• 10.-12. October 2022
  • Exhibition Centre Berlin

13. October 2021 by Jan-Peter Wulf

BCB Talk: African-American Bartenders and how they influenced the Bar and Cocktail Culture

 © BCB/Gili Shani 

Not only white men with moustaches have established the cocktail culture: With these introductory remarks Angus Winchester, Global Education Director of Bar Convent Berlin, passed the floor to the American bartender and author Tiffanie Barriere to conclude the first BCB day on the main stage.

What followed was a high-octane eye opener for the expert audience on site and those following the talk via livestream about a part of the cocktail and bar culture that is still far too rarely talked about and covered in the media. This part is linked to the darkest chapter in US history, the period of slavery. As early as in the 16th century, when the United States of America had not even been founded yet, innumerable people especially from Africa were carried off to the “new world” as forced labourers on plantations and domestic servants of white people/slave owners.   

 

It is about history, always…

The connection between slavery and cocktail and bar culture is not immediately obvious, but it is. Tiffanie Barriere, who managed the "One Flew South" at the Atlanta airport for a long time and made it the world's best airport bar ("Tales of the Cocktail 2014"), made the connection for herself by participating in cocktail competitions. After all, in addition to mixing a good drink, there is also some storytelling needed. She explains that she not only wanted to tell the story about the spirits in the drink but also her own story.

 

The heritage of her ancestors

The story of a black woman, born in Houston, Texas, raised in Louisiana. She also asked herself: "Why is it that I, as a black woman, am so particularly hospitable? Why do I know how to make tea and good cocktails? Why am I such a good bartender, winning so many competitions?" she says with a laugh in her talk. She finally came to the conclusion: It's in her, it's the heritage of her ancestors.   “Our task was to serve,” says Barriere, to look after serving food and beverage at their “owners’” homes. No one told the black slaves how to do this back then, only that they should do it - and so, combined with traditional knowledge of natural cures, a vast knowledge of making drinks, e.g. spirits like whiskey, emerged, and what we call service culture today. Barriere: “We’re kind of amazing!”

 

4 forgotten black personalities of the drinks scene

In the following, she presented some examples of black personalities who have left their mark on bar culture without ever being sufficiently recognised for it. Probably the best known of these is Antoine Amedee Peychaud, a Haitian pharmacist who created the bitters in New Orleans around 1830, which are staple drinks in any bar these days. 

The name Cato Alexander, on the other hand, will mean something to only a few. Born in 1780, presumably as a slave in the south of the USA, the man mixed his South Carolina Milk Punches and Egg Nogs so expertly that even President George Washington became aware of his drinks during visits to the inn where Alexander worked. Under the name "Cato's Tavern", he was one of very few blacks to later open a restaurant in New York. Nevertheless, only white people were allowed to enjoy his drinks.   

Tom Bullock is not a very familiar name today either. Born in 1872 in the whisky mecca of Louisville, Kentucky, the son of a slave published what was probably the first bar book by an African-American around 1917. In the country club in St. Louis where he worked as a bar manager, he brought the Old Fashioned to Perfection just as he cultivated the quiet, careful work behind the bar, Barriere reported. The fact that his book "The Ideal Bartender" has been available again as a reprint since 2015 can be read as a late recognition of his work. 

The life of John Dabney (1824-1900), a slave of the DarJarnette family in Richmond, Virginia, is particularly impressive. As a bartender in a hotel in the city, he elevated the juleps that were available everywhere at the time into a sensation called "Hail Storm Mint Julep" with hand-scraped ice, colourful berries and fresh mint, which was stormily applauded by the guests. With the money he earned behind the bar, as a caterer and as a successful jockey (!), he was later able to buy his wife out of slavery and open his own restaurant.

 

American lady bartender writes/makes history

Barriere could have presented many more examples and will do so soon, as she is currently working on a book about this (hi-)story. Her message at the BCB was undoubtedly received: A great chapter needs to be added to cocktail and bar history. Lemonades, shrubs, smashes - many of these drinks originated on the farms, fields and plantations of the "Deep South" of today's USA, came from the hands of black slaves, Barriere says. She concluded her talk with photos of her friends, people-of-colour bartenders who today provide inspiring drinks and hospitality in bars in the USA and around the world. She said she was pleased that today more and more of them are proudly sharing with their guests and audiences this part of bar culture history that has existed for centuries but has always gone unseen and unheard. “We have to tell this story now because our ancestors never had the chance,” Barriere says.


For more information on Tiffanie Barriere go to her website: 
www.thedrinkingcoach.com