- November 14, 2021
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By Emily Turner
When it comes to tending bar, there’s rarely a straight path. It can often start as a side hustle on your way to something else, until something or someone inspires you to devote your career to the hospitality industry.
Misty Kalkofen is no different. The Harvard Divinity School graduate worked at the Lizard Lounge at night and on weekends while studying for her Masters of Theological Studies. When a bartender didn’t show up one night, Kalkofen was pulled from the floor as a server and put behind the bar.
“The rest is history,” she said.
After the Lizard Lounge, she made her way through the B-Side Lounge, Tremont 647, West Side Lounge, Green Street Grill, Drink, and Brick & Mortar. In 2018, she co-authored “Drinking Like Ladies,” a cocktail recipes book from women bartenders. “It’s our love letter to both women’s history and the amazing women who work in the hospitality industry globally,” Kalkofen said.
Today, she is a cultural liaison for Del Maguey, acting as madrina, or godmother, for the artisanal mezcal brand. She also slings drinks from her kitchen or on the road where she takes on guest shifts at bars.
On Thursday at 7 p.m., Kalkofen will join the Boston.com Cocktail Club to mix mezcal cocktails and discuss Boston’s restaurant and bar scene. Ahead of the class, we caught up with Kalkofen to discuss what she loves about mezcal, who got her hooked on classic cocktails, and why the hanky panky is her “cocktail alter ego.”
I had been working in the hospitality industry for many years before meeting Cleve, but it was Cleve that got me hooked on classic cocktails. Cleve hosted a weekly event Thursday nights at the Lizard Lounge called Saturnalia. He would spin [Juan García] Esquivel and Martin Denny and other great exotica artists. This was the era of the movie “Swingers,” so the bar would fill up with Boston’s finest, dressed up in their hippest suits and cocktail dresses to sip martinis and Manhattans.
Each week Cleve would have, in addition to our cocktail menu, a classic cocktail as the drink of the week. So over the two years of working these Thursday nights, I acquired a catalog of recipes in this noggin of mine. He introduced me to spirits I had never experienced before such as rye whiskey which, at that time, was only available by special order. As a big nerd, I loved the history that came with every cocktail and every spirit. … I love the interaction that takes place when bartending and in the hospitality industry in general. We have the opportunity to improve someone’s day in every interaction. There are few jobs where that is a possibility. John Gertsen of Drink was definitely a mentor of mine in hospitality. He introduced me to the joys of anticipating what a guest wanted before they even knew they wanted it; that what seems like a small gesture to us may seem remarkable to the guest on the receiving end.
I definitely have fingers in a lot of different pots with my role. Prior to the pandemic I was spending about 50 percent of my time in Oaxaca hosting bartenders and distributor partners for immersive experiences in Oaxaca to learn about mezcal and the cultures of Oaxaca directly from the producers we work with. It is very much my favorite aspect of my job, but that has been on hold since the onset of the pandemic. I’m hoping that we will be able to resume the trips in 2022.
I focus a lot on education with trade and our distributor partners which, like for many, has meant a lot of virtual and Instagram Live experiences throughout the pandemic. And finally I manage our team of jueces [judges], which other companies would call ambassadors. A juez in Oaxaca is responsible for keeping everyone’s copita full of mezcal at the fiesta. I may be biased, but I believe we have the best team in the business, and it’s a joy to work with them and celebrate their successes.
I would have to say the hanky panky as it has been my cocktail alter ego since Kirsten Amann (aka Pink Lady) and I launched the Boston chapter of Ladies United for the Preservation of Endangered Cocktails (LUPEC) many years ago. I love this cocktail. First off, it is the creation of Ada Coleman who ran the American Bar at the Savoy Hotel many years ago and is one of the only cocktails that we know for certain was her original creation. Also, as a sweet martini modified with fernet it exemplifies the fact that you don’t need a million ingredients to create a luxurious, complex cocktail.
To me mezcal is the most dynamic spirits category. It is a spirit that exhibits terroir, or the taste of place, so it truly represents the beautiful diversity of the country where it is made. Each family has their gusto historico, or historical taste, that is a result of their specific process. How to achieve this gusto historico is passed down [through generations]. For example, there may be several families in a pueblo making mezcal using a nearly identical process and the same variety of agave, but their mezcal will be very different because of the traditions of the family, or the hand of the maker.
In addition there are over 30 different species of agave that can be used to make mezcal, each offering different characteristics in the final product. The soil type in which the agave is grown, the sun exposure, the sugar content of the agaves used, there are so many factors that can affect the end product before you even start talking about the variety of production practices that are possible. Put this all together and you have the most diverse category of spirits in the world, one that you could spend your whole life studying and never master.
Definitely the book I co-authored with Kirsten Amann, “Drinking Like Ladies.” Published in 2018, DLL was ten years in the making and truly was a labor of love. We invited 75 women from around the globe to create cocktails inspired by women in history and the ladies crushed it! The cocktails they offered to us were thoughtful and inspiring and exemplified the many talented women working in hospitality. It’s our love letter to both women’s history and the amazing women who work in the hospitality industry globally.
I spent my years growing up being a total music nerd. I grew up singing, dancing, and playing piano, organ, violin, and trombone. As a member of all the choirs (concert, vocal jazz, madrigals), orchestra and band in all its forms (concert, jazz, marching, pit), you were most likely to find me in the music department whenever I had a free moment. Now most of my singing happens in the shower and I’m teaching myself to play the ukulele — much less obtrusive than a trombone for my landlady downstairs.
I would encourage anyone who is able to support Another Round Another Rally, a nonprofit financial resource for the hospitality industry. Another Round Another Rally issues emergency aid to hospitality workers facing unanticipated hardships and reimbursement grants and immersive educational scholarships that further the education of historically excluded voices in the community. They launched just before the pandemic and went into hyperdrive, quickly acquiring over 200 volunteers and raising over $7 million that has been distributed via grants to hospitality workers experiencing hardship due to the pandemic, prioritizing individuals who did not have access to other financial safety nets. Venmo: @AnotherRoundAR.
Join us Thursday, Nov. 11, at 7 p.m. for Boston.com’s Cocktail Club with host Jackson Cannon and his special guest Misty Kalkofen, a longtime Boston bartender and cultural liason for Del Maguey Single Village Mezcal. This week they’ll be making cocktails with mezcal, catching up about the Boston restaurant and bar scene, and sharing tips the pros use to make great drinks at home. They’ll be mixing the neo-classical cocktail naked and famous and a cloud people. Everything you need is in the shopping list here.
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