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Three-Drink Minimum: Bartending With Liz Pearce

In "Three-Drink Minimum," we take a look at the drink-making style of some of our favorite bartenders, in three cocktails. Up now, Liz Pearce of Chicago's The Drifter.

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, and to find out how you can attend the program’s five-city tour, click here.

Owner and operator of The Drifter in Chicago, Liz Pearce is forever curious about translating culinary flavors into drinks. Lately, she’s been working with hybrid syrups, combining liquids that are not water (cranberry and honey, for example) or infusing simple syrups with fruit teas to make simple classics a step more complex—like strawberry-rhubarb Daiquiris.

Pearce has worked everywhere from a dive bar in Fargo, North Dakota, to the high-concept cocktail shrine Aviary, where “we used maple syrup so expensive you’d never put it on pancakes.” And after years spent helping open bars and train newbies, she has a clear sense for efficiency and bottom line when it comes to building menus. “The sign of a young bartender is too much booze, expensive ingredients and too much Chartreuse.”

Over the years, Pearce says she’s gravitated toward lower-proof drinks and housemade ingredients, like vermouth-based cocktails and seasonal herb syrups. And she’s always experimenting, inspired by the kitchen. “Should I put tahini in a cocktail?” she’ll sometimes think. Then she’ll try it and quickly realize, “No, no, that does not belong in there.”

One Night in Bangkok

“I made this for Bombay’s Most Imaginative Bartender competition and won the Midwest regionals with it. It embodies the things I love in drinks these days. There’s a kick from the plum sake… and an exotic spice flavor from the syrup, which I made using ingredients leftover from cooking Thai food. The syrup is complex, but you can use whatever you have on hand. You could call it a loose variation on a Gimlet (with lots of stuff added).”

Rooftop Gardening

“I wanted to make something with springy, fresh flavors to play along with the rhubarb liqueur. It has a dash of absinthe, which harkens back to pre-Prohibition style drinks, but with bright, warm-weather flavors. You can make the herb syrup with anything you have on hand: rosemary, parsley, mint, oregano. If you’re using a delicate herb like mint or parsley, infuse it as the syrup cools.”

Winters in Wautoma

“My husband and I have a cabin in a little town in north-central Wisconsin called Wautoma. They call it the entryway to up north. This is the kind of thing I want to drink sitting in front of a fire up there, after snowshoeing. It’s rich and wintery, a bit maple-y. From about December 10th to February 10th, I want to drink something like a Manhattan. The rest of the year, it’s Margaritas.”

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

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