We Are Women, Hear Us Pour

Do you hear that? That’s the sound of bartenders dusting off their shakers throughout the country as bars and restaurants start to reopen. It’s safe to say that 2020 has put us all through the wringer, but especially those behind our bars. 

Of course, in a crisis, we often find it’s the women who adapt the fastest and spring into action, and we’ve definitely seen that this year! In celebration of these fearless ladies who are ruling the industry, we are giving a special shout out to the cocktail goddesses who have been shaking up the drinks’ industry since before COVID-19 hit our shores and have since been creative in  support of the hospitality industry during this challenging time. 

The Pioneers – Ada Coleman & Ruth Burgess

Two of the world’s best-known barmaids to have paved the way for female bartenders around the globe were Ada ‘Coley’ Coleman and Ruth Burgess from The Savoy, London. Coleman was head bartender for twenty-three years, and the inventor of the ‘Hanky Panky’ cocktail. She was joined by Ruth Burgess, known affectionately as ‘Miss B’ or ‘Kitty’. After decades of pouring cocktails the pair left, making way for the next series of legendary female bartenders to take centre stage.

The Trailblazer – Lorna Scott

The woman behind the popular Inverroche Gin, Lorna Scott says her peers didn’t exactly roll out the red carpet when she entered the business. No matter, today you’ll find Inverroche on the shelves of pretty much any liquor store and in 16 countries across the globe. “I believe that over the years we have already seen a big shift in this male-dominated industry with more female winemakers and distillers coming to the fore than ever before, but we still have a long way to go.”

The Rising Star – Nkuli Khanyile

The talented Nkuli Khanyile has made it her mission to put African women on the map in the bartending industry, having been named joint winner in the Newcomer of the Year category at the 2019 BAR Awards. Now, as she rolls up her sleeves to get down to business, she says she’s excited about what the future may hold. “I was often afraid to speak up and voice flavours that I tasted but eventually got the courage from other females who were making changes to the stereotype and got more involved.”

The Mentor – Cassandra Eichoff

Cassandra Eichoff has placed mixology education and mentorship at the forefront of her career as the director and head instructor of European Bartender School. While the school had to close its doors for lockdown, she got inventive with the empty space, called in the bar reserves and got them to apply their skills to cleaning cars as ‘The Cartenders’. Cassandra has seen the industry change in that more women are being head-hunted for their skills and mindset. “For this to continue, it’s up to us that are in these positions currently to keep the movement going and ensure that it doesn’t only reflect as a short-lived trend, but rather a way of business.”

The Bartender’s Bartender – Monica Berg

With her new bar making it into The World’s 50 Best Bars 2019 and herself named the winner of the Bartenders’ Award as voted for her by her peers; Monica Berg is a bartender, entrepreneur and global industry leader. Throughout her career in the industry, she has noticed a big change with regards to the acceptance of female bartenders, yet she is keen to shift the conversation beyond gender as she adapts to the times. “I would love to come to a place, not only in our industry but in society in general, where it’s a conversation about individuals rather than gender,” she says.

The Trinidad Tornado – Shana Rajahram

Shana Rajahram is a giant on the Caribbean drink’s scene. As the only female finalist at the Angostura Global Cocktail Challenge 2020, she had the honour of not only representing Trinidad and Tobago on her home turf but also women. “Initially when I first started moving my way into the bar as a female, it wasn’t welcoming. The guys gave me a very hard time for invading their playground; however, I journeyed along and met some amazing people in the industry who fell in love with my style and craft and helped me.” She now rules the roost as the 2018 Caribbean Bartender of the Year.

The Wordsmith – Leah van Deventer

As an award-winning South African drinks writer and cocktail competition judge and general booze enthusiast, Leah van Deventer has been putting SA’s drinks-scene on the pages of magazines, newspapers and blogs for many years. Though Leah is considered one of the leading voices of the drinks industry, she still thinks it’s very much a man’s world. “I’ve had my understanding about subjects like spirit production challenged many times, and often people will assume a man knows more than me simply by virtue of their gender.” But it’s changing slowly. “This year was the first that saw a 50-50 gender split across judges for The World’s 50 Best Bars. We need to ensure this is the norm, and that women not only contribute to these sorts of panels but that they lead them.”

Once upon a time, some might have said that the bar was no place for a lady, but today’s women are proving them wrong and trumping the boys for their spot at the top.