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Carley Gaskin Takes a “Found Objects” Approach to Drinks

The 2018 winner of U.S.B.G’s Most Imaginative Bartender Competition presented by Bombay Sapphire talks about her signature drink-making style.

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“My specific bartending style comes from a need to be more sustainable, and [from] my art background,” says Carley Gaskin, owner and self-described “punslinger” of Hospitality 201, a Chicago-based cocktail catering company.

She sees symmetry between undertaking sustainability and making art. Similarly to scooping up discarded found objects to create mixed media artwork, taking a sustainable approach to cocktail ingredients means “working with objects other people would have thrown away,” she says.

Combining these two approaches won Gaskin the title of the U.S.B.G’s Most Imaginative Bartender Competition presented by BOMBAY SAPPHIRE® in 2018. “It was about conceptualizing my passion for zero-waste sustainability and making it into one cocktail,” she explains. “Each ingredient is used and re-used in its entirety.”

Her Geb’s Reviver cocktail—a waste-free cocktail named for the Egyptian god of the earth—uses pineapple and carrot juices, plus their leftover pulp, and lemon juice, plus the remaining hulls. “Nothing was thrown away for the cocktail,” she says. It also showcased her artistic side: Matcha tea and gin supplied a vibrant green base, while a foam garnish made from egg white and pineapple-carrot juice provided a canvas for a pattern of dehydrated carrot and rhubarb dust.

The Nashville native began her bartending career working at a sports bar while attending art school at Middle Tennessee State University. “I was pouring beers, making Purple Hooter shooters and Lemon Drop Martinis—not exactly craft, but I was making money to put myself through school,” she says. In her free time she started mixing classic cocktails at home and exploring Nashville’s then up-and-coming cocktail scene.

Carley Gaskin Matcha Cocktail Recipe

“I somehow managed to score a job at a bar called 308,” she says, referencing the tiny, pioneering East Nashville cocktail bar that opened in 2010. “I fell in love with cocktails there.” She worked there for four years before moving on to the city’s beloved The Butcher & Bee. “That was where I fell in love with working with the kitchen,” she remembers. “We started looking at ways to cross-utilize ingredients and throw away less.”

In July 2016, she moved to Chicago, where she was introduced to bartender Josh Fossitt who was in the process of opening Bad Hunter, a vegetable-centric restaurant with a focus on low-ABV drinks. She joined the bar team, continued her exploration of sustainability by repurposing unused ingredients from the kitchen, and was quickly promoted to head bartender. A year later, Gaskin and Fossitt decided to start their own company.

“The obvious choice would have been for us to open up a bar, but the Chicago market is really saturated with great places,” she recalls. “We saw a need for a cocktail-focused catering company in Chicago, and that’s where Hospitality 201 started.” The company focuses on bringing high-end cocktails to weddings, private parties and cocktail competitions. 

There’s a charitable element to their work as well. They offer free classes for industry professionals on everything from how to do your taxes to tips on opening a bar, and collaborate with ReThink, a non-profit organization that transforms excess food from restaurants and bars into meals for the homeless and impoverished. While ReThink is based currently in New York (Fossitt’s former home base), the two are raising funds to bring the operation to Chicago.

Gaskin’s approach is perfectly attuned to the current moment in cocktails wherein building something beautiful and delicious is only one part of drink-making. For Gaskin, how these drinks impact the environment and connect to the community is what makes them greater than the sum of their parts.

This approach trickles all the way down to ordering the perfect drink in her downtime, say, a 50-50 Martini. “It’s just two spirits, no juice or other ingredients,” she says. “That can be very sustainable.”

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