Educating Bartenders Worldwide.
By Beverage Trade Network
Over the course of 17 years in the industry, Joanna Carpenter has worked on all sides of the bar, from supplier to bartender. She is co-founder of grassroots language organization 86 The Barrier. Along with being known for her flair for the trade of bartending, Carpenter has left quite a mark in the drinks industry with her involvement in race and gender equity at Tales of the Cocktail, Bar Convent Brooklyn, Healthy Pour, and others - opening up doors for women and people of color. What’s more, Carpenter quit drinking distilled spirits in 2018. She’s happy to mix you a drink - with or without the alcohol although she prefers the latter.
Carpenter has also been featured in SevenFiftyDaily, NPR, and New York Times for her strong advocacy in the industry. Today, she shares with us her experience, and how she uses her ethos of equality to work with brands and people in the drinks world.
I started bartending when I was 18 (shout out to that being legal in Michigan!). I started working in restaurants when I was 16 but had been working at the family roller skating rink since about 4th grade.
Kindness; patience; humility; a sense of humor; resilience.
Joanna serving drink, Source: Joanna Carpenter
I always prefer to support small craft brands, and brands owned or led by women and people of color. That doesn't mean I support something JUST because it's women/PoC-owned (it has to actually be good), but I turn towards those brands first.
Depends on the supplier. I have different expectations for big brands than I do for small brands. Either way, the relationship is most important to me - I don't care how much you spend, I don't care how fancy the POS is - are we aligned on ethos? Does my program matter to you in a meaningful way?
"Big" is subjective. I'm personally not a fan of working just to get featured in articles and win awards and such. Hospitality, at its core, is about other people and caring for them. So it becomes more a question of "what type of person/creative/teammate/leader do you want to be?"; find people to emulate, reach out to them for mentorship, and go from there. Not everyone's path has to wind the same way, and women/LGBTQ+ bartenders/people of color will always have extra ladders to climb. Also, in general, don't be a dick. We have enough of those in this business.
Non-alcoholic is here to stay, thank goodness. The conversation around it is slowly getting destigmatized, finally. I also think the emergency need for to-go cocktails as a pandemic response is going to generate some interesting innovations in to-go and RTD, not just at the legislative level from city to city but also from the creative side. It's amazing what brilliance comes out of this industry when we are under duress and trying to survive.
Joanna making a drink, Source: Joanna Carpenter
I don't know if I have any singular process - sometimes I focus on the end aesthetic, sometimes I build out from one funky food element I want to show off, sometimes I throw things in a shaker and see how terrible it may or may not be; at the end of the day, I don't take myself that seriously so I try to always find things to make drinks with that I am inspired by or curious about or just plain love the taste of.
Making people feel good. Talking sh*t with other bartenders. Learning things I didn't know before. Being inspired by people.
The fact that we exist, honestly. We are on our way to having our 501c3, which means we can really work in service to the community the way we set out to, a year ago.
I see it being an unstoppable force for the better. There's no reason to demonize people who don't drink, and it may be polarizing to say this, but I don't give a damn about check averages when it comes to respecting someone's choices. We don't know why people are choosing to go zero-proof and frankly, it's none of our damn business. Our job is to care for people and show them a good time. I see non-alcoholic drinks ending up just as exciting and competitive as alcoholic options, and in my dream world, bars invest as much as possible into zero-proof options on menus.
Joanna making a cocktail Source: Joanna Carpenter
I usually enjoy making whatever makes someone happy. That said, I'm super proud of a cocktail from one of my old menus called "Aunt Pearl's Trunk Grenade"; my great-great Aunt Pearl was a bootlegger (and one time my grandpa found live grenades in the trunk of her rusted-out car), so in her honor, I made this beautifully bright, bubbly long drink that tasted like flowers and citrus; in actuality, it was straight booze and I had to impose a limit of 2 on it to protect from liability issues.
I'm petite, and I don't think I've ever worked at an ergonomically accommodating bar, so I have literally worked for years while dancing around on the balls of my feet for an entire shift. My calves are okay with this. I also like to think that I'm really good at making people feel seen and heard and cared for, even over just one drink.
Know. The. Basics. Don't come in here with all this flair and ego and nonsense if you don't know how to balance a damn Negroni. Also - be a good human. Skills are teachable, kindness is inherent. You must treat people with kindness.
Not sure if any of my cocktails are known enough to be "popular" but I'm known for breaking the rules. Doing tiki with single malt scotch for example - I love it, and I've created some drinks that I'm so, SO proud of. It also tickles me to stress the purists out.
Header image source: Joanna Carpenter