The Godmother of Mezcal & Co-Author of DRINKING LIKE LADIES: Misty Kalkofen

I first heard about Misty Kalkofen when we were in Boston in April for THIRST. It was at an event called An Afternoon with the B-Side Lounge when I heard her name. The B-Side Lounge was a bar in Boston that opened in 1998 bringing a renaissance of cocktails to the city. It closed twenty years later and this event at THIRST was the first time that the original players of B-Side were together again. At that event in April, the owner Pat Sullivan and three of the original bartenders (Brother Cleve, Dave Cagle, and Joe McGuirk) told stories about this legendary bar. And throughout all of the stories, Misty kept coming into play. Pat spoke about being told that he HAD to hire her for the bar because of her incredible cocktail knowledge and that when she did, she arrived to the bar straight from the airport with suitcase in hand ready to work. Their stories about her made me think I need to meet this woman. Well, I did get to meet her. The following night while visiting DRINK, Misty sat at the bar, mezcal in hand. Ezra Star introduced us and I immediately understood what all of the hype was about. In that meeting I learned that this is one generous, kind and knowledgeable woman, and is definitely a big force in the industry. This summer she released her first book (co-authored with Kirsten Amann), Drinking Like Ladies: 75 modern cocktails from the world’s leading female bartenders.

Misty Kalkofen | Bartender Atlas

Bartender Atlas: When did you start working in bars and what style of bartending were you doing?
Misty Kalkofen: My first full time bar gig was at the Lizard Lounge in Cambridge. It’s a great music club and every night is different. I would go from nights that were predominantly pouring pints to Brother Cleve’s Saturnalia which was ALL cocktails.

BA: What made you want to start bartending?
MK: I think bartending and the universe conspired together and chose me! I was a cocktail waitress at the Lizard Lounge and was scheduled to work a record release party. One of the bartenders was a no call/no show and so management moved me from the floor to the bar. I must have held my own as I never was scheduled to work the floor again.

BA: What was Boston like as a drinking city then and what is it like now?
MK: Guests are, in general, more educated now. After years of thinking about the quality of the food they eat, guests are now putting the same sort of attention on what they are drinking. They are looking for establishments that are stocking a quality back bar and educating their team to speak about those products. They want guidance and professional execution without pretension.

BA: How have you seen the industry grow since the time that you started bartending? What have you liked and what has made you cringe?
MK: Bartending is seen as a real profession and I love that! When I started bartending it was always seen as the side gig to support your “real” aspirations.
As far as cringeworthy, definitely the egos that I am seeing. I feel that once a bartender starts feeling that the spotlight should be on the bartender rather on the bar stools and guests where the focus belongs, we have forgotten our guiding principle of hospitality.

BA: What is your current role with Del Maguey Mezcal?
MK: We aren’t a company of typical titles, so my title is madrina or godmother. I wear a bunch of hats from education to marketing to managing go-to-market strategies. I would say my favorite part of my job is managing our loyalty program which includes leading trips to Oaxaca. The producers and our team in Oaxaca are the heart of our organization. Spending time with them, introducing bartenders and our distributor partners to our team in Oaxaca, and teaching visitors about our processes revitalizes me and I love it!

BA: How did you transition from bartending to that job?
MK: I was starting to have chronic pain in my wrists and I knew that bartending was no longer sustainable for me. I needed to consider my next steps and there was really only one brand that I believed in from start to finish, Del Maguey Single Village Mezcal. I arranged for a meeting with Ron (Cooper) in New York before he was really in a space where the organization was ready to be hiring help. It must have been effective as he hired me almost 3 years to the day later.

Misty Kalkofen | Bartender Atlas

BA: What was your inspiration to create Drinking Like Ladies?
MK: Kirsten and I wrote a column in a local weekly in which we would tell the history of a woman in history and then toast her with a classic cocktail. A friend in the publishing industry encouraged us to write a book proposal using a similar format. We did and quickly got turned down by almost 20 publishers. But timing is everything I guess as ten years later our editor from Quarto Press “found” us through our basically defunct blog and inquired as to whether we had ever considered writing a book. And here we are now!

BA: What was the process for putting together the book?
MK: First we had to choose the women whose stories we wanted to tell. The goal was to highlight a broad spectrum. We wanted to highlight multiple cultures, time periods and disciplines. Researching these women was a dream! Kirsten and I were so inspired by this part of the process, by learning about our amazing fore-broads, that at a certain point we had to cut ourselves off otherwise we would have never gotten to the point of writing the book! The next step was to reach out to all of our friends who travel the globe to learn about the women they have encountered who have made them amazing drinks and provided great hospitality. Our goal was to highlight women who are doing great things but are living in markets that don’t get as much attention nationally or globally. Once we had a group of women who were interested we paired each bartender with a woman we were profiling. We provided bullet points of the woman’s life and story so that the assigned bartender could find points of inspiration in order to create a cocktail to toast her assigned woman. The cocktails the bartenders created were remarkable! SO thoughtful and inspired. This project would not be what it is without them!

BA: What advice would you give to any new bartenders?
MK: I have the same advice for everyone…live every day as a student. Wake up every day thinking about what you don’t know and find how you can continue to learn.

Flash Questions:
BA: Favourite drinking city?
MK: Whatever city I’m in. I have favorite drinking spots in every city I’ve visited and they all have their own, distinct merits.

BA: Favourite airport bar?
MK: Easy. One Flew South in Atlanta

BA: Favourite booze book?
MK: I’m totally digging Drinking Distilled by Jeffrey Morgenthaler right now.

BA: Favourite mezcal?
MK: That is like picking a favorite child. So unfair.

BA: Favourite place to visit in Mexico?
MK: Santo Domingo Albarradas will always have a special place in my heart.

 

Thank you, Misty for taking the time to speak with us!


Jessica Blaine Smith
Co-creator at Bartender Atlas
Jessica co-created Bartender Atlas with her bartender husband Josh Lindley. She is a full-time photographer based in Toronto, Canada. In her professional life, she documents the lives of others. Her camera has taken her all over this beautiful world from Cuba to Trinidad to France to New Zealand and Australia. While not a bartender herself, she definitely loves a strong cocktail, preferably one that is brown and/or smokey. She also loves poutine, pilates, other peoples' children and, of course, sitting at all of your bars.
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