The history of spirits and cocktails is long, lauded, and full of a cast of crucial characters. While we don’t have the space to document everyone who has made the industry what it is today (though Robert Simonson’s A Proper Drink certainly does a fine job), the following folks are crucial in shaping the past, present, and future of the drinks world. Whether they’ve created iconic cocktails, or if they are helping to steer the future of the drinks world, the below figures are the ones to know.
Bartender and activist Ashtin Berry is a driving force in today’s industry, speaking out about the need for diversity and community within the industry and educating her peers on such topics. Her work is found in the pages of Bon Appetit and Food & Wine, or at Resistance Served, her annual conference highlighting Black and African American contributions to the hospitality world.
Caroline Rosen is the gatekeeper of Tales of the Cocktail, arguably the industry’s largest conference and award series. Since becoming executive director in 2017, then president soon after, she’s lead the mission of “educating, advancing, and supporting those in the hospitality community globally as well as the host cities that have us for our events,” through raising funds for grants, steering the awards, and curating the annual industry panels and seminars.
Once the head of R&D at the famed Noma, Lars Williams now creates spirits that turn the definition of liquor on its head. In line with his Noma upbringing, Empirical Spirits leans heavily on fermentation: there’s Charlene McGee, a smoked juniper spirit, and Ayuuk, a malted spirit made with Oaxacan chili. The Plum, I Suppose, is made with the inside of a plum kernel.
Kelsey Ramage and Iain Griffiths
The two met bartending at the groundbreaking Mr. Lyan bar in London, where Griffiths is a co-founder, and worked at the award-winning Dandelyan before peeling off to travel the world as Trash Tiki. The duo has championed the anti-waste movement in the bar world, popping up at bars the globe over to preach and teach practices of sustainability. Find them at their bar in Toronto, Supernova Ballroom, or online via the Trash Collective, a database that teaches bartenders to reduce plastic, waste, and water, and engage with their local community.
The author, cocktail historian, and writer has spent decades researching and documenting the cocktail canon. His books, Imbibe (first-ever cocktail book to win a James Beard), Punch and the forthcoming Oxford Companion to Spirits and Cocktails, shine a light on near-forgotten recipes and drink styles. Today, he is a founding partner of the Beverage Alcohol Research Program, a correspondent at The Daily Beast, and hailed as the leading expert on the cocktail world.
DeGroff’s legacy can be traced back years, as one could assume of a man nicknamed the ‘King of Cocktails”. He cut his teeth bartending at The Rainbow Room at Rockefeller Center in New York, long before the rise of the craft cocktail, and mentored a generation of craft cocktail pioneers. He’s since penned two books (The Essential Cocktail and The Craft of the Cocktail) and is the founding president of the Museum of the American Cocktail.
Chetiyawardana rose through the bar scene with White Lyan, a bar that uses no ice or citrus in the name of sustainability and creates cocktails that start conversations on contemporary issues. Though that sounds like a lofty concept, this conscious drinking movement resonated with imbibers, and gained notoriety in the drinks industry, winning top spot in the international awards. He turned sustainability into a conversation of mass appeal and is consistently pushing boundaries with his portfolio of bars, Dandelyan (now Lyaness) and Cub among them.
Ivy Mix & Lynnette Marrero
The female bartending duo founded Speedrack in 2011, a roving cocktail competition that highlights women in the industry and donates 100 percent of proceeds to breast cancer education and research charities. In the last ten years, the duo has cultivated an all-female club of friendship and support in the industry, highlighting the talents of women in an industry that seldom does. Outside of Speedrack, Ivy Mix owns Brooklyn’s award-winning Leyenda, and Marrero is at the helm of Llama Inn.