matacuy which is like a bunch of herbs. And I likened it to Chartreuse notes with no sugar. So, you had like all of the botanicals and all that flavor, all that aroma. so that was really exciting.
Susan: I was thinking, maybe it would be like a Gentian, if you get mountains, in the Alps, the mountains in the Andes.
Lynnette: 100%. It has that vibe and it does. It has that aroma and aromatics. I’ve been playing around with ingredients from the high altitude through the cuisine, things like muña which is a very high-altitude mint, Huacatay as well. And these flavors are familiar yet not, and they just level up things in a different way.
Susan: I love what you said about travel through the spirits because I feel that so much as well, that, taking a sip takes you, either through the cocktail and its history takes you way back. To also a new spirit takes you forward to what’s being innovated now where it is, where are these people who are making it? Oh, I want to go there. You know, that definitely link to that. just as much as food really.
Lynnette: 100%. I think that’s really important connecting those two things. One of the other seminars I did at Bar Convent Brooklyn was about sustainable spirits and talking about this idea of terroir and, and things we can do. On the panel, was Waluco from Copalli Rum.
So, I got exposed to what they’re doing in Belize and how their rum is made, how their agriculture plays in.
They have one of their rums they’re putting some cacao in it and distilling it in. So that has a different aroma. What’s that tradition there? Why? You know, that’s such a cool way. What brought them to thinking about that and how has that play in their community and what they’re enjoying food wise.
Susan: It’s so funny. I have a bottle of that right here, waiting to interview him as well as tequila over here and pisco over here.
Lynnette: No, it’s great. I love it that we’re seeing this open market and then people are willing to explore. I think that’s, what’s really wonderful.
Susan: Well, I think the frustration is that after you go to someplace like Bar Convent Brooklyn, and you try all these, you’re like, okay, why can’t I get them? Where are they? Are they coming? And so, are they coming? You know, everything that you’ve mentioned, especially the potato one sounds so interesting.
Lynnette: They’re working on it. You know, I think what was great, the exposure at Bar Convent Brooklyn was an opportunity for meeting peak distributors, people who can help bring these items in. There is definitely a lot of young Peruvians who are really like this idea of their culture, and they want to see their country’s spirits getting more exposure. So, they’re working on ways to import those products, so that way they can have more exposure, and it’s really wonderful to see that. Some of them are in and the rest of them will get there. But I think having that opportunity to showcase was really incredible.
Susan: Oh, yeah, I can’t wait because the more the bartenders use them, the more we get to taste them, obviously. So that’s great. Now, now you said that you spoke at Bar Convent Brooklyn, and you speak a lot because you are a legend in this industry. So instead of going way back and starting, we did talk about your childhood a little, but I would love to know what, after all these years of being in the industry, working your way up to be whom you are, what do you love doing? What are your passions? What are the things that you really love to do and want to continue doing?
Lynnette: I mean, I think it was very fortuitous and crazy the whole Masterclass experience. I met the team. They recruited me, scouting me in September 2019. Right when I was opening our second restaurant for Llama San, our Nikkei spot in Manhattan. We were crazy in the Speed Rack season.
Ryan and I flew home from Speed Rack, in San Francisco, California, region. I had a 6:00 AM call time Ryan filmed the day before, while I was in California, I came in and filmed the next day. And then we filmed together the following day, man, that was crazy. December wrapped up in a bow.
Our original launch date was March 15th. We were beta testing so well, they moved it up to March 5th, very fortuitously because it was a very different news cycle on March 5th than it was on the 15th, 16th. It just ended up becoming this really great opportunity and doing it with so much fun.
Ryan and I discovered how much we have in common. We have a similar philosophy of food and drink and love cooking. That really came together and we’ve known each other for years, but that was a time to really get to know each other deeper and work together on a project, which was really awesome.
I think what got me through a [time of intense insecurity. We’re all like what’s going on in this world? Where are we going back to? I’ve been fortunate enough to have all the clients I work with, and they worked really hard to keep the restaurants opened and to give us opportunities to keep pushing things forward.
I had a lot of opportunity to do R & D with my head bartenders over that time, just because what else could we do? We’re like, okay, well, let’s keep dialing in on what the future is gonna look like and find the resources to do that.
I found this great passion for teaching people in a different way. I’ve been very fortunate and had the opportunity to speak at Tales of the Cocktail, Bar Convent all over the world, London Cocktail Week and all these things, but it was the first time I had a real opportunity to engage with the consumer in a very different way.
I got through quarantine on a professional level through that connection. Masterclass opened many, many doors for me for building an online virtual Happy Hour business. I was getting calls from big companies who didn’t have their Christmas parties, where they had to do things virtual things.
I was very lucky that there was a home marketing machine putting me out there and people had taken the class and they’re like, wonder if we can get her to teach a class for everybody. And so that became a new revenue stream for me and a new opportunity. I’ve loved that, Ryan and I’ve done a couple.
We did a class just for the Masterclass team as their holiday parties. We did a very specific one around Earth Day, and we did sustainable spirits and cocktails for them. We did a contest for subscribers for New Year’s Eve last year. They all submitted cocktails online. 20 of them got to go and have a special class with us just about New Year’s Eve cocktails.
We just ended a competition last week. And I’m going to be executing the next couple weeks and I’m paired with a chef Gabriela Cámara, from Contramar in Mexico city. And she and I are teaching a class for Dia de Los Muertos. She’s gonna teach them how to make a sweet corn tamales and I’m teaching them how to make a traditional day of Los Muertos inspired cocktail.
So those things have come up, and when I’m reading all the entries or I’m seeing people tag, or someone just pops into my DMs or tags a photo of something they created from class is really, really exciting.
Or they’re like, “I made my first Pisco Sour.” for example, and people tag, “I did it, I wasn’t afraid I used egg whites” or, “Hey, thanks for telling me to sub aquafaba, cause I’m vegan and I can do that.”
That direct feedback because you, as a bartender, you’re giving your drink. It goes away. If you’re working at a bar, it goes into the, into the atmosphere, the server brings it to the table and you don’t get that connection. You don’t see that direct relationship.
I really love doing this. I hope that I can keep expanding that as we get out of virtual world into real world and having more of these kinds of workshops, demos with consumers and keep bringing them along with us, because I think, the more they have done it at home, I found, people coming into the bars and restaurants have a much higher respect for the skillset.
They want to come to bars and they want to sit at your bar and they want to watch bartenders do it. Because they’ve been doing it at home and they don’t want to just keep doing it at home all the time. Yes. Do they make Negronis at home and simple drinks? Yes. But there’s this wonderful engagement now that is really just changed in a lot of good ways. And I love seeing that they’re really getting involved with the craft.
Susan: Absolutely. I mean, as a consumer, we all went through this collective trauma and we’re home sitting there and the fact that it popped up and two of the biggest people in drinks are going to teach me in my home, how to make something.
I’m not a bartender. I don’t make a cocktail and people are always asking, “Hey, can you make us a cocktail?” I’m like, well, I go to bars to have cocktails to get a handle on that. I felt like you both were with me the whole time. And I was at a bar and talking to you.
I know that sounds a little stalky, but it really was. Every night I had something to do that was bar related while watching every single bar close. I mean, I do cocktail tours in London and Milk & Honey closed forever. And I used to do a tour, I used to go to Milk & Honey in London.
And, as I saw my friends who have bars are suffering, I think, okay, there’s hope there’s, people are still doing stuff. And then the cocktail boom. So as someone who took it, it for more than just a cocktail class, I believe. And the teaching thing, now I feel a little bit comfortable.
By the way, the one tool that I had to get because of it, and you guys should have shares in it is the lemon squeezer. Oh my God, that’s the best thing ever. My God, I’ve given those to just so many people as presents. I love the idea of teaching and you’re wanting to do that.
Now having worked at a Breast Cancer charity myself and my father, who unfortunately just passed away was a breast cancer surgeon. I really want to just talk a little bit about Speed Rack in case anyone who’s listening doesn’t know about it.
I lived my life with someone who always helped women, my dad was a great breast cancer surgeon and we had a charity. So please tell me a little bit about how Speed Rack started, and, how people can give really if they want to, or be involved if they’re listening.
Lynnette: Yeah. I mean, Speed Rack started in 2011 with my partner Ivy Mix. it started from a lot of different places. One of the inspirations of where it started was in 2009. I started the New York chapter of LUPEC, which is Ladies United for the Preservation of Endangered Cocktails.
I was inspired to start that because I met the Boston chapter which was spearheaded by Misty Kalkofen of Boston from Del Maguey and Kitty Amann as well from Boston and they were doing these awesome feminists get together cocktail events, and they were raising money for local, women’s-based charities in the Boston area.
I thought, what a great way of getting women together to work together and then to have an impact on their community. So, I started a chapter in New York because when I became a full-time brand ambassador, the thing about becoming a full-time brand ambassadors is that you go to a lot of bars that you just weren’t in your normal rotation.
Right? So, when I was bartending, it’s what happens. You go visit your friends where they work. My circle was everyone who was basically from my Flat Iron days, Pegu Club because a lot of them worked there and then my Freeman’s days. So, I was surrounded by predominantly male bartenders.
As I started branching out, going into different accounts is where I started. Meeting these incredible women bartenders. I’m like, “Why don’t I know who they are? This is crazy. They’re so talented, they should be working in those other places that are like getting all the press.
One of the women I met, was a woman named Eryn Reece. She’s amazing. She’s a Speed Rack winner in the second season, but she was doing her Tales of the Cocktail entry cocktails, and I tasted them and thought it was amazing, this woman can really build drinks.
We’ve become really good friends and she has skyrocketed Death and Company, Mayahuel, and Eryn’s an incredible talent and teacher and growing a real great community of bartenders through her bar programs.
I started having these ideas. I was like, okay, well I need to get all these women together in a way, so we can start doing these events. We would do takeovers of Death & Company. We’d take over Macao bar and do charity events. It would change, We would have a lot for things for Bottomless Closet and organizations that were about helping with professional growth for women who didn’t have enough resources. They would go ahead and they set up interview prep, resumes, buy suits for these women who are trying to have advancement in the workplace and all those things.
So just really thinking about those social issues and how to get more women supported in their endeavors. I met Ivy when I was randomly filling in a shift at Mayahuel for Phil. He was like, “Hey, I have triplets who work here. They all have a wedding and I need someone to help on the serve on this Saturday night.” I was like, “Sure, I’ll do that for you.” And I met Ivy that night and she was really struggling to get behind cocktail bars. She had experience, she had lived in Guatemala, had bartended for years, but was having a really hard time breaking in the craft cocktail scene behind the bar.
I was like, well, let’s start doing these events with me, and so she started joining those events, and subsequently she ended up working for Julie at Lani Kai which was my mentor. And then opening a bar with her later on opening Leyenda with Julie. She started out and there was one event in particular, Don Lee and John Deragon, who started the Tales of the Cocktail batch program and like the whole Cap program.
They invited us. They’re like, Hey LUPEK group and there were chapters all over California, Texas, Canada had one and we would meet at Tales and talk through them. They’re like, if your chapters want to send a women to New York, to basically run the seminars and learn to do the batching, learn all those skillsets, do all the prep for the conference, and then you will all get to come here, attend the conference, whatever. So do this Cap program. So, we did, we brought all these women from across the country who came in and we were all there in the kitchen working at running, all pouring out the pours for the seminars during this.
It was funny. Ivy was on a break with another friend of ours, Rachel Shaw, outside. Someone was filming bartender videos. And they’re like, we don’t have any women. There are no women bartenders. She was like, well, they’re all here. They’re just back of house. They’re just all back of house making this conference run.
They both went and did the video and Ivy came back. It felt like no one knows who I am I was just like a token. I was just like, here I am. And she’s like, I should just have called it Speed Rack. And that’s it, all they wanted to see was me shake and that’s it. She just thought about it a little longer. She ran into me a few months later and was like, Hey, like I have this idea. I don’t know what it is, but we should do like the LUPEK model. I’m calling it Speed Rack.
Let’s do a charity for it. Let’s do Breast Cancer. and I was like, that’s great. My mother-in-law’s a survivor. I would love to do that and we can do this charity for women. We just went into planning. I’m a big fan of food competition TV shows.
I was like let’s borrow from here and here. And let’s do what we want to do. The big thing for us was what should this competition be? It should a cocktail competition that’s based on classic cocktails, because to us that was the foundation of growth.
If you didn’t know classic cocktails, you couldn’t make your version of something. When these competitions that were all about like make your whatever version of this, and so we felt like there was an opportunity to build a training program, reintroduce classics, to people who, if they didn’t have the opportunity to work at the bars that we were, at this point, working in, that have big foundations in classics, they expected you to know them.
So, to build this training course, we were fortunate enough to get Dale DeGroff and Julie Reiner and Dave Wondrich and all these people, Audrey Saunders, that we were fortunate enough to have as teachers to judge the competition and share that mentorship through this comp.
We thought it has to be based on what happens on a Friday night, the American bar scene is not patient. They want their craft cocktails and they want them fast. And so, you have to be building crazy drink rounds. Okay, it’s Friday night, you’re working this service well, and for industry-like luminaries sitting at the bar. There’s Charlotte Voisey and Dave Wondrich and Julie Reiner and Dale just sitting at your bar or what are you going to do? How are you gonna meet them?
Susan: Just chatting to you?
Lynnette: Yeah, chatting. You have to make four of best cocktails of your life for them, but you also have to get back to the 70 seats that are waiting for you to build drinks. So that’s how we formulated the competition. It grew into this training ground and women competing to win it.
In that way, it really became more of a sisterhood and a mentorship of each other. Globally we’ve done events in London. We did four events in the UK. We’ve done two in Australia, two in Asia, one in Hong Kong, one in Singapore, we did four in Canada, in addition to the US. We just launched digitally this year and we monitored it from afar, Russia, and St. Petersburg and Grand Cayman is doing their first competition that we’re monitoring from afar.
It’s expanding like the mission of bringing. We did Mexico City too, which was actually our first Latin speaking country, so it’s a big community. And through that, we were able to offer trips to distilleries, opportunities for education, things like the bar scholarship, the beverage alcohol resource.
The founders of that gave us scholarships to give to our competitors. We’ve had WSET opportunities come through that we’re able to give to our community, and really advance opportunities for women in the hospitality industry. This year when we were dark, Speed Rack, normally every year we raise over a hundred thousand dollars for our breast cancer charities. It’s been very hard without events because our events would make $25,000 easily in big cities.
It’s been hard to find a way to supplement that, but we do the best we can and we’re selling right now cocktail kits, through an organization called Shaker and Spoon That’s raising a ton of money for our charities, and we’re just trying to find unique ways. We did a bunch of cocktail classes, all these kinds of things. but we hope to get back on the road and really be able to do more of these competitions to raise more money.
We have a link to a few US ones on our website. If you go to speed-rack.com, the Pink Agenda, what we love about that one is that they are very multi-pronged. They go to everything from supporting survivors from survivors. It’s peer mentorship, to a women going through a treatment at the moment, to things like research.
Progressing the research, but also, working and discovering disparity between ethnic groups and trying to really dial in, so we can have a better way of understanding and diagnosing and treating everybody, and also a focus on and advocating for younger women who have histories to be able to have access to things like mammograms and breast scans that are normally prohibited because they’re not 40. If these women have history, they should be allowed to check earlier, because it’s about timing with catching breast cancer.
Lynnette: If you’re catching it at an early point and so it could be too late. So that’s where we’re at right now. Keeping up our mentorship program, which was actually a global mentorship program, which was amazing. The Speed Rack advisory squad, we just finished the English speaking and we just launched one for Latin America for Spanish speakers.
Those are going on. Classes, education, just offering any sort of resources we think that women coming out of this pandemic might need, as new skillsets or just discovery of finding where you want to go in your path of career and having that opportunity to have someone on that journey with you.
It’s been really great and we’re gonna keep fundraising for our organizations and try to make sure that we can raise as much money as possible, but lending in any way, at this point, resources to those organizations. We just did their virtual gala, helps them, hopefully raise a lot of money for people attending and paying a higher ticket For Lauren Paylor and I doing a happy hour for them.
Susan: I see a theme and the theme is giving back.
Lynnette: We’re fortunate in the industry, and in a lot of ways, a lot of the things, when I thought about when, even when I was starting the New York LUPEK chapter, thinking about the charity. You look at these people, I know these bartenders want to give back and what they have that they can give back is their skill. They can donate their time. They may not have a ton of extra cash lying around, but they’re happy to jump behind a bar, shake out some drinks and help support great causes.
Susan: Absolutely now, I always end asking what are your top tips for the home bartenders? I’m asking you to teach again, but if there were like a few things coming from you, if someone has never really picked up a bottle, they don’t really know, they really want to get into it after watching your masterclass. What would you advise them as the first way to start?
Lynnette: Sure. I mean, I always tell people if you’re interested in bartending, the first book you need to get is the Joy of Mixology from Gaz Regan. I think. Gaz, Gary, such a dear friend. what he brought to all of us in that book is just such a simple way of breaking down with bartending is how to build drinks.
If you can take that book and understand very simply how to build drinks, then you have the building blocks. That to me was such a revelation when reading it and the charts he has in there, because it makes it less intimidating. Right. You can come with that simple knowledge and then it almost helps you read recipes better because you’re like, okay, there’s that sweet sour mix. Okay. They’re balancing these ingredients. Yeah. And then after that, I say, just experiment, play, be humble. don’t be afraid to say you don’t know what something is.
I think the hardest thing is not everyone comes in with this giant arsenal of knowledge. You may know when I’m hiring people, it’s about a personality, Are they a team player? Are they willing to learn? Are they willing to say, “Here’s what I don’t know? Can you help?” Because asking for that help is more valuable than somebody who’s just going to try and fake it. I prefer the honesty. I prefer that transparency and so we can work on it. That’s exciting. people would just want to.
Just be earnest, be honest, be accountable. Then I think read the Joy of Mixology, start there. From there you could figure out which direction you want to go and what next books you want to grab to progress. That’ll probably come from the leadership in, as far as where you’re working. They might be telling you, “Hey, yeah, we get a lot of stuff from the Cocktail Codex.“ Maybe get that book or borrow it from the restaurant library. Then also start playing around with flavors, learn from flavor pairing, the food pairing Bbbles and all of these things are awesome.
If you’re working in a place, the chef, they probably have it. If they have a copy of it on site, you can take a look at for your shift coming in early, maybe flip through it, and just play with some seasonal things. Think about different flavor pairings and open up your world.
Susan: It’s funny when I first started the podcast, I spoke to a bartending, actually he was a bar consultant then, a friend of mine. I was like, do I need to become a bartender to do this podcast? And he said, “No, you just need three books.” One of those books was the Joy of Mixology. So, I ran out and I got, that one, then another one by David Wondrich and the other one Dale De Graff.
I bought those three books right away and I was like, okay, I don’t know if I’ll ever become a bartender, but I certainly have learned a whole lot that I didn’t know, just from going out to bars and drinking. Also, every bartender is so excited if you’re excited about their drink
Lynnette: Yeah. 100%.
Susan: Yeah. I always feel that. Now I can’t leave you with ask without asking, and this can be poignant at this time. I started asking this pre-pandemic, but if there’s one place that you could go and have one cocktail anywhere in the world, where would that be.
Lynnette: Yeah. I’ve been dying to go to Tayer & Elementary and sit with Monica and get a cocktail. First of all, have a little champagne and toast, and then I wanted one of her cocktails. it’s been on my list. I was really about to head there, hopefully like I was going to London in. June 2020. I was super excited. Can’t wait to sit her bar and look at what they’re doing.
Monica, I will see you soon and I will get to your bar and miss that cheers. I want to taste that delicious mango thing you’ve been showing on Instagram.
Susan: Let me tell you it’s very, very good. And I can’t wait to share that cocktail with you when you come over here to London. I thank you so much for being my 200th guest. It is such a thrill and honor, and I can’t wait to meet you in New York in real life. Once I can get over there again and go to Llama Inn and then Llama San. They’ve definitely have been on my list for ages.
Lynnette: Amazing. Well, thank you so much. And congratulations.
Susan: Thank you. Thank you so much. And see you in New York
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