Bartender of the Month - January 2019: Claire Sprouse, Hunky Dory + Tin Roof Drink Community
Claire Sprouse is saving the planet, one drink at a time. Well, sort of. The 33-year-old from Houston is committed to sustainability... and get this: she consults for other businesses on how they can get their sh*t together, too.
This month (January), Claire's bar, Hunky Dory, is scheduled to open in Crown Heights, Brooklyn. And, we can't wait to sip some stupendous, well-balanced drinks.
Without further ado, cheers to a new year. Read on for our chat with Claire, Liquor Lab's January 2019 Bartender of the Month.
What’s your drink of choice (to drink)?
Margarita with salt.
Drink of choice (to make)?
How did Tin Roof Drink Community originate?
My business partner and I started Tin Roof in San Francisco in 2014. At the time, California was in a period of extreme drought; this spurred us to start examining how we took this limited resource for granted in our bars. It started with water, but soon we were chipping away at all waste streams in an effort to be more sustainable.
How has the sustainability movement evolved in the cocktail world throughout the years?
When we first started out, there was only one or two other groups digging into this subject and absolutely zero info on how to be more sustainable behind the bar. There was some resistance in the form of eye-rolling, but it's hard to deny that we are a very wasteful industry that should be sharing the burden of answering for climate change. Fast forward to today where there is much more interest in the subject; in fact, this growing demand has brought us around the globe to educate bartenders who are looking to set new standards for our industry.
What inspired you to move to SF? What are your favorite bars there? Are there any in particular that are truly trailblazing, and why?
I am lucky that I was introduced to food, cocktails, and hospitality in Houston -- the bars and restaurants there are amongst the best in this country (Grand Prize Bar in particular is perfectly towing the line of delicious, but not-too-serious cocktails) and gave me a really strong foundation to build upon. I challenged myself personally and professionally to move somewhere completely different from what I always knew, and end up on the west coast in SF. I ran some great programs and consulted on many openings, but my time spent opening and working at ABV was a really humbling learning experience, because I was able to work alongside such experienced and loving bar professionals.
Tell us a bit about Hunky Dory in Brooklyn.
Hunky Dory is a neighborhood space in Crown Heights, Brooklyn. We will offer nice beverages throughout the day - including well-thought out coffee, tea, non-alcholic options, low-abv and seasonal cocktails, beer, and wine - basically, a little of everything but tightly curated! We will also have very seasonal food that compliments the beverage program and together the two menus will work towards being more sustainable. I'm looking forward to sharing our perspective on sustainability, deliciousness, and hospitality with our community. We aim to open by the end of January (fingers crossed).
How does the cocktail culture differ between SF and NY? How about your hometown of Houston?
To generalize, SF is much more produce-driven because they have a constant pipeline of abundant agriculture. On the other hand, NY is more focused on perfecting the classics and often brings a historical narrative into the conversation. Houston does whatever the fuck it wants, which is why it's such an exciting place to eat and drink. But the truth is that in this moment in time in cocktails, each city has cultivated an audience that supports all types of drinking experiences and I believe you can find a little something for everyone in each place.
How did your first bartending gig impact your career? Where was it, and what did you learn there?
My first bartending job was at a small restaurant called Beaver's Icehouse in Houston. At the time, it was the only real cocktail game in the city (the original managers went on to open Anvil Bar & Refuge and the person who trained me opened Grand Prize Bar shortly after). The food was Texas BBQ, but through a lens that reflected the diversity of Houston, which consisted of large swaths of Vietnamese, Korean, German, and Mexican populations, amongst many, many others. I learned about classic cocktails, but I also learned about seasonality and how to write menus that complimented food. As I went on to manage the bar there, I learned about costing cocktails and what it's like to be responsible for the success of your bar team. Beaver's Icehouse never took itself too seriously so I also learned that if it's not fun, then why bother?
Tell us about some fellow females in the industry who inspire you. What makes them unique?
The Drink Chicago Style team is putting together an education platform through their events that is truly next level; focusing on issues like intersectionality, sexual harassment, and sustainability. Mary Bartlett in Los Angeles just launched a woman-owned spirits company that is tapped into quality and craftsmanship that I think some brands often lose sight of. Of course, Speed Rack is shining light on so many new women in this industry and raising money for breast cancer. Some other fantastic people that we really can't do without - photographers Shannon Sturgis and Allison Weber, the PUNCHdrink.com publishing team, and so on. There's really too many to name!