We’re exploring what creativity means to the 12 finalists in the Tales of the Cocktail Foundation’s Most Imaginative Bartender Competition presented by BOMBAY SAPPHIRE®. To follow along and read more about the contenstants as they head to finals, please visit the MIB 2020 home page.
In the fifth grade, Alex Jump cooked a whole chicken for her family—the first inkling of a career that would be defined by flavors, the kitchen and the creative process. Today, as a bar manager in Denver, she often invents drinks drawn from culinary inspirations, a style she attributes to coming up through restaurant bars. “Having a really close relationship with the chefs I worked with very much influenced the drinks I made, based on what they were cooking,” says Jump.
Though she’d had plans to go into academia, while studying abroad in Florence during college, she got an internship at an enoteca, operating out of a massive wine cellar. She fell in love with the smells, tastes and sensations of the job, and, once she returned to the States, “that was when I was like, all right, I definitely want to learn how to do this.”
Back in Chattanooga, Jump began serving and barbacking at a local restaurant, where she was introduced to craft components that had been inspired by the culinary world, such as housemade syrups and fresh juices. She quickly found herself borrowing flavors and tastes from the kitchen in the drinks she was developing on her own. Her very first drink on a menu, The Green Thumb, saw celery juice lending a vegetal freshness to an herbal-tinged mixture of Braulio, Slow and Low, and lemon.
A friend and mentor in Atlanta who also came up through restaurant bars once mentioned to Jump that his favorite cocktails he’d made were inspired by the foie gras dish on the menu; the accompaniments on the plate always ended up being lovely in a cocktail. “That’s something I’ll never forget. It really resonated with me, thinking about flavors that way.”
In recent years, she has begun to pay more attention to how her interests in life outside the bar could intersect with the work of putting together a menu—and how important prioritizing balance is to maintaining her creativity. Jump has come to rely on yoga, which she’s practiced for 14 years, for training her mind to be simultaneously open and focused. That theme of balance is one she’s also bringing to the bar, as she finds herself increasingly drawn toward low-ABV drinks and sherry-based cocktails, allowing guests to imbibe in a more mindful fashion.
“I don’t feel like I can be creative if I’m not giving myself room to breathe,” she says. “Learning to have balance is my mantra.”
What is your creative outlet outside of bartending?
Finding ways to take care of myself and inspire others in our industry to take care of themselves as well. It’s a lot of things… going to yoga, therapy, traveling, etc. But also it’s just learning to have good boundaries with work. … I know that that time spent taking care of myself will in return provide me with the energy to continue on doing what I’m doing.
How does it inspire you?
I eventually realized that without my creative outlet, my inspiration quickly disappears. So I guess in a way, it’s not that it necessarily inspires me, but it helps me maintain my creative energy.
What is the best advice you’ve ever received?
If there’s any doubt, there is no doubt. My chef once said that when we were learning how to taste wine and know if there was a fault in a bottle of wine. But it’s something that’s stuck with me, and has become a mantra I live my life by. I believe in the things I do wholeheartedly, 100 percent, every time.
Describe your creative process in one sentence.
Giving myself room to breathe.
What’s been the most rewarding aspect of competition so far?
Having the opportunity to speak with all kinds of people about ways I believe I can make a positive impact on our industry and the lives of people who run it. I think the most special part about the MIB Competition this year is the grant aspect. Giving bartenders an opportunity to explore their creative outlet in a way that is meaningful and lasting is really amazing.
What do you want to be when you grow up?
Worst thing you ever drank:
Once someone accidentally made me a Last Word using olive brine instead of lime juice.
Weirdest cocktail experiment you’ve ever attempted:
I put goat cheese in a cocktail once and it turned out DELICIOUS.
What’s your favorite thing to do when you’re not eating, drinking or drink-making?
Hang out at my neighborhood coffee shop…with my friends and our dogs; go to yoga; clean my apartment (I know that sounds weird, I just really enjoy cleaning).
If you had to listen to one album on loop for the rest of your life, what would it be?
Sturgill Simpson’s A Sailor’s Guide to Earth… A close second is Tyler Childers’ Purgatory.
What’s the weirdest hobby you currently have or have had?
I don’t particularly find it weird, but I’ve been learning to read tarot for a couple of years now.
What do you know now that you wish you’d known five years ago?
You don’t have to do it all. You don’t have to participate in every cocktail week, every bartending event, every brand trip, etc. It’s okay to say no.
Weirdest drink request you’ve ever gotten:
I’m not sure what is the weirdest request of all time, but recently someone’s order was “Lemon Drop Martini, and make it sour.” Which I found interesting.
What’s your go-to drink in a cocktail bar?
Bourbon on the rocks with a lemon wedge.
The one thing you wish would disappear from drink lists forever:
Nothing really comes to mind. More so, I wish the idea of the “girly cocktail”/“masculine cocktail” would go away forever.
The last text message you sent:
In response to my friend Jessica asking my opinion on Sturgill Simpson’s most recent album, Sound & Fury: “It’s so good! I like the change up. He’s so talented that it doesn’t really matter what style he’s playing I feel…”