This is my last Campari America Spirited Connections Interview of 2017, and I have to say, I’m incredibly proud of the in-depth conversations we have had on Gastronomista this year. This series has pushed me personally, and has encouraged me to use this platform to help share important stories in the Cocktail & Spirits industry that need to be addressed – head on. I am so grateful to Campari America for inspiring this series, and for supporting all of the talented bartenders we have spoken with throughout the year.
This month’s interview is with Ashtin Berry, an outspoken young woman who is the beverage director of one of New York’s hottest bars, Tokyo Record Bar, and someone who has pushed the conversation about diversity in the beverage industry.
Through this series I have tried to put a spotlight on bartenders of different shapes, sizes, colors, people who are doing amazing work and are sure to inspire a next generation of budding talent behind the bar. What I’ve learned through my conversation with Ashtin is that our job is not done – we as a community need to continue to support people who don’t look or act like us, and continue to have open conversations about our differences. Because, at the end of the day hospitality is about taking care of our fellow humans.
Without further ado, Ashtin Berry:
Gastronomista: Ashtin, tell us a bit about how you became a bartender and what you’re up to these days?
Ashtin Berry: I became a bartender after working as a cocktail waitress at a Chicago Sports bar. I am currently working on two bars in New York, Air’s Champagne Parlor and Tokyo Record Bar, an Izakaya [cocktail] bar focused on vinyl records.
Gastronomista: You have been vocal about social issues behind the bar – namely, diversity behind the bar. How have you been making your voice heard, and what issues do you think are of concern in today’s environment?
AB: I would argue that I’ve been mainly vocal about racial and diverse equity within our community. I really want to stop using the word diversity as an all encompassing umbrella to talk about inclusion. The fact of the matter is our industry is diverse, but marginalized groups are no equally represented or visible in positions of power.
I think making your voice heard is first about not shying away from difficult conversations. They may not always end the way we would like, but it is still important none the less to continue to engage.
I think the issues facing our country at large are the same ones we are facing in the industry. However, I think the way our industry is constructed it becomes more and more difficult for us to hear different perspectives merely, because those different narratives aren’t in the room.
AB: By constructing spaces that are actually inclusive. Making a statement of inclusivity, doesn’t make people feel welcomed. Making people feel welcomed starts with visibility and engagement. If those who act as gatekeepers in our industry do not engage with other narratives nothing will change. I’m using the language “gatekeeper” because many people in our industry have an assumption that power is only wielded by those who can make massive changes. However, having access to tools, knowledge, and varying forms of capitol puts majority of those in a position to implement change even if it is in small ways. However, I can’t speak for every group of people so the easiest way to find out how you can support anybody is to ask them.
Gastronomista: What are the top three things up and coming bartenders can do to be more aware of diversity issues both as a consumer and as someone in the spirits industry?
AB: 1. By engaging with people who do not look like them or share the same socio-economic status. I mean, that sounds like a simple thing, but when you go out to industry events what we see is the same people talking to each other over and over. So, expand your list of friends and associates it’s not only relevant to creating rich businesses and a bar, but it’s relevant to being a socially aware person.
2. By unpacking their implicit bias. Implicit or unconscious bias is something every person has. It can be difficult to admit, but it’s essential that as people who train and hire bartenders, as well as interact with consumers every day, we’re able to stop and ask how we can make each of those relationships even better. That starts by trying to understand what unconscious biases are and then how we can work to undo them. Harvard’s Implicit Bias Testing is a great start for those who do not know what Implicit bias means or how it may show up in every day lives.
3. Recognizing that conversations about race, gender, sexual orientation, etc are necessary in order for changes to be made. Being uncomfortable is a part of doing the work to undo the exclusive nature of parts of our business.
Gastronomista: In your opinion, why is diversity-minded activism especially important in the bar community right now?
AB: I’m not sure what diversity-minded activism means to be honest. Humans in themselves are diverse, and my activism is rooted in humanity just as our hospitality as bartenders should be. The bar community should be interested in human rights, because we work in the service of humans. And, if you cannot understand that from a social justice standpoint you should certainly be able to understand it from a business standpoint. Exclusionary practices, even those that are unintentional, put a limit on our businesses and their potential growth.
Gastronomista: You recently relocated New York. How has the moved changed your life, and what is in store for you next?
AB: To be honest, New York hasn’t really changed my life, but it has been nice to see friends I normally see once a year. What’s next I guess everyone will have to wait to see, I haven’t quite decided yet.
Gastronomista: What drives the creative process for you when you’re creating cocktails? Any tricks of the trade you can share?
AB: Food. Honestly, even if I am not working at a place that serves food, the focus of my flavors always comes with a thought of what someone is going to enjoy before, during, or after they eat. Vermouth is a many wonders and so are Kräuterlikörs.
Gastronomista: Who inspires you in the bar industry right now? Who do you think is doing it right?!
AB: I don’t know if their is anyone doing it right, but there are people doing it right for them and their team and I respect that a ton. I would say Giuseppe Gonzalez, Tiffanie Barrie, and Ariel Arce the Owner of both Air’s and Tokyo Record Bar. They are all finding their truth and their paths their own ways and that I think is valuable. Their is no right way.
Gastronomista: If you could visit any bar anywhere in the world, at any point in history, what bar would you visit? Who would you have a drink with?
AB: I hate say this, but if I had the time to visit any place in the world at any point in history I wouldn’t be going to a bar. You would more than likely find me at a play and or a bookstore. And if I was going to have a drink, it would be no different than right now: Champagne, always.
Gastronomista: This series is sponsored by Campari America, can you recommend a favorite cocktail or two for our readers made with their products?
A Campari Mule is probably one of my favorite drinks. It’s really simple to it’s just 1.5oz of Campari, .5oz Lime juice topped with ginger beer. Otherwise you really cannot go wrong with a rye Manhattan and switch out the vermouth for Cynar. And it’s a classic for a reason Aperol Spritzes all day everyday.
Created by Ashtin Berry
1-1/2 oz Umeshu Plum Wine
3/4 oz Campari
1-1/2 oz Junmai Sakè
Add ingredients to beaker and stir with ice strain into rocks glass with fresh ice garnish with orange or grapefruit peel.
Created by Ashtin Berry
2 oz White Rum
1 oz of Miso Simple Syrup
1 oz Yuzu Juice
1 oz of Cynar
Shake rum, miso simple syrup and yuzu juice with ice until chilled. Strain into a low ball glass with ice and top with 1 oz Cynar. Garnish with a fresh shiso leaf.
Created by Ashtin Berry
1-1/2 oz Campari
1 oz Plum Wine
Top with Soda
Build in a highball glass over ice, and garnish with a lemon twist.
For more follow Ashtin on Instagram.