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Will Estrada - The Joker Bartender

Bartender and Consultant Will Estrada, also known as The Joker Bartender, is dependable, resilient, and collaborative. Estrada’s ability to adapt under pressure, step up when he is needed most, and work with a team has played a crucial role in his life and his career. Having worked in bars and restaurants with toxic working environments, Estrada thrives at Groot Hospitality which boasts a passionate, supportive, and encouraging team of professionals. As both a bartender and consultant, Estrada approaches his job with a fun attitude. He not only wants to have a good time but he also wants to make sure that everyone who tries his delicious, creative cocktails has a great experience too!

What was your initial reaction to Miami’s hospitality industry? How did this reaction change over time?

When I started in Miami, I hated bartending. It was horrendous. I stopped bartending and got a busser/ runner/server jobs––anything to avoid getting behind the bar. One day, I was working at a restaurant and they opened a new pool bar but none of the bartenders showed up. They went partying. The manager put me in charge of the bar. I had no idea what to do. Then, I ended up staying at the pool bar and it was fun. It was nice to talk to people, meet people, and make drinks. By that time, I didn’t drink alcohol. I only followed a recipe. I didn’t have my first drink of liquor until I was 25. I got an opportunity to work at Fontainebleau’s service bar. When I left there, I started getting into craft cocktails and read about craft cocktails. I learned about wine and became a sommelier. I then worked in management and learned that bartending was more than making drinks behind a bar. I was doing what a chef would do. I was mixing flavors. 

Where else did you bartend in Miami?

I got a chance to open a place on West Avenue. It was the first full bar that I took care of. It was a challenge. It was a huge bar in a restaurant with around three hundred seats. I had no idea what I was doing. They told me they needed a new cocktail menu and I had to come up with it. That was fun. People ended up liking my drinks. I got into it. I read a lot of books. At some point, I got decent enough to run places. I worked at Repour. It was a local cocktail bar.  I got to work with a great team. They had the most imaginative craft cocktails there. When I started there was a whole new team of bartenders, the three of us came up with the menu and that menu was probably the best that I ever made.  

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What inspired you to become a bar consultant?

I started helping out with some bars. I did the menus and helped with their training. I liked the creative part. I like coming up with cocktails. I got really into consulting in multiple bars. I would go into hotels and look at their cocktail programs. I would look at twelve bar restaurants. That’s how my consulting started. 

You call yourself “The Joker Bartender”. What inspired this name?

Since I was a kid, I loved The Joker.  I watched all the cartoons and I first saw The Joker in a comic book. I saw the comic and read the story. What I like about The Joker is not the same as The Joker everyone sees now: crazy, narcissist, murder. The original Joker was meant to be a one time character.  He was supposed to be a villain that died or disappeared. People saw him as a nobody but fans loved him so much that he became iconic. I always thought that this guy was meant to be nothing but he became one of the most iconic characters in comics. I don’t see him as a villain but that is a different story…I admired his journey. I got a tattoo of him on my arm because it reminds me of the struggles that I had as a kid. Coming to Miami was hard too and now I am in a better position than I was when I started. Also, I have The Joker on my arm. A lot of people would tag me as “the Joker Bartender” on social media and the name stuck.

What does it mean for you to be working with Groot Hospitality? What values do you share with the company?

I have worked with the company for a while. I like that Groot Hospitality is not just telling you to come to have a meal and go home. We’re all about coming to have a meal and to stay with us. You have a drink, you enjoy the music and you have a great time. We like creating an environment that you want to stay in.  You see that every staff member loves being here. It’s always fun. We have a lot of energy. We are not a stuck up company that might be doing it for the glory or that might not care if anyone else is struggling. From the owners to management, everybody has the same wants and goals. I’ve enjoyed it so far and that’s why I’m still here. 

What are your favorite aspects of the job?

I have always admired Chefs. It’s impressive what they do with food. They’ll list the ingredients and it will be these amazing flavors that I have never tried in my life. Bartenders are doing what a Chef does: we play with flavors. I started thinking less about making people drunk and more about giving people a product that they would love. I wanted to give them something they wanted to sip, enjoy, and love. I don’t want to be just the guy who pours shots but the guy who makes something original, something that excites people when they come to the bar. 

You have worked with Komodo, Swan, and other restaurants. How did you come up with the beverage list of each restaurant? How did you make these lists unique?

I like playing around with the Chef. I try to know what they are doing in the kitchen. You’ll see me in the kitchen asking questions. I like to taste whatever they have there. I’m the guy with the Snoopy face hanging around and trying to try everything. I want to understand what the chef is doing so I can do a cocktail that you can pair with a meal. It’s like having a glass of wine and steak or fish. It’s the same with a cocktail. Why can’t you pair a cocktail with food? Because I had the chance to work with a few celebrity chefs and have enjoyed working with them, I started seeing what flavors work in a cocktail. 

If you had your own drink, bar, or business, what would it be like and why?

I call my home bar “The Clown Den” so that’s probably what my bar would be. I’ve always wanted to have a nice craft tail bar. A little speakeasy. Nothing huge. I would probably have ten seats at the bar and a couple of tables. I’ve always wanted my own bar and someday, I hope I get one. 

How may we follow your journey? Do you have any social media accounts or websites that you would like to share?

Instagram: @the_clown_den and @will_e_artpag

**All images by @blazinvisualz

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HENNESSY BRAMBLE COCKTAIL

HENNESSY BRAMBLE COCKTAIL

by intelprise

Enjoy a Hennessy V.S.O.P Privilège spin on this fresh springtime cocktail. It adds a gourmet twist to an already fresh, zesty concoction. Fresh berries add that certain je ne sais quoi

Ingredients

1.5 oz Hennessy VS

.5 oz Fresh Lemon Juice

4-5 Blackberries or any other berry will work

.5 oz Simple syrup

1 dash of Cassis, Chambord or another berry liqueur

Garnish: twist of Lemon

Glass: Rocks

Preparation:

Muddle berries in the bottom of a shaker tin and add all ingredients with ice.  Shake until chilled and strain into a rocks glass with crushed ice.  Splash cassis over the top and garnish with lemon twist and a few blackberries.

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Samantha Warren and Vianca Arias – Thirsty Bartenders

In addition to having the same birthday, Content Creators Samantha Warren and Vianca Arias bond over their energetic and positive approach to life, a love of creation, and a natural appreciation for entrepreneurship. This duo is so connected that they share a mind for business and the wherewithal to actualize their ambitious goals as a team. From bartending side by side to creating Thirsty Bartenders, there is little that these two women cannot do when given the time, space, and resources to deliver fresh, exciting content to over 38,000 followers. 

How did you two meet? What’s the story of Samantha and Vianca?

SW: We met in 2012 at a little Mexican bar called Tijuana Taxi Co. I started there as a server and worked my way up as a bartender. Vianca started as a hostess. She became a server and then a bartender.  I trained Vianca and showed her how to bartend. We’ve been working together ever since.

VA: After Tijuana, we decided to go to South Beach. We’ve been working together ever since we started at Tijuana taxi which is fun. Samantha has been my mentor ever since I met her. She has always been someone that I looked up to. She has this entrepreneurial mindset which I’ve always had. In high school, I would always say that I wanted to own my own business one day and do my own thing. 

What inspired you to start Thirsty Bartenders?

VA: Samantha and I would always talk about her ideas and when she told me about Thirsty Bartenders I thought, Damn, I want to do that! That sounds like fun! I want to hop in with you. That’s how Thirsty Bartenders was born. She had the idea and she invited me to join her. I was on board.

SW: We had such good chemistry behind the bar so we just decided to make a business out of our chemistry. 

How did you come up with the name “Thirsty Bartenders”?

SW: We thought of terms that were related to drinking. There were so many names that we went through. There is a website that you can go on and see if the name is available. “Thirsty Bartenders” was available across all platforms and it’s fun and flirty. 

VA: We tried so many names. I remember being behind the bar and going over a million names like “Barmaid” and “Missologist”. Then, we said no we’re bartenders and what’s a fun adjective? Thirsty and super fun. It’s playful. It’s risqué and you’re like what is “Thirsty Bartenders”?

What is the purpose/goal of Thirsty Bartenders?

SW: We love making people laugh. Humor has always been a big part of our relationship and how we are as bartenders. We’re fun and we love to bring that fun, bubbly laughter to other people. We want to entertain people. Another goal that we have is to eventually help other bartenders get jobs. We have yet to implement it but this is our future goal.

What are your favorite aspects of doing Thirsty Bartenders?

SW: My favorite aspect of the job is being creative. There is a lot that goes into it when we make our videos and cocktails. We have to figure out what goes well with making beautiful cocktails. 

VA: I would have to say the same. I love creating the cocktails and tasting it. The whole process is fun because we both get together and we’re like what goes good with what.  Then, we get to the other creative side which is how do we make it look pretty in front of a camera which is also a lot of fun. 

What are some challenges of doing Thirsty Bartenders?

SW: Some challenges that we have experienced doing Thirsty Bartenders are getting familiar with the camera (knowing the right type of lighting, and the right camera settings). Thankfully, I have my boyfriend who is also a videographer and who helps us. 

What brands have you worked with and what draws you to them?

SW: We have created content for our platform as well as for brands as well. We’ve worked closely with Twang Beer Salt which is based out of Texas. We fell in love with their product and they saw our video. We’ve been connected ever since.  We’ve worked with Twang and another brand that we hold close to our hearts which is Fifty States Vodka. We work with them and they are a beautiful brand. They represent a lot of the same beliefs that we do as far as on their website they represent the LGBTQ community and all races and beliefs are important to them as they are to us. They are a beautiful brand that we love working with. 

VA: Fifty States Vodka is based in Florida which we are also obsessed with. 

How have your followers influenced your craft?

SW: We sometimes make cocktails that are specific to some of our followers. For example, we have a follower that has been close to us from the beginning. We know that she loves Ciroc, watermelon cocktails so we made a Ciroc watermelon frozé for her.  That was a good cocktail and she loved it. We loved it. We have been building similar relationships with our followers. 

VA: Our followers inspire us when we’re creating cocktails. Sometimes we are inspired by other things but we love getting inspiration from our followers and doing what they want to see. We ask them what do you want us to make? Give us ideas!

What are your favorite drinks to make? Why?

SW: I haven’t made this in a while but I used to love re-creating candy bar flavor drinks. They were almost nostalgic when you tasted them you were like ‘Oh my God, yes!’ They would taste like a Milky Way or an Almond Joy…That used to be fun for me and layers cocktails are fun to make. They are eye-catching and people like to drink them.

Do you have any remarkable opportunities/ stories that have happened because of Thirsty Bartenders? If so, what are some of these experiences?

SW: The biggest opportunity that we had because of Thirsty Bartenders so far has been getting noticed by Dwyane “The Rock” Johnson. He reposted us on his Instagram and from that we’ve been acknowledged by many other brands. 

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How has COVID-19 affected you personally and professionally?

VA: Quarantine has been a blessing in disguise. For us, we needed the time to focus on Thirsty Bartenders because before we were working two jobs and doing Thirsty on the side. We both lost our jobs, we were working at the same job, and then we went gung-ho on Thirsty. Ever since a lot of cool things have happened and there’s been a momentum. Quarantine was the push that we needed. 

What, if anything, do you hope a Post COVID-19 Word resembles for you as a person and as a member of the hospitality industry?

SW: I hope it is similar to what we are doing now. We want to keep creating content and keep the ball rolling with this so the dollars start rolling in. I love bartender but working on our own thing is the dream. We want this to take off and to be financially stable by just creating content.   

What kind of services do Thirsty Bartenders offer?

VA:  If you need any sort of content creation with your brand and, if it involves alcohol or syrups that’s what we do. We create content for brands. If you have a brand that you need content for, hit us up! 

SW: We do have virtual events. We do lives on Instagram. We like to create content that is specific for brands, especially in the bar industry.  

To contact Samantha/Vianca or follow Thirsty Bartender’s journey:

Instagram: @thirstybartenders, @SammyThirsty, @ThirstyVee

Website: www.thirstybartenders.com

thistybar scaled
Image by Blazin Visualz
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Woodford Reserve Celebrates Female Bartenders

Singer, Entrepreneur, and Actress Rihanna once said, “there’s something so special about a woman who dominates in a man’s world. It takes a certain grace, strength, intelligence, fearlessness, and the nerve to never take no for an answer.” In the same way, it takes a group of strong, resilient professional women to succeed in a diminishing industry and to participate in its highly-anticipated revival. Because of the current state of the industry, it is all the more commendable that Woodford Reserve Miami Brand Ambassador Natalia Cardenas celebrates and empowers female bartenders to succeed despite the hardship caused by the global pandemic.

To celebrate the 50th anniversary of the first female Jockey, Cardenas is currently organizing a trade-focused program that will feature five female bartenders and support Woodford’s industry partners during the age of Coronavirus. This year’s inspiration for Woodford Reserve’s Kentucky Derby’s annual $1,000 Mint Julep Cup will honor the first female jockey, Diane Crumb. At 20 years old, Crumb raced her thoroughbred horse Fathom into history. The honored bartenders include Meghan Wright (Beverage Consultant and Secretary of the Palm Beach Chapter of the United States Bartenders Guild), Shauna O’neil (Head Bartender of Sweet Liberty), Maria Pottage (Beverage Director of Leku) Kyshali Ramirez (Apothecary 330), and Sarah Sims (Stripsteak at the Fontainebleau Hotel). The focus on these impressive women legitimizes their hard work, dedication, and impressive skill set as well as reveals an appreciation for female professionals in a male-dominated industry. By highlighting these phenomenally talented women, Cardenas demonstrates the necessity of women in bars and supports an industry that was hard hit by the global pandemic. 

Headed by Cardenas, the team associated with this endeavor is made by and for women. This past Tuesday, September 1st, Andrea Stevens shot portraits of the female bartenders who will be featured with the 1K Mint Julep Cup. Stevens is a seasoned member of the hospitality industry who became a full-time photographer during the pandemic. According to the event coordinators, after the event, the 1k Mint Julep cup will be donated to the Pursue Happiness Foundation. This foundation is a “ Hospitality Industry-focused charity that recently launched in Miami in honor of John Lermayer.” Lermayer was a “foundational hospitality figure in South Florida, and partner of Sweet Liberty, one of the World’s 50 best bars.”

Cardenas will also offer a tasting/cocktail demo so that the bartenders can auction off the total experience to get the $1,000 prize (or more) in the future. 

Follow the recipe for this traditional cocktail at home to join in on the fun:

mint julep

The Diane Crump $1,000 Mint Julep

Ingredients:

●2oz Woodford Reserve Bourbon

●3/4oz blackberry simple syrup (a nod to the blue/turquoise silks worn by Crump in 1970)

●1 bar spoon Woodford Reserve Mint Julep Syrup

●Mint sprig & Virginia BlueBell flowers to garnish (Ky Mint to celebrate Derby and Virginia flowers to honor Crump’s current home)

Preparation:

Pour in bourbon, blackberry syrup, mint syrup, crushed ice. Mix until frost forms on the outside of the julep cup. Add your mint sprig & flower garnish, top with more crushed ice

 

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Chris Fierro - Rum_bassador

Rum Brand Ambassador Chris Fierro lives and works with heart, passion, and a strong sense of community. It is largely his personable character, his willingness to grow, and his dedication to his brands that allow him to make a name for himself in the Rum Industry. Fierro travels long distances from West Palm Beach to Miami for work. He communicates with bartenders, restaurants, and mixologists to learn from those around him. He is also professionally and personally present for those in the industry that he considers a part of his family. His personal touch and community-oriented approach not only makes him a beloved member of the community, but also the perfect mentor, friend, and contributor to the South Florida Rum Scene.  Similarly, to his first brand ambassador job at The Real McCoy, Fierro is undoubtedly the real thing.

How did you get started as a Brand Ambassador?

In 2013, I was working as a bookkeeper for The Real McCoy brand. During my second year working for The Real McCoy, I started helping out the brand by seeing what I could do on my end to help promote it. We were a startup. I went into local bars where I had good relationships with the managers and asked them if they could bring in my brand because I would like to drink it at their bar. They said sure and I kept following up every week. After the first month, the manager told me that The Real McCoy rum was at the bar and you can order whenever you want, anytime you come. I did the same thing with my other favorite restaurants and bars. I was persistent. Then, Founder and CEO Bailey Pryor took notice and appreciated the work that I did for The Real McCoy brand. Mr. Bailey Pryor guided me and showed me how to transition from my role as a bookkeeper to a brand ambassador. 

How do you differ from other BAs?

When The Real McCoy left West Palm Beach and went to Connecticut, I picked up a new brand and started on my own in the industry. I said to myself that the only way I’m going to be successful is by working hard, being very passionate about my work and the brand, and making sure that I could make the industry better.  supported everybody in the industry. Succeeding in the market involved supporting the bartenders, bartenders craft, my brand, the bars and restaurants. That was my formula. I brought my passion to every restaurant and showed them who I am and what I’m bringing to the table. I’m not saying that nobody has ever done that but with every account that I had, I show them a great appreciation for their support. I caught people’s attention with my approach and a lot of people told me that I’m different from the brand ambassadors that they’ve seen in the past. I tried not to worry about other brand ambassadors with competitor brands. I focused on my work and what I could do to continue growing.

Who in the industry has inspired you? How has their inspiration impacted you?

I did not come into this industry knowing everything. I followed people that I admire and learned from them. Ambassadors like Gabriel Urrutia, Cesar Diaz,  Freddy Diaz, and Jessica Stafford were rock stars to me. My biggest mentor was Robert Burr. He’s the organizer of the Miami Rum Festival and he gave me a lot of guidance. Forrest Cokely is another amazing person that inspired me. He’s a genius with spirits. He’s like a Guru. These individuals gave me a good reason to be in this industry and to learn what it is all about. They taught me how to give back to my community and how to help the next guy that’s coming into the industry by mentoring them and continuing to give my support. 

After The Real McCoy, what other brand did you represent?

After The Real McCoy, I started working with Richland Rum. To give you a little bit of history about Richland Rum, it is from Georgia, made from molasses, aged up to 2 years in brand new American Oak barrels. It was a new brand to the Florida market when I accepted the brand ambassador/sales role. I knew it was going to be a challenge to sell a bottle at $40.00. Richland Rum was a new product to the Miami market with a premium bottle price. I had to sell it with few tools to impact the market (sell sheets and t-shirts). I knew that the only way to sell this rum was to be active on social media and show my buyers and followers my work and what I was doing with all my accounts. My schedule was working after lunch hour until midnight, sometimes to one o’clock in the morning. Drive back home and wake up early in the morning to research on Facebook. I would look into what bars and restaurants are busy and offering great craft cocktails. Then I would hit the pavement to visit accounts, introduce myself to new potential accounts, and do my follow-ups. With a lot of hard work, I started seeing results in the market with Richland Rum. I even expanded my market from Key West to Jacksonville with the help of my friend Cesar Diaz. My name became known and was easier for me to sell at new accounts. I felt like after I was done with Richland Rum, I truly became a brand ambassador. 

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Image credit by Gato Delix

What have you learned about Rum that fascinates you?

Learning about the brand is helpful to understand the spirit.  At the Miami Rum Festival, I met a lot of distillers and was interested in hearing about their distilling and aging process.  I also learned a lot from brand ambassadors like Stilo Pimentel and Zan Kong. I read a few books about rum too. The Real McCoy brought me into this amazing industry.  It was my loyalty to the spirit that pushed me to learn about other rum brands.  My two favorite rums to drink neat are The Real McCoy Rum and Grander Rum. 

What are some challenges of your job?

Some challenges happened during my start. I worked with small brands that didn’t have a distributor, budget for marketing, sales support or POS. They lacked the necessary tools to stay competitive with bigger brands.  It was also difficult to work around the established brands when I didn’t know anyone and when I didn’t have any relationships in the market.  The Miami market, which is one of my favorite markets to work in, is very competitive.  If you make it in Miami, you can possibly make it in other rum markets. 

What are some rewards?

My rewards in the market have to be meeting a lot of amazing industry people and making new friends. 

How have COVID-19 affected you personally and professionally? How has it influenced the Rum industry?

I’m currently on furlough. It affected me to see my accounts that are closed and thinking about my friends being out of work.  Of course, it is important to prevent the spread of the coronavirus but I know that people are being affected by the virus emotionally and financially. I see everybody in this industry as a family so I’m always thinking about them and what I can do to help. For most bartenders, this industry is their livelihood and it can be upsetting not to work.  I may have a backup plan but they may not. They could be in a worse situation than I am in. I try to support them and travel from West Palm Beach to Miami as much as possible to meet for a drink or a bite at one of my accounts.  It helps sometimes just to talk or get out of the house and share a good conversation.  

How will you celebrate National Rum Day? Do you have a favorite cocktail?

On National Rum Day, my favorite cocktails are the classic Daiquiri and the Jungle Bird. I am going to stay safe at home with my family. I might do a barbecue in my backyard with my family and drink some delicious rum neat and in a cocktail. I might also do virtual cheers with some of my industry friends that are willing to celebrate National Rum Day.

Name three things needed for an awesome National Rum Day.

First, be safe. Second, stay positive. Third, make sure you have your favorite bottle of rum next to you throughout the day.  

What do you do in your free time? Tell us about your hobbies?

I work in my backyard. It was a disaster back there. I had a lot of weeds. I had a lot of holes because my dogs loved digging. I finished installing my fence and I stained it. I started gardening and built wooden planters for my new plants. I kept myself busy to avoid anxiety or depression. I also go on long, three-mile walks with my dog. This helps me get in shape so I can be stronger physically and mentally to be ready when it’s time for me to go back to work. 

I’m also enjoying my free time. I have two amazing daughters that I adore and love. We are bonding more. We watch movies that I used to watch back when I was a teenager. Recently, we  watched Pretty in Pink, The Breakfast Club and Better off Dead. Valley Girls is the next movie to watch.  We watch 80’s movies that aren’t boring for them. I’m not trying to put on a combat movie and have them be on their phones. It helps to watch movies that they can relate to and enjoy. We also enjoy the evening with some ice cream and pizza.

Are there any businesses that you would like to take a moment to highlight/support?

Some of my favorite restaurants that are still open are Vista, Shokudo, No. 3 Social and The Butcher Shop.  I’m always happy to support local businesses. 

How may we follow your journey?

Instagram:

@rum_bassador

@therumcave

@spirithustler

Facebook: Chris Fierro

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Juan Tapia - Top Notch Mixers

Top Notch Mixers Creator, Juan Tapia, was always built for entrepreneurship. From working multiple jobs throughout his adolescence and adulthood to doing side projects, it was only a matter of time before one of Tapia’s endeavors became a sensation. Recently, Tapia, a bartender and liquor consultant, has actualized his ambitious goals and created his own business, Top Notch Mixers. Top Notch Mixers brings the best aspects of the bar experience home: quality drinks crafted with expertise, creativity, and love. Further, Tapia personally crafts these mixers and delivers them to communities throughout Miami-Dade County and Broward County, demonstrating his passion, dedication, and appreciation for his creations.  

How did you go from being a bartender to being an entrepreneur?

I have had a little bit of entrepreneurship in me. I was always trying to start businesses and come up with different programs. They weren’t very successful because I was young, inexperienced, and focused on other things. But, for the most part, this led me to learn from my mistakes and take my time. I learned to focus on one specialization which was bartending. I excelled in it and when it got to a point where I was getting compliments from big-name people, organizations, and owners, I had to take a step back, pause, think, and realize that I was doing something right. I thought that there was a way to make money out of this or at least start my own business and become my own boss…I’ve always followed social media influencers that were their own bosses and took mental notes. Most of these influencers have their pros and cons. I try to take the pros of everyone I meet. That is how I started this project, doing what I am doing now full, focus, and full throttle. 

What inspired you to create Top Notch Mixers?

Through the years, you go from being a “drink maker” to learning science, chemistry, tools to help you alter the cocktail creation experience that people expect when they walk into a bar. I started considering Mixology. I saw people choose the Mixology experience over the basic quick drink experience. Sometimes people want a quick drink. They want to get in and out but most people want an experience, so that highlighted my work. I felt like I was doing something right, something that was not average. I had something on my hands and I started wondering how to take these high-quality bar experiences home. I have a bar where I work and a company that pays for everything: the produce, the equipment, the tools. But when I want to bring the experience home or show someone how to make a drink at home, I wondered how to make that possible. That was the question I asked myself many times. Then, I started developing concepts that would work. Coronavirus happened and that forced us all to either figure it out or quit and figure something else out. For me, the pandemic put pressure on me to figure it out. I came up with Top Notch Mixers and it’s pouring the love of making something with fresh ingredients, craft, high-quality products, and effort. 

How do your mixers stand out from other mixers?

Top Notch Mixers does not offer alcohol. It’s just a mixer but the approach that I took towards it takes into consideration the bar experience. It’s called a “mixer” and people who usually think of mixers think about cranberry juice, pineapple juice, Sprite, or Coke. Top Notch Mixers are actual pre-mixed cocktail recipes that are just missing the alcohol. When I make these recipes, I take into account all types of ideas. I think: Is it exotic enough? Is it different? Am I opening their minds? Is it a new flavor that they have never tasted? Is it a flavor that they have never heard of? When the client reads the ingredients, I try to make their eyes open wide. I want them to think, “Wow, that sounds delicious!” or “I’ve never thought of those two flavors together, but I love those two flavors individually so I’ll try it.”

I also use fresh ingredients for these gourmet cocktails and we make our own garnishes. I do my due diligence to go around the city and get fresh ingredients that are 100% fresh. There is nothing artificial in anything that I put into these bottles. The mixers are also in glass bottling and since I am using fresh juices, there is a shelf life. My products have to be refrigerated and sealed tight. But what is the best part is the handmade feel to my mixers. There is a love that I pour into my mixers and you can tell when you look at the product because of its quality. 

You cannot get the same quality of product at my prices. Usually, you’re looking at $10-12 a cocktail at a bar. My first bottle is about 18 oz so it accommodates 3-4 people for $30.00 (delivery fee included). I also offer a 33.75 oz bottle, I call it a party size, and it accommodates 6-8 people for $55.00. I also started creating shots for $5.00. If you want to do a flight, a sample of all four flavors, that is $15.00. For someone who wants to try the flavor first, or if they want to buy a specific product but also want to try another one without committing to buying a whole bottle, they can get a sample. This helps people try different things without breaking the bank, especially during these times. 

Top Notch Mixers LineUp scaled
Image by Blazin Visualz

What has been the most memorable experience so far?

The most memorable experiences have been the mistakes and errors I had to overcome as well as the walls and obstacles that I had to jump through. I experienced everything from finding a company that would deliver produce to me to figuring out how to manage a business. We’re a small business and usually, most businesses require a minimum amount of ordering so it was a process to do that. Then, we had to figure out a delivery schedule, figuring out the customer base, and coming up with a product. We also had to put our products together, make them look nice and authentic because they’re all done by hand. There’s no factory pumping out the product. That’s been the most prideful thing. I notice myself as I’m doing it and I’m excited. I’m cooking stuff and I’m excited as I look at all the ingredients. I look at my orders and the sales keep growing. It’s humbling. I didn’t think it would go as well as it has. I’m also eager to have strangers that don’t know about Top Notch Mixers find us and give our products a try. I want people to give it a try and if it’s not for them, it’s not for them. I’m very confident that the moment they try it, they’ll realize the product’s high quality and over the top taste. If this unmatched experience is something they’re looking for, Top Notch Mixers will be the company for them.

What has been the biggest challenge/reward of creating Top Notch Mixers?

The biggest challenge is staying consistent, especially during these times. Look at this week alone. We have a pandemic going on. We have even more requirements. Now, they’re fining people for not wearing masks. Then, on top of that, we just had a hurricane scare. I can’t take time off. I have responsibilities to do every week. Staying on top of things is one of the hardest challenges. The challenge is to stay consistent and consistently deliver the same product, the same taste, the same everything, which is difficult considering that everything is handmade. But the biggest reward has been all of the testimonials. People give me great feedback. Everyone’s telling me how incredible the mixers are. There’s nothing more rewarding than an authentic compliment. I’ve never once asked anybody to repost anything about our product and every single person is reposting. They’re taking amazing pictures and tagging us. I’ve even had a Tequila brand approach us. They wanted to work with us and do a giveaway for a bartender which we did. 

What’s next for Top-Notch Mixers?

Every month, I am bringing in a new flavor. We already have something spicy, something that is fruity, something sour, and something exotic. I’m going to bring a new mixer that’s going to reflect a feel for the holidays. It’ll be something more dark and sweet. I cater to the client’s specific drink preferences. I suggest what liquor would go well with the mixer that we make. For example, the Funky Fresh goes better with Rum or Vodka. You can do Tequila with it but there are specific spirits that will match better. You don’t see the dark liquors as much in Miami but I don’t want to ignore the people who like those either. I’m always coming up with a new mixer for people who might not be a Vodka, Rum, or Tequila drinker. I have something that goes well with Scotch, Cognac, whiskey…The mixer that I am releasing soon will be good with either of those. I want to keep growing in that sense. As well as the evolving menu, I want Top Notch Mixers to grow to the point where we can start, shipping out nationwide and then internationally. 

What’s another service you offer?

In addition to individually buying the mixers, Top Notch Mixers also offers a service in which small businesses, bars/restaurants, can buy wholesale from our company. Through the procurement service, Top Notch Mixers will provide small, private businesses with mixes every week to create a more elevated experience. These recipes can be offered however in another form of business if they want. If these businesses want to make the experience a step further, I also offer menu curation as the consultant and I will sit down with businesses to create an exclusive mixer recipe just for that establishment. If businesses want to pursue consulting, Liquid Chef Hospitality is the company that umbrellas Top Notch Mixers. 

www.topnotchmixers.com
Mixers Menu

How do we order your product? 

You can order our product on Instagram or our website: www.topnotchmixers.com 

To contact Juan or follow his journey:

Instagram: @TopNotchMixers @juan_in_a_million_5 @liquidchefhospitalityllc

**All the images credits goes to @blazinvisualz

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Helen Kim - Oori Bakeshop

Image by Blazin Visualz

A flair for business runs in Helen Kim’s blood. The local bartender, baker, and businesswoman grew up watching her parents work in their restaurant so it is only fitting that she has now started her establishment. After the pandemic hit, Kim, like many people around the world, took to baking as a labor of love. However, unlike new bread baking fanatics, Kim used her passion to open up Oori Bake Shop––Oori which means “us” or “our” in Korean. Although it may seem like Kim wears many hats (bartender, baker, businesswoman), there is a lot to learn about the way she pursues her passions and continues to infuse joy in all aspects of her life. 

How did you go from being a bartender to becoming an entrepreneur?

Baking is not my first endeavor. I own a consulting business called Liquid Culture as well. I consult with any service industry related item: beverage programs, hospitality training, product training, branding, etc. I have been in the bar industry for a long time. I started in restaurants. My parents had a small restaurant and then I started bartending when I was about 19 or 20 years old. I’ve been doing this for a very long time. Then, about three or four years ago, I realized that I didn’t want to be a manager or work for someone else. I wanted freedom. I like doing events and I wanted to do more events. I wanted to have the freedom of doing the nerdy cocktail stuff but also the fun events. Forming my own company was my way of trying to appease both sides of my life. 

How did you start Oori Bake Shop? What’s your baking journey?

To be honest, I was just doing the bakeshop as a hobby since March. I was like, oh, I’m at home. Why not? I started baking and doing little projects and then it took over my life. I would schedule my entire days around baking. I would schedule it around dough making and fermentation. I would wake up and start baking. A lot of my close friends, who I used as my guinea pigs, told me that I should sell my products. People would message me and ask if I sold my products and if they could buy them from me. I did a little here and there but nothing serious. One day I just woke up and I was like I should just do this. I’ve grown up in the kitchen my entire so I was like, why not? My family owned a small deli bakery. We did like Brooklyn style water bagels. My dad baked all the bread so we did hoagies and croissants. He did all the baking and I loved it.  I like the early mornings and the smell of fresh bread. Then, remembering all those aspects of life that I enjoyed while doing my hobby, I could see myself doing it for a living. Here I am three-four months later.

So you are a bartender, a baker, and a businesswoman. How do your passions inform one another?

It’s a full-circle thing. I started in the food industry with my parents. Then, I started working as a server because there’s more money there. There’s always more money in front of the house. I was cocktailing at a bar and I wanted to start bartending. I wanted to learn. It just seemed so fun. I started as The shot girl. From there, I started bartending and I’ve been doing that since I was 20. Now, I am back into food. I construct cocktails the way that I would construct food. I am always thinking about my base flavor or the main component of something. It’s like a layer of flavors. That’s how I do cocktails and now that’s how I do food. It’s like one full circle.

What are your favorite aspects of the job? What are some challenges?

I’ve been in the bar and restaurant industry for quite some time.  I love being a bartender.  I love the culture, the people… I get to meet awesome people. It gives me so many opportunities and it’s such a people industry. But there is the flip side to it. It is a booze industry. As I’m getting older, I’m thinking about the late nights and the constant drinking. Although the mindset is changing and becoming more health-conscious, I am starting to look at other things. I’m working on my yoga certification right now. For people like myself, and I think a lot of people are in this position, I feel like the pandemic has allowed me to just try to change my life without having a schedule to abide by. I have all the time in the world. Why not? Let’s just try it and see what happens. 

How has COVID-19 affected you personally and professionally?

Professionally, I’ve been officially unemployed since March. I am now self-employed. I guess I was always self-employed…I still have my other company, but it’s event and hospitality-based, so there is not much work coming in right now. But personally, it’s been great because I was working as a brand ambassador. I covered all the southeast. I traveled a lot so personal time was very little. Even if I did go out, like dinner with friends, when you work in accounts or for a brand, it doesn’t ever turn off. The pandemic has allowed us to be able to do different things. You can say to yourself, “You know what I’m not working right now, like literally not working, and I am just not gonna look at social media for like two or three days” and be totally okay with it. I love that. At first, it gives you anxiety but once it settles in, I love it. I love doing my own thing. I love making my own schedule. I don’t answer to anyone. It’s awesome. 

What, if anything, do you hope a Post COVID-19 Word resembles for you as a person and as a member of the hospitality industry?

I’d like to continue doing what I’m doing. I just started. I am in my first week and let me tell you there are a lot of learning curves. Hopefully, my baking becomes a profitable business where I can sustain myself without having to work the late nights. That’s what I’m trying to avoid. I was working at jobs where I was up till 5:30 in the morning. Now, I’m getting up at 5:30 in the morning to start my day. It’s opposites and it’s an amazing feeling because I get so much done. I feel good. When you live the vampire life, even if you don’t drink, it takes a toll on your body and your spirit. It feels very weighing. I don’t want to go back to that so I’m in a really good space right now.  I want to keep this energy and take it forward and see where it goes.

What are your favorite pieces of bread to bake and why?

I love a true sourdough loaf.  That is my favorite thing because it’s so technique-driven. I wouldn’t say that I’m a master sourdough baker but I am just obsessed with it. Sourdough is one of those things that is ever-changing. You’re constantly learning new things. Then, your environment changes and that changes your bake. It’s just like when life throws you a pandemic and you have to pivot. Sourdough does the same thing. Somehow, for some reason, it is five degrees warmer in my house and now everything is proofing so much faster and now I’m doing this, and this all at the same time. It’s fun. The Japanese milk bread that I have on the menu right now is also one of my favorite things to bake. It just reminds me of childhood. In Asia, most of the breads that we eat are fluffy, soft, white breads. For me, it’s very nostalgic and the little loaves are pretty. 

How may we order your product?

You can order mainly through Instagram. I’m handling all my orders through direct messages on both my personal and the big shop account.

Oori Menu
Helen Kim - Oori Bakeshop 162

To contact Helen or follow her journey:

Instagram:  @helenkimchi, @ooribakeshop, @liquidcultureco

**All the images credits goes to @Blazinvisualz

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Norbert Cruz - Blazin Visualz Photography

Norbert Cruz is a bartender and photographer who has always been fond of art. He did not always know what medium of art he would pursue, but he was confident that art would be a significant part of his life. When he became a photographer, Cruz discovered a liveable outlet for his passion. Finding himself inspired by the portfolios of other photographers, Cruz bought a camera and began using his talents to capture not only the people in front of him but also the feelings that motivate them.   

How did you start your photography journey as Blazin Visualz?

I started my photography career by helping my homegirl. She was a yoga instructor and I started practicing my photography at her studio. I took photos for her and then I met Anthony Nader who is a photographer and the owner of 52Chefs. I ended up working with him in a bar and he took me under his wing. He guided me and I got into the cocktail photography business. I’m into all sides of photography, but mainly the food and cocktail, portraits, etc.

Who/what inspired you?

Looking at other people’s photography inspired me but it’s not just one specific type of photography. I wish I knew their name but even during the Black Lives Matter protests, there was a very powerful image that spoke to me. It’s seeing things like that. A still image can project a lot of feelings. I used to just look at a picture and think it’s just a picture, but now I look at it and I’m looking at the details. I’m looking at the different things that create the composition of it. I look at it very differently. When I find something that sparks my attention, it never gets dull to me. It always stays fresh. 

How would you compare photography and bartending?

Bartending has helped me a lot with photography. I’m able to break the ice with people a lot easier. I like to meet different people and learn about them. Either they teach me something new or I teach them something new. On the bartending side, bartending has helped me a lot with making people feel comfortable when I take pictures. If someone has never done a photo, I like to teach them new things. I also like candid moments so I am not someone who stages shoots. I am not staging you to be perfect––I like natural movements. 

How do you capture a candid photo? What’s your process like?

Another thing that’s helped me when I do bartender shoots is that I’ve bartended myself. I look at the bartender that I am shooting and I can anticipate their next move so I can pretty much capture the perfect moment as opposed to someone that probably doesn’t bartend. Someone else might take continuous shots trying to catch the perfect moment but I can pretty much snap it right at the perfect moment. 

What’s your dream event to shoot? What is your ultimate goal as a photographer? 

I have creative ideas come to me but I would not say that I have a dream event to shoot right now. I do want to take a road trip and shoot a lot of landscape and nature photography. 

My goal is to give people the chance to shine. People who don’t normally get the chance to shine.  Or even local spots, like when I do food and cocktails. I like to shoot local spots that haven’t gotten that much attention or new spots that need help from the community. I want to give them the chance to shine and to make it easier to have a photographer help out businesses. I’m getting into the scene now and I’ve heard that a lot of photographers are pretentious and hard to work with. I am very humble and down to earth. I want to be someone that is easy to work with. I want to make time for people and give them a quality product. 

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Images by Blazin Visualz

How has COVID-19 affected you personally and professionally?

As far as being a bartender, I lost my job during the lockdown. I had to depend on unemployment which was very unreliable. That was the worst part for me. I’m someone who always likes to try to take the positive out of the negative so it didn’t really affect me so much negatively. As soon as I found out where we were locking down, I mentally prepared myself and told myself to be ready to stay busy and have a schedule for myself.  I’m a workaholic. I usually like to have like five days bartending because if I have too much free time, I tend to either procrastinate on things or go out and just start spending money. The lockdown actually mentally helped me keep myself scheduled with the productive things. Honestly, right before the whole lockdown and everything, I was in the process of getting my editing together. I wouldn’t say that I was as good as I am now. Those few months gave me time to practice my editing and get it right. I did a lot of editing and Anthony Nader gave me his praise so that told me that I was going in the right direction. His praise meant a lot to me. I used this time productively. I’m taking off with my photography more so my experience has been positive. 

What other services do you offer? 

I am very open with my photography. I do portraits. I do yoga photography. I do event photography. I am not just based on one main thing. I enjoy doing food and cocktails and portraits. I like being creative and playing with light, colors, etc. 

**Cruz also currently shoots for 2oz Magazine and is rapidly building an extensive portfolio.

To contact Norbert or follow his journey:

Instagram: @blazinvisualz

Website: www. blazinvisualz.com

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The Fall 2020 Release of Johnnie Walker 200th Anniversary Blends

The wait is almost over! Johnnie Walker, the world’s No. 1 Scotch Whisky, is releasing four new brands of whisky this Fall. The highly anticipated release will celebrate the 200-year-old legacy of the beloved brand that a Scottish grocer, John Walker, invented centuries ago. The brand itself has delighted over 180 countries since its founding and these new whiskies strive to uphold the centuries-long legacy of good quality whisky set forth by its namesake. Three out of the four newly crafted whiskies will hit shelves in the United States. 

According to the Johnnie Walker website, the Johnnie Walker Blue Label Eight is “a smooth, mellow Scotch crafted using some of the very rarest whiskies in the unparalleled Johnnie Walker reserves. Each whisky is hand-selected from only eight legendary distilleries that all existed when John Walker made the first steps on his journey, including some very rare expressions from long-closed ‘ghost’ distilleries.” The suggested retail price (SRP) is $350.00.

Whereas, the John Walker & Sons Celebratory Blend, is an exclusive release that is a “rich and complex whisky” and inspired by “the flavors found in the Walker family’s grocery store in the 1860s and uses whiskies from distilleries which were operating at that time. The exclusive pack design reveals the only existing image of the Kilmarnock grocery store 200 years ago.” The SRP is $75.00.

Lastly, the John Walker & Sons Bicentenary Blend is “a sensorial journey down the fragrant aisles of John Walker’s original grocery store in Scotland. Master Blender Jim Beveridge and his team have drawn inspiration from John’s store and meticulously crafted a whisky with rich layers that re-imagines the exotic flavors that shaped his imagination. It is crafted with rare and exceptional whiskies, all aged for at least 28 years, including whiskies from long-closed “ghost” distilleries such as Pittyvaich, Cambus, and Port Ellen.” The SRP is $1,000.00.

Images credit: Johnnie Walker

The only Johnnie Walker brand that will not be available in the U.S. this fall is the Johnnie Walker Blue Label 200th Anniversary Limited Edition Design which, according to Johnnie Walker’s website, features “bespoke illustrations that bring to life the bold journey and pay homage to some of the great cities and countries that have been part of the Johnnie Walker story.”

Keep a lookout for these incredible new additions to Johnnie Walker’s collection which will be released during the latter half of Fall 2020!

For more information about this exciting opportunity, please check out Johnnie Walker’s website: https://www.johnniewalker.com/en/our-whisky/limited-edition-whiskies/.

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The Pandemic's Effect on Miami's Hospitality Industry

Image by Thomas Lundahl on Unplash

The citizens of Miami have historically responded to hardship by banding together and tackling obstacles from a unified front. Although no one could have foreseen the effect that the Coronavirus, or COVID-19, would have on the nation, it is not surprising that Miamians have continued to look out for one another during this difficult time. The hospitality industry, however, has not seen as much solidarity and support from statewide officials. As record-breaking COVID-19 cases and deaths occur throughout South Florida, bars and restaurants currently face a new round of quarantine orders and lockdown measures. Though this aggressive and cautious approach aids against the long, arduous fight between members of the South Florida community and the virus, it also threatens to put the final nail into the hospitality industry’s coffin. 

Restaurants and bars had already experienced closure when the city first implemented social distancing measures back in March. Further, during the week of May 30th, according to the “COVID-19 Updates” section of Miami Dade County’s official website, “the City of Miami launched the Restaurant Recovery Program, which allows local restaurants to temporarily add or expand outdoor seating areas while still meeting mandatory social distancing rules. The program was created in an effort to help Miami restaurants get up and running following the COVID-19 shutdown.” 

In addition to this program, the Miami Downtown Development Authority(DDA) is also helping businesses in the downtown area by providing free permits for outdoor seating, umbrellas, masks, and even by assisting with marketing support. On the other hand, there does not seem to be any such program and assistance for bars. On June 26th, Halsey Beshears, the secretary of Florida’s Department of Business & Professional Regulation tweeted about the suspension of the consumption of alcohol across bars statewide. This decision has been met with confusion and frustration because restaurants have been allowed to operate at a limited capacity. Dissimilarly, few bars have not been allowed to operate at all, specifically sending a devastating blow to the bar industry. 

Currently, restaurants and bars are being closed again despite many of these establishments adhering to reopening guidelines. It is too soon to tell whether this decision will change the hospitality industry as we have known it. Yet, many bartenders and business owners have taken matters into their own hands in order to survive the pandemic. To support the restaurant industry, go to SaveRestaurants.com and tell Congress to pass the Restaurants Act. To support local Miami bars, be aware that some bars like Lost Boy have changed their business models to operate as liquor stores. Also, these bars not only sell liquor but also some craft cocktails. Bartenders have begun their entrepreneurship journeys by selling cocktail mixers. Mixology Ice also started a new business called Rico Box, selling vegetables. It seems that statewide financial support, innovation, and entrepreneurship may be the only way to save the hospitality industry. 

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