Testing cocktails designed by women bartenders

By Andrew Turnwall


Andrew Turnwall

March 14, 2017

Posted in Restaurant Management, Industry & Culture

Paying tribute where tribute is due…

Throughout history, there have been two constants that humanity has turned to in times of great need: the efforts of extraordinary people, and alcohol. As another excuse to imbibe for science and profit, we are once again picking another tome of gastronomic drinkery and wonder to work our way through. In celebration of Women’s History Month, we’re running down a book of cocktails designed by women bartenders to honor extraordinary feminist icons and causes.

Drink Like a Woman: Shake, Stir, Conquer, Repeat by Jeanette Hurt with art by Paige Clark offers up more than 70 recipes paying tribute to 400 years of badass and bold women. In addition, it offers hangover cures, a drinking game, tips on filling out your personal bar, and fascinating histories of all the incredible women and moments in drinking and feminist history honored within.

Within these pages Hurt has assembled the works of two dozen bartenders, distillers, chemists and the like that is meant to delight, to educate, to honor, and, of course, to be drunk. So, being in the midst of an international celebration, it’s time to drink.

Ada’s Hanky Panky

Our first drink goes all the way back to the beginning of the rise of the female bartender. As late as the 1970’s, laws on the books prohibited women from tending bar if they weren’t related to the owner of said bar. So, to rise to head bartender in 1899 was something of a feat. Ada Coleman accomplished just that at the age of 24 at The Savoy, serving luminaries from Mark Twain to the Prince of Wales.

Ada’s Hanky Panky is based off the original, created by Coleman herself. Equal parts gin and vermouth, with a few dashes of fernet and orange bitters, the resulting drink is delightfully earthy, and packs a strong kick that would make its namesake proud. We’re off to a good start it seems.


Invasion of Women

In 1933, America corrected one of our great national mistakes and repealed Prohibition, triggering a rebirth in the Great American Bar. In 1935, columnist Dan Marquis put on his mansplain hat and decried the end of the male-only ballroom, declaring it “gone forever, killed by this invasion of women.” It can only be assumed that the women of the world continued putting their feet on the brass rail and going about . This twist on the daiquiri is a tribute to those cocktails designed by women bartenders, and possibly in memory of at least one bitter man.

Like with the Dead Rabbit Drinks Manual, many of the drinks require that several of the ingredients be prepared ahead of time. And, like with the Drinks Manual, we have found a love of preparing our own ingredients rather than buying them. This time around, it’s oleo saccharum. The added rich citrus flavors complemented the lime and gave a better flavor profile than just the sweetness that simple syrup might provide when added to the rum and lime juice. Anyways, good kick, great flavor, let’s move forward a few decades.

Lucille’s Balls

Lucille Ball was a legend. She started own of the most successful shows in television history at an age when most women in television are shunned. She was the first woman to be “expecting” on national television. She owned the rights to her show, and, when she bought her ex-husband out of what would eventually become Paramount Studios, she told Carol Burnett that “that’s when they added the ‘s’ to the end of my name.”

Ms. Ball’s drink is the cuba libre—the lighter, more citrusy rum and coke. Using Mexican coca-cola, which uses real cane sugar as opposed to corn syrup and rhum agricole which uses cane sugar as opposed to molasses, Lucille’s Balls would perhaps be a bit too light and sweet (no, there is no better way to phrase that), but the addition of a few dashes of Fernet-Branca counteracts this and adds complexity, spice, kick. All descriptors that we think Ms. Ball would be proud of.

Mind the [Wage] Gap

This last drink in the review is perhaps the easiest to create, and focuses more on a damning play on words than any one figure. Calling attention to the fact that women on the whole make only 77 cents for every dollar made by a man, the Mind the [Wage] Gap is a screwdriver. Freshly squeezed orange juice and vodka, with a dropper of orange bitters besides. The drink is simple, goes down easy, and is a perennial favorite. The reality that inspired it is anything but.

But, when life gives you lemons, make hard lemonade. And, when life gives you a preternatural talent for wordplay and mixology, make thinly veiled and well deserved allusions toward an annoying and sexist remnant of days passed. In this instance, I award points for turn of phrase, taste of cocktail, ease of creation, and the boldness to call out nonsense.

bar math

The Verdict

While it may not be the impressive looking and feeling tome that the Dead Rabbit Drinks Manual is, Drink Like a Woman is an impressive book nonetheless. It’s small, unassuming, confident. The recipes are not the biggest and most complex, but they work. Like matching glasses to drink, it isn’t about finding the biggest punch bowl, it’s about finding the one that fits.

These recipes are expertly crafted, easy to prepare, and delicious. Hurt has put together an all-star team to celebrate an all-star list of women throughout history. The book is a joy to read, and the recipes a joy to prepare. I’m thrilled to delve in deeper to not only discover new cocktails, but the history of incredible women I may not have known.

The history of women behind the bar has always been, let us admit, somewhat sexist. But if this book and these cocktails designed by women bartenders, it is well on its way to something better. As Hurt puts it, “There are no ‘girly’ drinks. There are no ‘manly man’ drinks. There are just drinks.” We can all drink to that.


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