Since moving to Portland, Maine, from Boston three years ago, Hayley Wilson’s goal had been to bartend at Portland Hunt + Alpine Club, a Scandinavian-inspired bar owned by husband-and-wife team Andrew and Briana Volk. “I was asking all my friends and coworkers, ‘Where is the place to work?’” says Wilson, who had previously bartended at Brick & Mortar and Central Kitchen in Cambridge, Massachusetts. “They all said ‘Hunt + Alpine. That’s where you want to be.’”
She landed a job at Little Giant, a neighborhood restaurant in Portland’s West End also owned at the time by the Volks, and within a year made the move to Hunt + Alpine Club. It’s the experience of working there, and particularly of learning from Andrew and Briana, that Wilson credits with allowing her to hone her personal drink-making style. “When I started [bartending] in Boston, I was just like, ‘I don’t even know how to go about thinking about making my own cocktail.’” In the years since, she’s developed a style that Briana Volk describes as “pulling from the classics but adding a kind of punk-meets-tropical edge to them.”
When it comes to creating drinks, Wilson thinks about the concept first, then considers the flavor. “When I’m brainstorming drink ideas, I’m thinking about the entire experience,” she says. “For example, I’m going to a bonfire and listening to my favorite 2000s indie bands tonight—what do I want to drink?” Or, “It’s 75 degrees and I’m sitting on a patio before a show. What’s fun and crushable, but won’t put me out of commission?”
Her Blueberry Spritz answers the latter call. A mixture of wine-based, alpine amaro Pasubio, elderflower liqueur, Maine blueberry syrup and fresh lime juice, topped with sparkling wine and soda water, it is, like so many of her drinks, easy drinking and simple in construction. “I don’t like to make overly complicated cocktails—nobody wants to see something with 10 ingredients,” she explains.
Wilson’s drinks make an impact beyond the bar, too. In the summer of 2020, with the help of the Volks and fellow bar owner Alex Day, she spearheaded production of Collins Against Collins: Drinks for a Revolution, a book featuring BIPOC, LGBTQIA+ and female bartenders and their recipes; all proceeds were donated to down-ticket Democrats in the lead-up to the election, as well as RadicalXchange, an intersectional education platform for the hospitality industry. “We raised over $4,000 in presales and we’re hoping to do something in the future to kind of just keep this going.”
Here, get to know Hayley Wilson in three drinks.
The BIR Questionnaire
Your approach to cocktails in one word:
Best (and worst) drink you’ve ever had:
They were actually at the same bar! Night one of my experience at this spot, I ordered a turmeric-mezcal cocktail with golden beet juice, lemon and cardamom bitters that blew my mind. It was creative and well-balanced, and lives in the top five drinks I’ve ever had to this day. Night two I went back and ordered a classic cocktail, a Negroni, and it was terrible!
Your favorite bar, and why:
Trina’s Starlite Lounge in Somerville, Massachusetts. Be it a birthday, Monday brunch or Christmas Eve, Trina’s is a guaranteed good time. The service is on point and the menu is always rotating with comfort foods and fun cocktails. This bar will always be a home to me. TSL forever.
Your favorite classic cocktail, and why:
Old-Fashioned, 100 percent. It’s a drink I can enjoy almost any time of day, for any occasion and can be customized to the individual. My husband, Zack, makes my favorite version at home for me. Four Roses bourbon, Laird’s applejack brandy, sugar, heavy on the Angostura, over a big cube with an orange twist. *chef’s kiss*
Worst drink you’ve ever made:
Ha, I tried to do a green pepper and cilantro Bloody Mary once that got very weird very quick, and not in a good way.
Your go-to dive bar drink order:
High Life bottle and a well whiskey shot.
The one thing you wish would disappear from drink lists forever:
UGH, clarified cocktails, specifically clarified milk punch. It’s an overdone party trick at this point that nine times out of 10 adds nothing to my experience. Just because you can, doesn’t mean you have to.