Female mixologists are on the rise in the UK. Stylist profiles five of the best - along with their signature cocktails, and our guide to breaking into the industry.
Words: Laura Foster
There was a brilliant sight in Shoreditch in June. A group of women took it in turns to walk onto a stage and compete against each other, making a round of cocktails better and faster than the other - all while men wearing dresses and skirts assisted them in doing so.
This was the inaugural Speed Rack UK, a women-only bartender’s competition that raises money for breast cancer charities. And while it was for a good cause, and a lot of fun, it said a lot about the standing of female mixologists in the UK - they are an ever-growing gang that can hold their own.
Finding women behind a bar is not a new thing - in fact, one of the legends around the invention of the cocktail attributes one Elizabeth ‘Betty’ Flanagan with the honour, in a book called The Spy that was published in 1821.
Fancy becoming a mixologist?
* The best way is to find a good cocktail bar and get a job with them, gaining on-the-job training. Approach a bar and speak to the senior members of staff to try and gauge how interested they are in training new people up.
* The bar chain B@1 - currently only located in London and Reading - has a good reputation for its eight-week training scheme. beatone.co.uk
* If you want to dip your toe in the water and try a course first, Shaker Bar Schools offer a whole raft of different bartending courses, from a day-long masterclass to more serious study. shaker-uk.com
Moving onto the present day, increasing numbers of women are deciding that a career behind the stick is for them. But, says Esther Medina Cuesta, general manager at Opium Cocktail and Dim Sum Parlour, and arguably the high priestess of mixologists in the UK, “We’re still nowhere close to 25% of the bar population yet.’
Women make excellent bartenders, she says, because “many studies say that our palates are better. Women usually have a deeper sense of ownership, so our attention to detail, and sense of pride are usually higher. We have a 360 degree radar looking at what goes on in the bar.”
Here are five of the best female mixologists working in the UK today, sharing their favourite cocktail recipes for you to try at home...
1. Dee Davies
Looming large on the Bristol bar scene is Dee Davies, 24, who is head bartender at intimate cocktail den Hyde & Co. Having recently won a national competition organised by Diageo that challenged bartenders to create their own spirit, she will be seeing her winning idea, Jinzu - a mix between gin and sake - hit the shelves soon, and will receive 5% of the net sales from the brand over the next five years.
“To be a lady in such a male profession requires balls - figuratively - so [female bartenders] are extremely driven,” she declares. “I’m currently working with Diageo on my product, so I will be focusing on that for a while. In the long run I'd like to open my own bar.”
Dee's Signature Cocktail: The Fisherman’s Wife
- 60ml Talisker 10 Year Old
- 10ml Salmiakki liqueur
- 5ml Fernet Branca
- 10ml Rocks apple cordial
Method: Add ingredients to a mixing vessel with ice and stir until really cold. Strain mixture into the glass.
2. Sam Fish
Anyone lucky enough to have enjoyed Mojo in Leeds' good time rock 'n' roll party atmosphere will doubtless have seen Sam Fish, 28, Mojo's general manager in action. With her dry wit, calm attitude and killer drinks, she's the perfect host. Falling into bartending as a stopgap after quitting a much-hated job as a recruitment consultant in 2004, she fell in love with it and hasn't looked back.
“I ended up choosing bartending as a long-term career because I never got that ‘Monday morning’ feeling,” she says. “There has never been and still isn’t a day that I really don’t want to go to work. I love my job.”
Sam's Signature Cocktail: Ocean Sour
- 40ml Gin Mare
- 30ml honeydew melon juice
- 10ml Manzanilla sherry
- 10ml Yellow Chartreuse
- 25ml lemon juice
- 10ml sugar cane syrup
- 1 egg white
Glass: Martini glass
Garnish: Basil leaf
Method: Measure ingredients into a cocktail shaker and dry shake (shake the ingredients hard without ice for about 20 seconds). Add ice, shake again and strain into the glass.
3. Mimi Lorandova
Slovakian bartender Mimi Lorandova, 23, serves cocktails to die for in Hawksmoor Seven Dials, where she has worked for the last eighteen months. “My favourite thing about working as a bartender is providing good service for people,” she explains. “When they leave with a smile on their face, I know I’ve done a good job.”
Despite working with spirits and cocktails, Lorandova wouldn’t choose to take any of them to a desert island.
“If I was only allowed to drink one drink for the rest of my life, it would have to be champagne,” she admits. “I love it. Give me fountains of it, please!”
Mimi's Signature Cocktail: Bohemian Swizzle
- 40ml Becherovka herbal liqueur
- 2 dashes absinthe
- 20ml white grape juice
- 5ml sugar syrup*
- 20ml lemon juice
Garnish: Mint sprig, powdered sugar and a lemon wedge
Method: Pour all the ingredients into the glass, add crushed ice and swizzle to mix.
* Mix two parts sugar to one part boiling water, stirring until the sugar has dissolved
4. Sarah Mitchell
Photo credit: Imbibe/Chloe Kingham
Sarah Mitchell can be found with a firm hand on the tiller of London Cocktail Club in Shaftesbury Avenue. As general manager, nothing escapes her exacting eye.
Mitchell, 33, came to the UK from Sydney, for what was supposed to be a two-year break in 2003 before planning to study a post-graduate degree in medicine. “I was going to be a cardiologist,” she explains, “but I started working in hospitality over here and realised I loved it.”
One of the main things Mitchell enjoys is training her staff up. “Two of my former bar backs, who are Mexican, are now running their own bar in Guadalajara - how awesome is that? I have to say, I’m a pretty proud bar mum.”
Sarah's Signature Cocktail: Monarch
- 50ml gin
- 25ml lemon juice
- 25ml elderflower cordial
- 1 teaspoon sugar
Glass: Jam jar
Garnish: Sprig of mint
Method: Add ingredients to your jam jar, add some ice, place lid on top and shake. Top with more cracked ice and garnish.
NB: you can switch the gin for tequila and the lemon for lime.
5. Rosie Paterson
Having won the inaugural Speed Rack UK competition, Rosie Patterson has had a busy summer blazing a trail on the UK’s cocktail competition circuit. A fresh-faced 22-year-old, she works at Edinburgh’s Voodoo Rooms, where she started as a waitress in 2011, before moving behind the bar eight months later.
“You’ll find me there always smiling and cracking bad jokes,” she laughs. “The best thing about being a bartender is getting to meet amazing people: other bartenders, customers with stories...”
“The worst thing about it is people not realising how hard we work and how passionate we are about bartending. It’s not just a passing job for me, it’s my career.”
Rosie's Signature Cocktail: Wild’z Party!
- 60 ml Wild Turkey 81 bourbon
- 20ml pineapple juice
- 20ml vanilla gomme**
- fresh ginger chopped up (about a thumb nail's worth)
- 2 dashes angostura bitters
- egg white
Garnish: Pineapple leaf
Method: Put all ingredients in the shaker, dry shake it (without ice – do this hard for about 20 seconds), add ice and shake again. Fine strain into a chilled glass and garnish.
*Mix two parts sugar to one part boiling water, stirring until the sugar has dissolved. Add some vanilla pods as the gomme is cooling.