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Lookbook: Stephanie Teslar, Bar Manager at Austin’s Backbeat

The Austin bartender shares her weirdest cocktail experiment, the best meal she's ever had and where in the world she'd spend her final night drinking.

This story is published in partnership with Bacardi’s Spirit Forward Women in Leadership series, an annual summit dedicated to championing the spirits trade community and accelerating the advancement of women. For more information, click here.

Before Stephanie Teslar worked at Backbeat, a sleek cocktail bar in Austin, she lived in Baja, Mexico, in an RV. She surfed on the beach, played with her dog and rode her dirt bike everyday. She still has a dream to move back and learn how make mezcal. Until then, she’s studying up for her Level III Somm exams.

Certainly, Teslar is an accomplished bartender—she helped to forge cocktail culture in Flagstaff, Arizona, at a tequila and mezcal bar, and in Phoenix at Blue Hound—but she’s much more interested in the idea of education across wine, spirits and cocktails rather than silo’ing them off. (She started learning about wine in at Brix, a wine-obsessed restaurant in Flagstaff, where she went to college, and ever since she’s been interested in learning how to make wine—perhaps even become a winemaker.) “In the bar world, I still feel like wine and cocktails are relatively separate,” she says. “If I go to a wine bar, the cocktail selection is simple. If I go to a cocktail bar, they’ve got three mid-range wines.” At Backbeat, she’s sought to remedy that.

Between dreaming of mezcal-making and winemaking, Teslar continues to evolve how she thinks about cocktails. Back in Arizona, she moved the smoked cocktail trend forward with her Lawless. Now, she approaches drink-building with a more culinary-tinged philosophy. “I like to make jams and sauces, anything with a sous-vide. It’s the best way to infuse spirits with fresh flavors,” she says. Of course, it would make sense that she also likes to use wine as an ingredient in cocktail-making. “It’s underrated and underused,” she says. In her Black Mamba, she combines house mulled wine with Bombay Sapphire, applejack, lemon and Fernet, for a deep purple, punch-like cocktail with an edge.

Current occupation: Bar Manager, Backbeat.

What do want to be when you grow up? Own a brand or vineyard.

What books are essential to have behind the bar? A quick reference book for classics is my go to—something like The Bartenders Bible by Gary Regan.

How would you describe your style of drink-making? Definitely more culinary influenced. I started working in a kitchen and experimenting with flavor combinations. Most drinks have some food/prep item in them.

If you could have three women, living or dead, come sit at your bar, who would they be? Francis Elizabeth Willard. Cleopatra. Lady Gaga.

What’s your favorite thing to educate drinkers about? Terroir.

What’s the next great frontier in cocktail culture? Travel. airports, planes, trains, etc. The traveling experience is about to get a whole lot tastier.

How do you define leadership behind the bar? Being a good leader means doing what should be done and never cutting corners because nobody is watching. A leader is someone who takes charge not because they have to, or because of money or because there’s nobody else. They lead because they believe in a team and they want to do the best they possibly can while exemplifying hospitality.

Which industry leaders do you admire most? I admire a lot of people that don’t necessarily see a lot of spotlight because they aren’t “in the scene.” My boss prior to Backbeat was a major influence in my career. He taught me that I should take opportunities without asking too many questions, to act and not overthink everything. Sometimes just doing and asking for forgiveness later gets things done. I admire women who have been in the bar industry since the “dark days” where harassment and discrimination were rampant. They did it anyway and they held their own in a very male-dominated industry because they had real passion for what they were doing.

Tell us about your cocktail: The Black Mamba is inspired by my love for mulled wine. Wine is underused in cocktails even though it has historical grounding, like in punches. It’s dark, dark purple. It’s got a bite. This isn’t a Kill Bill reference, though there are fierce women in that movie.

Best thing you ever drank: Pitorro, Puerto Rican moonshine, on the beach in San Juan.

Worst thing you ever drank: Red Bull.

If you had to listen to one album on loop, for the rest of your life, what would it be? Tom Waits, Big Time.

What’s the weirdest hobby you currently have or have had? I love doing leatherwork.

What do you know now that you wish you’d known five years ago? Education really is key. Study hard when you’re younger. Those bits of knowledge really help, and certifications really do look great on a resume.

Weirdest cocktail experiment you’ve ever attempted: A smoked beef brisket vodka drink to emulate stew. Terrible.

What’s your favorite thing to do when you’re not eating, drinking or drink-making? Riding dual sport motorcycles, surfing, record shopping.

Weirdest drink request you’ve ever gotten: Amaretto and olive juice.

Best meal you’ve ever had: Fresh scallop ceviche in Baja, after a ten-hour motorcycle ride through the dirt to a little oasis on the Sea of Cortez. Scallops were harvested that day by hand.

You’re spending one final night drinking anywhere in the world. Where is it and what are you drinking? Indonesia, on a beach, drinking arrack.

What’s your go-to drink in a cocktail bar? A copita of good mezcal and a beer, or a really spirit-forward bitter drink of the bartender’s choice.

Wine bar? Côtes du Rhône or Alsatian dry riesling.

In a dive bar? Good whiskey (or as good as it comes at a divey spot) and a Coors Banquet.

Your preferred hangover recovery regime: A jog to the beach and surfing for a few hours. That’ll cure anything.

The one thing you wish would disappear from drink lists forever: ‘Tinis.

The last text message you sent: 😉

Responses have been condensed and edited for clarity.

Find out more about the Spirit Forward Women in Leadership program here.

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