Women's Day special: Award-winning bartender Lauren Mote talks about her journey, and her favourite cocktail
In an industry dominated by men, Lauren Mote has made a significant mark. A mixologist, a sommelier, and the co-founder of Bittered Sling Bitters, Lauren was awarded Bartender of the Year in 2015 by Vancouver Magazine Restaurant Awards and won the Diageo World Class Canada competition. Today, as Diageo’s Global Cocktailian and Reserve Brand Ambassador, Lauren is on the panel of members who are creating tasks for the Diageo World Class competition that kicked off in India this week. Nearly 120 bartenders are vying for a spot in the global finals that will be held in Sydney later this year. Lauren, who was in India for the previous editions, talks to Indulge about her journey so far and shares her insights on what gives the Indian participants an edge.
What got you interested in mixology? What are your earliest memories of learning the basics of the profession?
I’ve been in the food and beverage industry since 1996 and have been a bartender since 2000. Throughout high school and university, I couldn’t shake the hospitality bug. There’s something inside me that constantly wants to communicate with, please and engage people. Starting mostly in the wine industry, I worked with some of the brightest sommeliers in Toronto. Honing my expertise in wine and top-notch service made it possible for me to dive head first into spirits and cocktails. I had an epiphany under a pile of International Relations books in my second year at university that eventually I would have to figure out a way to incorporate my love for food and beverage, people and politics into one role – I was NEVER going to have a desk job. I have always worked tremendously hard and have been grateful to work for/with some gracious and wonderful people that have championed me for my skills and abilities. My education and experience has helped me in more ways that I could’ve dreamed as a bartender, and now in my current role as Diageo Reserve Global Cocktailian.
As a seasoned professional, a writer and someone who mentors others, is mixology more a science or an art?
Mixology is always defined as the “art of mixing”, whereas bartending is “tending to the guests needs”. When we speak about mentorship, it’s usually from a bartender’s perspective. The most successful people in these roles have a mix of both skills.
How has it been working with DIAGEO as a Global Cocktailian? You are a brand yourself, and you are working with a reputed multinational spirit, how has it worked in your favour and in the brand's favour?
Over the years, from the Diageo perspective and my own brand’s perspective, we have been able to add a lot of detail to the conversation – providing a worldly perspective on sustainability, trends, flavours, people, culture and safe spaces/inclusion have given us a lot of insight into how we build educational programs, and how we further the World Class program to ensure all opinions are heard. On the flip side, working for Diageo in this role has provided a big stepping stone to a wider audience to discuss real issues, and provide ground-breaking programs to all bartenders, at every layer of our drinks industry – this is what I am most proud of.
Over the last decade, gin has been taking centre stage across the globe. Even in India in particular, you see many gin brands were launched and are doing well. Why do you think gin has become a preferred beverage of discerning drinkers?
We are very excited to explore flavours and craftsmanship – gin is a wonderful spirit to explore, as each bottle will be a different expression by the distiller – nowhere to go but up from here when it comes to creativity. In the case of Tanqueray Gin, we are always innovating and creating new expressions in the line up inspired by our founder, Charles Tanqueray and the bartending community. Our newest innovations are a testament to the growing popularity of the category, and we will continue to see the simplicity in the serve from a Gin & Tonic’s perspective, as well as the base for several contemporary mixed drinks in the future.
Would you say gin is your favourite beverage to work with?
Gin is certainly up there! For white spirits, it’s often the “grab” for most bartenders, but again it all depends on the occasion. I have never said no to a good Tom Collins or Gimlet, and just love the versatility of flavours that work with the spirit in cocktails. My favourite lesser-known pairing, Tanqueray No. TEN Gin x Coconut – it’s OUTSTANDING.
You were a World Class winner, how different was it back then as a woman to have beaten all the other competitors? Have things evolved today for women mixologists?
As a female in this industry, we are trying to lead the conversation away from gender, and focus on talent, skill and ability, regardless of how you identify. We are seeing this is a growing conversation around the world and being “woke” to this is very important. In order to change the conversation, we have to be aware the conversation is happening, and how actions and words are affecting women and feminized folk everywhere. Back in 2015, I was proud to stand tall in my 12th place global finish, and my reflection on managing a difficult schedule, complicated travel, intense preparations and sleep deprivation to get there was a huge moment. I realized before heading to the finals just 6 of the 54 of the global finalists were women, and that was the turning point to my career since then (over 5 years) regardless of how I’d finish at the Global Finals. I’ve dedicated a large part of my role to empowering and providing opportunities for women and feminized folk in our industry, while encouraging new, curious folk to join the industry in the first place.
What is your advice to those in India who are preparing for the World Class competition? What do you look for in a cocktail at competitions? Where do Indian bartenders and mixologists stand on a global scale?
Each year, the judges are looking for the right balance of technical ability, storytelling, flavour and excitement, and that can come in many forms. Each year is filled with surprise and delight, and our expectations are always blown away as each bartender brings our Diageo Reserve brands to life, with their own personality and charisma. We are anxious and excited to meet this year’s entries, from all around the world, and wish everyone the best of luck. The 2020 World Class Global Finals invites each country winner to join us in Sydney, Australia for an unforgettable experience, as each one vies for the title of, “World Class Bartender of the Year”. Here are some best practices for those wishing to enter the program:
1 – read, read, and reread the brief; 2 – be yourself, and show us your personality and style; 3 – practice until you’re so sure of the drinks and concept that you’re dreaming about them; 4 – World Class is more than cocktails – it’s hospitality, lifestyle and storytelling, brought to life with great drinks at its core5 – have fun, and make new friends that will last a lifetime.
What do you think of the bartending scene in India, how different is it from other countries? Is it more evolved now?
With an incredible amount of access to ingredients, and regionally specific flavours, I think it’s one of the greatest places on earth to express stories and culture through drinks. The biggest advantage that Indian bartenders have, is the influence of global culture mixed with Indian traditions. If storytelling is just as important as the great cocktails presented, this is the moment to bring the two together in ways that we’ve yet to experience. I am looking forward to learning more from our Indian bar community.
How has the talk around climate change and sustainability impacted mixologists around the globe? How are you and your colleagues trying to implement sustainability and eco-friendly practices behind the bar? Any tips that you would like to share?
Definitely it’s not a trend, but a change to our way of life that’s here to stay. From recycled fruit husks (citrus stock) and closed loop cocktails (using each ingredient entirely), the next evolution of our cocktail-supply-chain is about community. How can cocktails play a role in bringing the community to life? For example, with Ketel One, we are working with local beekeepers and honey experts to help us connect more to the “sweetener” source for our drinks – why just use white sugar, when we can use something local that celebrates a small business? We do the same with coffee, tea, botanicals, fruit, glassware and more – this is a wonderful (and fairly easy) way to include more local-flare to your drinks program.
What does your favourite cocktail taste like? What is the key element of Lauren's signature cocktail - how would you describe it? Please share examples.
I have to be honest, I love complex flavours and spices, but this must be well executed. Each ingredient should have a well-identified purpose in the drink; I love the less is more approach – how can you provide a complex and flavourful cocktail with four ingredients or less? Have you pulled inspiration from a classic in some way? What’s your template? One of my favourite drinks is a riff on a margarita, called the “It’s a family affair” – inspired by the Tommy’s Margarita inventor, Julio Bermejo and his family, owners of Tommy’s Mexican Restaurant in San Francisco. This is my cocktail, because I love creating tributes to people in our industry who’ve pushed to create something special.
IT’S A FAMILY AFFAIR:
Don Julio Tequila Blanco, Ancho Verde, basil and agave, lime, Moondog Latin bitters and coastal sea salt. A Margarita is a bartender’s best friend, but the simple adjustment to the classic recipe (replacing curacao and sugar with agave syrup) pushed the Tommy’s Margarita into the top 100 cocktails in the world. My spin, takes that principle, and champions it with flavours from basil and green chilli, paying both an homage to this San Francisco institution, and the beauty of Don Julio Blanco Tequila’s tasting notes.
Which is your personal favourite cocktail? How do you make it and what do you like about it?
These days, I’m highball crazy – I just love the long, refreshing nature of the drink, the mix and match of spirits and mixers, and this allows me to consume lower sugar, lower proof drinks, which are some of my favourites when traveling and hosting many events. At the moment, I am loving Johnnie Walker Black x Coconut Water – it’s simple, easy drinking and delicious.
What are your top-five must-keep ingredients behind the bar?
Gin (many styles, so much versatility in drinks)Bitters (the salt and pepper of the drinks world)Aromatized Wine (sherry and vermouths – keep ‘em in the fridge once open)Carbonated Mixers (nothing quenches the thirst quite like an array of great, bubbly mixers)Plethora of garnishes (can be used for so many things, beyond just “adorning a drink”)
You visited India a few years ago - how different is the drinker here compared to his/her contemporary in the West?
Everyone has different tastes around the world, and often people’s drinking habits fit the climate, the occasion and the food – it’s not surprising that India enjoys longer drinks, well flavoured drinks, and slightly-sweeter drinks – fits the mould perfectly of their culture.
Any bizarre anecdotes from your career, any requests that totally took you by surprise?
It’s most surprising when people think I like eating Western food when I arrive in exotic places – I want to eat where you eat on your family’s special occasions – what are the flavours and dishes that express your culture? What are your cannot-live-without foods? It’s the most surprising for those receiving me, especially in “well-spiced” regions, that I eat hotter (spicier with chilies) than anyone else.
Bartenders do their research, and often I’ll arrive in the country, they know I love tequila, they know I am 99% plant-based diet, and love chilies. It’s the most remarkable surprise to have an experience tailored to you, and you didn’t even know it was happening – truly personal experiences.
What's the story behind Bittered Sling? Why did you start it and why do you call it 'Bittered Sling'? Where do you source your ingredients from for the bitters?
In 2008, I was already making bitters in our bar programs in Vancouver. The idea grew from there – and Bittered Sling was born. Bittered Sling’s line up of 6 Global Flavours and 6 Creative Flavours are made in the classic style (aromatic) showcasing our cooking and travel experiences. The product carries no sugar or colouring, and is made with whole, fair trade botanicals from around the world. We capture the character of our recipes using Canadian fruit & grain spirit, and manufacture in the beautiful Okanagan Valley in British Columbia.
What's the most satisfying thing about your profession?
I’m celebrating 20 years as a bartender this year, and I’ve dedicated my life and career to bartenders. I want very much to help create a thriving, safe and creative industry for everyone in the profession now, and encourage new comers to join us.
What next for Lauren as Diageo's Global Cocktailian and Reserve Brand Ambassador? And what next for Lauren as an independent entrepreneur, writer and mentor? Would you start your own bartending school?
Working with all of our global brand teams and World Class –the contest, and the education program (World Class Studios) – keep me very busy day to day. I have been able to find the sweet spot to add in the skills from my other businesses, hobbies and talents, and apply them in my role with Diageo. I feel as though all the important things that I have set out to do are happening day to day, so I’ll just keep pushing to make a difference, and empower great people along the way to do the same.