It’s a great time to be a woman in the spirits and cocktail industry. Women hold key positions in every aspect of the trade, from production to distribution to management and everything in between, and their endeavors and creativity are recognized by everyone of both sexes. As our writer Keith Allison pointed out, women are no longer merely seen as a “sexy marketing tool,” dumbed down hubba hubba girls, but as gender equals in the foundations of the industry. The celebration of achievement by the ladies was more apparent than ever at this year’s Tales of the Cocktail.
For the past ten years, TOTC, an annual cocktail festival, has taken place in New Orleans, Louisiana. It’s an event that is meticulously planned by Ann Tuennerman (a.k.a. Mrs. Cocktail), along with her husband Paul (you guessed it, Mr. Cocktail) and their dedicated team of staffers. For six days, an international collection of bartenders, brand representatives, distillers, writers, consultants and general bon vivants gather to share information and sip together at parties and events. Of course, who else but a very organized woman is able to herd this massive assemblage of drunken cats each year? But beyond Tuennerman’s vast accomplishments, there are more reasons to promote the increasingly important role of women at TOTC.
As a writer and editor, TOTC is an excellent opportunity to visit tasting rooms and events to sample new products. This year I had the pleasure of sitting down one on one with Ylva Binder, a veteran spirits industry professional who is now producing Rhuby, a Swedish liqueur made from rhubarb. “Another new liqueur, whoop dee do!” you say? What sets Rhuby (which happens to be quite delicious) apart from the others is not only its unique rhubarb base, but its close association with Pink Your Drink, a European cocktail competition that raises funds for breast cancer awareness and female entrepreneurship.
Binder saw TOTC as a way to represent a small brand by personally meeting and greeting all kinds of representatives of the industry. In a later email interview, she said of her lasting impression of the experience: “Women in the business relate to the platform I am trying to push and build and thank us for allowing them an extra stage to shine. We try to push forward the women behind the scenes, women who may not naturally be the extrovert brand builders of themselves commonly existing in the business… Men [also] feel it is a great initiative and support us in what we do.”
She makes a very interesting and true observation – when we discuss feminism, particularly where it relates to the drinks industry, many jump on the “Girl Power!” “Yay for boobs!” “You go girl!” type platforms. But there are also much quieter, more convivial and less aggressive ways to celebrate femininity and still get points across.
At the Hangover Hospital brunch at Cafe Adelaide, I was seated with the restaurant’s partner, Ti Martin, who also co-owns Sobou and classic N.O. institution Commander’s Palace. As we ate restorative dishes designed by Chef Carl Schaubhut and sipped cocktails by talented female head bartender, Lu Brow, Martin entertained us with stories about New Orleans hospitality, particularly the legacy of strong women behind the scenes. In fact, I learned it was her mother, who first “instilled the importance of cocktails” in her by handing her a copy of New Orleans Drinks and How To Mix ‘Em by Stanley Clisby Arthur and said, “Read this, kid. Drinks are an important part of a great meal in N.O.” One needs to appreciate that at the time Martin was given this introduction, women bartenders were as rare as a 5 pm nightfall in June.
In the modern era, luckily, ladies who appreciate a good drink are not giving cues from the wings, but standing front and center in key roles. Perhaps nowhere was this celebration of women more apparent than at the annual Dame Hall of Fame Luncheon, where TOTC and LUPEC (Ladies United for the Preservation of Cocktails) unite to honor important women in the industry. This year’s inductees: Diageo Head Mixologist/educator Elayne Duff, writer/consultant/Inside F&B founder Francine Cohen, bartender/Speed Rack co-founder Ivy Mix, “First Lady of Bourbon”/global brand ambassador Hollis Bulleit and Laird & Co. VP Lisa Laird Dunn. The event was fittingly held at Ruth’s Chris Steakhouse, and Dunn was also honored with the Ruth Fertel Pioneer Award.
The all boozy drinks on the menu were designed by LUPEC members. Said co-founder Lynnette Marrero of the menu, “Real women drink strong drinks.” That’s right. Leave the citrusy and sweet to the boys!
Though the drinks were delicious, the real focus was, as Cohen puts it, “a way for women to connect through lunch” and “reflect on the accomplishments of impressive women.” One of the main components of the luncheon is an intimate Q & A with the inductees that allows everyone to truly get to know one another.
Since TOTC can be such a vast festival, even though attendees are concentrated in the same locations, it’s easy to miss significant face time with one another. The Dame Hall of Fame Luncheon, much like the Hangover Hospital Brunch, provides a means to slow down and appreciate friends in our community. It’s actually planned nearly a year in advance so that people already have that oasis to look forward to.
Cohen said the biggest takeaway about being inducted and the event itself is that it “…not only recognizes who we are as individuals in the industry, but who we are as people.”
And that’s it in a nutshell. The drinks industry doesn’t have a glass ceiling. Just an oak bar where men and women alike want a good drink and conversation. Thank you, Tales of the Cocktail, for recognizing what that means to all of us.
Amanda Schuster is the Senior Editor in Chief of Alcohol Professor and the author of NEW YORK COCKTAILs available from Cider Mill Press. Certified sommelier, former retail spirits and wine buyer - she likes to think of herself as "bi-spiritual." Please don't ever offer her a Pickleback. Complete bio here.