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Round Table: Women and Mixology

Round Table: Women and Mixology

Enjoy this meet-up with four bartending professionals, all talented female mixologists currently shining bright on the Montreal bar scene: Gabrielle Panaccio (bartender and partner of Mixoart, Le Lab and Proxibar), Kate Boushel (bartender at the Atwater Cocktail Club), Val Chagnon (head bartender at Tiradito) and Émilie Loiselle (head bartender at Mauvais Garçons and winner of the Made With Love Montreal 2016 mixology competition).

On the menu: Women’s role in the industry, what’s going on behind the scenes, and of course the latest cocktail trends!


Gabrielle Panaccio: Bartender and Mixoart partner © DianeDrapeau – Terroir et Saveurs


The profession

SAQ: Barmaid, Head Bartender, Mixologist… which title best describes your profession?

: Actually, I really like “bartender” because it’s a non-gendered term that includes women and men who work professionally in the industry. It refers specifically to the idea of being a bar manager, someone that handles welcoming, looking after and advising clients and making the bar experience come alive by practising the art. Some prefer the word “barmaid” or “head bartender,” or other words. Personally, I am a bartender, and on my own time, when I’m working on projects that involve creating cocktails, I’m a mixologist. But neither one gets in the way of the other!


SAQ: In your opinion, what makes a bartender good?

: Someone who listens, is a good observer, has a lot of patience, is attentive and proactive. Of course, you also have to know your ingredients as well as the classic cocktails.

ÉMILIE: For me, you first and foremost have to be passionate about hospitality. I think that has to take precedence over the mastery of classic cocktails and having skills in mixology.

GABRIELLE: Basically… Passion, being diligent, having the gift of being able to take care of clients in the right way and to respond to their preferences while maintaining mutual respect—this is what makes a good bartender in my opinion.

KATE: I agree. A good bartender is a person who is passionate about hospitality and is looking to bring a unique experience to life for every client. Being passionate about cocktails is one aspect of the profession, and it is important for those aiming to offer this kind of product, like at cocktail bars, for example. But the art of bartending goes beyond mixology and making cocktails, in my opinion.


Émilie Loiselle: Winner of Made With Love Montreal 2016 © Made With Love


Women in the bar business

SAQ: What position do women occupy in the bar industry and in mixology?

GAB: As with other areas, I think spaces for women are in the process of being created! There are so many talented women working here!

ÉMILIE: And not just here… Around the world, women are increasingly occupying more roles and establishing themselves as professionals.

VAL: In fact, mixology is really open to women, you just need to pick a space! I think if you knock on the right doors, some big surprises can happen. In Montreal, we have a really small community that is becoming more and more connected thanks to industry events. But in Toronto, the community of female bartenders is a lot bigger and more tight-knit. There are so many women in the profession! Here we’re building that community now, bit by bit… while still staying tight with our male counterparts, of course!


SAQ: Do you find it’s harder to evolve and receive recognition in the industry if you’re a woman?

VAL: I don’t think it’s more difficult, however I find that if you win a contest or a prize, you get more recognition because there are fewer of us.

ÉMILIE: I agree. But women shouldn’t be afraid of staking out their territory in a boys’ club to have their contributions recognized. You have to have ambition and be motivated. Men and women do generally have different approaches and experiences in this profession. But I would say these two qualities are necessary in order to get ahead in our industry.


A few members of Montreal’s community of women bartenders © Audré Kieffer


SAQ: Why are there generally more men than women working behind the bar, in your opinion?

ÉMILIE: I don’t think there are more men than women behind the bar. The imbalance is really at the level of roles: There are more men in the cocktail and mixology aspects while women dominate the rest of the industry. I think the main difference is still a matter of perception. Male bartenders are often seen as more serious and more professional, while women behind the bar are seen as party animals. Personally, I really work to break these stereotypes by discussing my profession and my passion with people, but there is a lot of work to do in terms of the image of bartenders in general. It’s also important that those of us in the industry that are influential (and I can now count myself amongst them after winning Made With Love Montreal!) use their voices in a positive way to promote collaboration and topple prejudices—certainly those that affect women, of course, but also all the others that reflect on our industry.

KATE: I agree. It’s more that there is a disparity between women and men in terms of bartending in club- and cocktail-style bars.

GAB: We’re definitely going through a period where cocktails are trendy, where there are a lot of male mixologists who are making their mark, but you can’t forget all the more regular establishments where you see women in the majority behind the bar. Maybe we don’t refer to them as mixologists, but they’re still bartenders.

KATE: It stems from the cocktail culture that was promoted by men during the time of Prohibition. Everyone thinks of the image of the barman with his white shirt, his beard or moustache, stylized dress, suspenders, etc. Obviously in that period there was less of a place for women. Because of this, by association, it has taken women longer to make a space for themselves behind the bar.


Val Chagnon: Head Bartender at Tiradito © Val Chagnon – Facebook


SAQ: Do competitions help raise your colleagues’ profiles?

VAL: Competitions really help build your resumé as a bartender. And they are real learning experiences! I only see them as a positive.

ÉMILIE: For a few years now, the mixology explosion has really helped revive the image of bartending and has given the profession a boost. The range of local, national and international competitions also allows us to promote our profession and our passion for it. I think this renaissance is giving both women and men the opportunity to break a few stereotypes that are common in our field.


Cocktail trends

SAQ: Have you noticed any change in women’s drinking habits in terms of cocktails in the last few years?

KATE: I think everyone’s drinking habits have changed. You can see some men admitting to a preference for sweet cocktails and women finally expressing their preference for cocktails made with stronger spirits.

VAL: Finally! You can see it in all Quebecers’ drinking habits! The guys ask for classic cocktails less and less. They’re curious and want to try something new.

ÉMILIE: Definitely, but I think the changes come from the fact that cocktails and spirits are becoming increasingly genderless. Women and men are more and more curious, their palates are developing, and people today drink whatever cocktails they like.

GAB : Exactly! Men’s and women’s tastes have evolved. I think drinks are sort of following the same evolution as food. People want to know what they’re drinking, where it comes from, the ingredients, if it’s organic, local, etc. Our society is more educated, which leads to more careful consumption in terms of both quantity and quality.


SAQ: As a final question, what is your preferred cocktail?

KATE: I prefer a Sazerac, which I love making with Armagnac.

VAL: Daiquiri, Margarita, Negroni, the Aviation, the Last Word… there are too many!

ÉMILIE: I hate this question! It depends on the moment and the occasion, but I especially like Martinis (made with gin, and with a generous portion of vermouth).

GAB: A shot of Jack? Joke. Actually a good Old Fashioned is always great!


Kate Boushel: Bartender at the Atwater Cocktail Club © Jean­-Sébastien Michel


Cocktail recipes

SAQ: If we asked you to create a cocktail specially for women mixologists today, what would be in it?

VAL: Ha-ha! I would do a twist on a Last Word, definitely!

The Last Word Revisited, by Valérie

1 oz. (30 mL) cane juice rum (or rhum agricole)
1 oz. (30 mL) lime juice
1 oz. (30 mL) maraschino cherry liqueur
1 oz. (30 mL) herb liqueur
2 dashes of pineapple bitters

Combine all ingredients in a mixing glass. Strain into a tall highball-type glass containing a fresh ice cube. Decorate with a star of anise, twist of lime and a pineapple leaf.


ÉMILIE: I would make a cocktail in honour of Ana Maria Romeo, the only woman to hold the title of Maestra Tequilera.

Emily’s The Maestra

1.5 oz. (45 mL) tequila
⅛ oz. (3.7 mL) green Chartreuse
¼ oz. (7.5 mL) honey
1 oz. (30 mL) grapefruit juice
3 basil leaves

Add all ingredients to a shaker and mix for several seconds. Strain into a small glass. Garnish with a small basil leaf.


KATE: I would offer a variation on an Old Fashioned in honour of the great women who create the products we use every day in our recipes. By the authority of Ninkasi, the Sumerian goddess of alcohol, I would like to raise a glass to Lorena Vasquez, Zacapa’s Cellar Master, and Lauren Mote of Bittered Sling Bitters.

Kate’s Ninkasi

2 oz. (60 mL) dark rum
4 dashes Moondog bitters from Bittered Sling (available at Alambika)
¼ oz. (7.5 mL) cinnamon syrup
4 coffee beans
1 twist of lime

In a mixing glass, crush four coffee beans. Add the Zacapa rum, cinnamon syrup and Moondog bitters. Fill with ice and mix for 20 seconds. Strain into an Old Fashioned glass over a large ice cube. Garnish with the twist of lime.


Here’s a tip

Not only do women have a place behind the bar and in mixology, but the World’s Best Bartender for 2017 is… Canadian Kaitlyn Stewart!

Kaitlyn Stewart, world champion bartender! © Diageo World Class


+Read more articles about ground-breaking women, who aren’t afraid to shake things up!

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