Every International Women’s Day highlights the reasons for us to celebrate women’s empowerment and every successful woman who has crossed barriers in a perceptibly male bastion is an inspiring example for it. Like Lauren Mote – award-winning bartender, mixologist, sommelier, accomplished emcee, writer, international spirits diplomat and an accredited instructor. Lauren indeed wears many hats. But she’s best known as the Diageo Reserve & World Class Global Cocktailian and the Co-Founder of Bittered Sling Bitters — an internationally successful portfolio of award-winning cocktail bitters and culinary extracts.
Named the 2015 ‘Bartender of the Year’ by both the Vancouver Magazine Restaurant Awards and DIAGEO World Class Canada, Mote has carved a niche for herself in a traditionally male dominated industry. She has served as an Associate Director for the Canadian Professional Bartenders Association, has been an event partner and keynote speaker with Tales of the Cocktail since 2011, and in 2016 she was the first Canadian woman inducted into the “Dames Hall of Fame”, besides being nominated for ‘Best Bar Mentor’ at the 10th annual Spirited Awards Ceremony. As a speaker, educator, mentor and industry advocate, her reach extends beyond the bar. Mote is pretty vocal about the issues that women face at work and is also a passionate champion for the cause of sustainability, diversity, and innovation. In a free-wheeling conversation with Bishan Kumar, she shares her insights and experiences.
What actually inspired you to pursue a career in bartending?
I have 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 and engage with people. I began my journey in the wine industry, working 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 have dreamed as a bartender, and now in my current role as Global Cocktailian.
Could you share your early experiences in a male-dominated domain and the gender-centric challenges that you had to face?
Like all bartenders and mixologists, I’ve had my share of challenges throughout my career. But I’m not sure any of these can be specifically attributed to my gender. My journey is very specific to me; I have always worked tremendously hard and have been grateful to work for and with some incredibly gracious and wonderful people who have supported me for my skills and abilities – not my gender. Like in many other industries, male dominance is extremely prevalent in bartending too. But it’s evolving quickly. Hiring practices are changing; recruitment is changing; and hopefully this means job criteria and financial hierarchy are changing too.
Do you see any gender prejudices/preferences among customers?
I don’t think gender comes into play when it comes to bartending. Women don’t have anything to offer over men, in the same way men don’t have anything to offer over women. I expect the role of women will continue to grow at all levels of our industry, with the ultimate aim of closing the wage gap and moving to a place where individual genders are not the subject of debate; where we have equality and inclusion across all fronts. Any customer who thinks otherwise, or thinks women are somehow unsuited to bartending, needs a reality check!
What do you think is your biggest strength as a person and as a mixologist?
It’s a cliché, but I am a people person. This is very important in my role as Global Cocktailian and mixologist.I love to meet people and get under their skin. Sometimes I do this to understand their culture and specific needs during a training seminar. At other times I do this to understand which great drink will make them tick! This love of people is how I got into this job in the first place and if meeting different people every day sounds like something you would like to do, all you need to do is pick up a cocktail book, grab a mixing glass and start learning.
How has your life changed after winning the World Class title?
WOW! My life has changed a lot since winning World Class Canada back in 2015! First, I have found myself a whole new World Class family. It has provided so many connections and opportunities which I would never have had if I had not been involved. It was this unique time with these influencers and experts which spurred me on to keep challenging and pushing myself to be the best I could be. In 2017, I was announced as the Global Cocktailian – the first role of its kind in the world. Each day is a new experience – I wake up in a different country, ready to tackle the day.
I start with fitness and coffee, emails and daily recaps. I’ll take some time to get ready, and then off I go! The days can have different agendas – judging competitions, developing and delivering seminars and educational content for bartenders, bar/restaurant events for special guests, and working in the Diageo offices around the world, inspiring the teams that work within our World Class and Reserve families. There’s always an abundance of great food and cocktails on each bar stop and often I’ll jump behind the bar with the team and make some drinks for the guests at the bar. Then, I’ll summarize and develop a story for the day to share with the world.
Can you tell us a bit about your association with Diageo Reserve?
The Diageo Reserve brands are the world’s leading luxury portfolio and include household names such as Johnnie Walker Blue Label, Tanqueray No. Ten gin and Ketel One vodka. In my role as the Global Cocktailian, I try to inspire people to drink better, not more, and opt for high-quality products like the Diageo Reserve brands.
There are lots of experiments happening behind the bars. Can you share some exciting ones from your own experience?
The ‘World Class Bartender of the Year’contest is always a showcase for some of the most exciting and innovative work within the industry. In Mexico City last year, I particularly loved the unique perspective each bartender brought from their own respective countries; how they worked their culture, heritage and personality into the bartending challenges. The Mex-Eco challenge had me in tears on a few occasions – the competitors’ stories, and the ways in which they conveyed them, were so heart-felt and emotional. I am currently travelling around the global World Class countries, educating bartenders at all levels, creating events and seminars for our customers and guests, and judging the local stages of the competition. So far, I have been all over South East Asia and South America and I have been blown away by the incredible diversity of flavours, stories, personalities and emotions.
If you had to pick some things for a Mixologist’s table, what would those be and why?
I want to leave everything on the table, but I want bartenders to fully understand techniques and ingredients – both safe and potentially dangerous ones – before they use them. I want bartenders to start thinking like chefs. When it comes to ingredients like activated charcoal, tobacco, quinidine or techniques using fire, liquid nitrogen or dry ice, learn how to use them before you test them on your guests! The safety aspect is a critical thing missing from our
What is your advice to budding bartenders, especially since you conduct training sessions?
Find a place or a person you really want to work with and figure out how to get a job there – you might not start alongside them, but it’s a goal to work towards. There are so many parallels to the culinary world – as a young cook, you start out looking up to certain chefs and mentors, and their incredible restaurants you would marvel at the opportunity to work for. That’s the starting point. You’ll always have to ensure you know the role inside and out. That means studying courses where necessary.And never discount the necessity to learn spirits, wine, beer, sake, tea, coffee, international cultures, food, classic cocktails and food as part of the role’s success. The key is to never think ‘I’m done’ – there’s always more to learn, each day, and then it becomes your duty to teach the next generation.
There are a plethora of categories and brands of liquor available now. Which is your own favouritewhen making cocktails?
That’s a tough one because it depends on the season, the time, the place and the occasion. Right now, as I travel around South America, I love Tequila – I often drink Don Julio Blanco just on ice, and I’m happy to finish a meal with some Don Julio 1942. For me, the Diageo Reserve brands are the perfect selection of spirts, each with outstanding quality, heritage and wonderful flavour profile – perfect for cocktails! For example, if I am making an Old Fashioned, I will reach for Zacapa rum; for a celebratory serve, I will shake up a Ciroc Star Martini. The possibilities are endless.
What is your take on the Indian cocktail scene?
Unfortunately, I haven’t yet had much experience with the Indian cocktail scene, but I know it’s experiencing a lot of growth at the moment and it’s definitely one to watch. Hopefully I’ll have the opportunity to visit and work with Indian bartenders myself – I love experimenting with local ingredients and India is second to none when it comes to exotic flavour. So it’s firmly on my bucket list!
Which do you think is the most challenging country for bartenders?
All countries have their challenges and I don’t think it would be possible to single out one country that gets it absolutely right. Places where the borders are closed or it’s difficult/expensive to get products like spirits, bitters and bar tools would obviously pose greater challenges for bartenders. In certain parts of the world, there’s still a massive wage gap and widespread discrimination based on gender, age, financial status, religious beliefs, race and more – there is no perfect country.
Who is real Lauren and what is she most passionate about?
I’m fortunate that there’s a lot of synergy between my personal and professional life, so what you see is what you get with me.In my role as Global Cocktailian, I champion causes which I’m incredibly passionate about. It makes my work life a lot easier as I wholeheartedly believe in these causes and support them in whatever capacity I can.