~ Mixing it up in our capital city with Jen Collins. ~
If you've followed us for awhile you know we study the industry daily. There's always new information, ways of doing things, and individuals making a name for themselves. Jen Collins is one of those with a love for spirits and cocktails that we've been paying attention to. She holds down the job as Brand Ambassador for LEBLON Cachaça, is a bartender at Bourbon Steak, and is on the USBG (United States Bartenders' Guild) D.C. board. Jen's fostering a strong appreciation for cocktail culture in Greater D.C., and helping lead the charge behind the bar in our nation's capital. We found out some interesting facts about Jen, and based on this Paste Magazine article we now know she's a dirty martini type of lady.
~ The LAB team
The LAB: I know you have traveled a good amount. What is the most recent city or town that surprised you with their cocktail scene?
Jen: I have most recently returned from Lisbon, Portugal. When evaluating any cocktail scene, I not only consider the cocktails, but also all beverage categories and experience as a whole. During the day, I stopped by Garrafeira Nacional, which has been a wine and spirits shop in Lisbon since 1927. This shop had the largest collection of Port, Madeira, Portuguese brandy, wine, and liquors I have ever seen! The lovely gentleman working the shop gave me an intensive history on ALL Portuguese spirits! Yes, take all of my money! Left that place with a huge smile and some very cool vintage Madeiras, Portuguese wines, Portuguese brandies, and their cherry liqueur, Ginja Sem Rival!
One of the most popular cocktail bars in Lisbon is Pensao Amor. It is behind a blank door that used to be ancient brothel now turned into a swanky speakeasy. With three floors that include bountiful posters of burlesque and peep shows plastered on the walls, a pole dancing room, kissing booths, a large dance floor, and cocktails that are created with the freshest ingredients. What more could you ask for!
Jen's friend Oli Cibrario from London Cocktail Club had her get behind the bar and make some drinks.
The LAB: If you could snap your fingers and change one thing instantly about the current cocktail culture, whether consumer or behind the bar, what would it be?
Jen: The bartending and service industry is growing rapidly, which is fantastic! The greatest benefit of my career is providing people amazing customer service. I would love for customers to see service industry jobs as a rapidly developing career choice rather than a “gig.” We all work tirelessly to provide the best experiences in our bars, restaurants, and cafes. I hope soon we see the taboo of career service members leave. The partners of MIXT and other friends are a true representation of career possibilities in the service industry.
Consumers’ palates and expectations are growing. This is encouraging service industry members to dive into the technicalities and explore their craft - be it craft bartending, specialty coffee, certified sommelier, etc. We are developing our knowledge base and skills tremendously. The opportunities for professional development and networking are being developed nationally and internationally.
I would love for customers to know the fulfillment the service industry provides to my professional life! I am a bartender, a business owner, and building a successful career in the industry.
The LAB: Love it Jen! That's the kind of passion, understanding, and work ethic that's taking those like yourself in the industry to the next level while bridging the gap of comfort for everyday consumers.
The LAB: Favorite thing to eat with a glass of sherry would be?
Jen: That moment you open the fridge to grab the milk for your chocolate chip cookies, but you see a bottle of Lustau Manzanilla Sherry giving you the sexy side eye. Trust me, and go for the sherry! The nuttiness and the sweetness in cookies pair well with the soft acidity and brininess in the sherry.
The LAB: Hell yeah. I like that combo Jen. Quite possibly a late fall go-to for me thanks to your tip.
The LAB: What would you like MIXT Consulting to accomplish within 3 years?
Jen: MIXT Consulting has a “mixt” (see what I did there ^_^ ) group of five individuals with many strengths and backgrounds. We have a few goals to accomplish in the next three years. MIXT’s vision is to focus on showcasing high quality and unique spirits via importing, distribution and marketing. We have the ability to provide solutions to small, mid-size, and corporate beverage programs by educating professionals and and enthusiasts on new and innovative spirits. We are positively fostering growth of knowledge and use of wine, beer, spirits, cocktail histories, and techniques nationally.
The LAB: What are you most proud of with USBG DC's work and projects since you've been on the board?
Jen: One of the most proud accomplishments I believe USBG DC has had since I’ve been on board is how tight knit our guild is. USBG DC benefits so much from having a family aspect. Whether we're doing charity events to support members who have gotten into accidents, taking mini field trips to nearby distilleries and breweries to geek out and support local, or our annual Friendsgiving.
This fall Washington, D.C. will be the newest and fourth city in the United States to be recognized with Michelin Stars. As our food scene improves, I’ve noticed a positive competitiveness in cocktail creation, and more collaborations with chefs in our USBG DC guild, which is definitely helping our city become better every day. Also, we understand as a guild how impactful a social media presence is in terms of being recognized on a national and global level. During the USBG Northeast Regional Conference in New York this past spring Chelsea Gregoire of Drinkable Genius (one of our guild members), conducted social media analytics and the impact it has on a global scale. With all the NE USBG Guilds conference posts reached over 32,000 feeds. Though small, members of the USBG DC and Washington, D.C. as a whole has made huge strides in expanding our presence globally.
Me at the VIP seat at Sweet Liberty in Miami who just won Best New American Cocktail Bar at TOTC 2016.
The LAB: If you weren't in the beverage industry what do you think your job would look like?
Jen: I really love the creative and artistic element to the beverage industry. With a degree in biology and chemistry, the cosmetics industry has always been super interesting to me. With a lot of natural, organic makeup being produced from plants, I would want to develop healthy and unique cosmetics for women and men.
The LAB: If you could have any person or band play a 15 minute set for your next birthday party who would it be?
Jen: This is an incredibly hard question! I would say top three in terms of loud sing-a-longs and crazy dancing with friends: Destiny’s Child, New Order, or Hot Chip.
The cocktail Jen's holding at the American Bar at the Savoy has reindeer moss as garnish.
The LAB: Do you think there should be a college degree for spirits like there is with wine? If so, what would the class be that you would like to teach?
Jen: Definitely! Spirits are extremely complex. To get to the final product, we are harnessing sophisticated technology, botany, chemistry, sensory, and more! Producers are worried about regulation and consistency of product. Distributors are dealing with market changes, market additions, and supply and demand. Bartenders are constantly experimenting with flavor, products, varieties of plants, and changes to the spirits consistency. There are so many facets to the beverage industry.
Personally, I would enjoy teaching botany. While in college, I studied plant identification, migration through climate change, and soil testing. I’d love to teach others how the terrior of a plant affects distillation and consistency of product.
The LAB: Thanks Jen for taking the time to dive into these questions with us. The next time we're in D.C. we'll pull up a seat at a bar with you. And yes, you can expect me to take part in sherry and cookies this fall.
Cheers ~ Jason