“There are a few things that I put in place that were a response to my disillusionment with the craft cocktail world,” says Jennifer Colliau about her newly opened Oakland bar, Here’s How.
She explains that she’s more than happy to nerd out on cocktails—she teaches a seminar about empirical dilution, after all. “But you don’t have to engage in that stuff—it’s there if you want to,” says Colliau of the casual atmosphere she’s cultivated at her first solo venture.
Guests can peek at the behind-the-scenes action through the exposed prep room which houses a kegerator and can-seamer among other technological bar tools, but in the front of house, Colliau emphasizes the guest experience through a friendly bar team. As for what’s in the glass, precise simplicity is the prevailing philosophy. Her drinks typically call on three ingredient templates, honed to harness the best of each component—like a clarified Gimlet that is stirred with a digital thermometer until it is chilled to exactly 25 degrees Fahrenheit.
Even the founding of her 15-year-old cocktail syrup company, Small Hand Foods, was born out of her detail-oriented approach. When she couldn’t find a proper orgeat syrup to make a Mai Tai, Colliau took matters into her own hands to source almonds and make it herself on a commercial scale. She explains, “I started Small Hand Foods because I was interested in the minutia of fruit molecules and sugar molecules and how that will get you the best cocktail possible.”
So what does Colliau do when she’s not obsessing over dilution techniques? Here, she tackles our Lookbook Questionnaire to share a cocktail experiment gone wrong, the first time she ever drank Guinness and her favorite bar. —Tatiana Bautista
I own Here’s How, a bar in Oakland, and Small Hand Foods, a cocktail syrup company.
What do you want to be when you grow up?
I’m a grown woman. I’m doing it!
Best thing you ever drank:
My best drink was my first Guinness on my first solo trip when I was 21. I took a bus from Dublin airport in the rain and sat at the neighborhood bar across the street from the hostel. Being alone on purpose gave me a heady adrenaline rush, and I drank the sweetest, creamiest pint of Guinness I’d ever had. I’ve had higher-quality pints since then, but that one was the best.
Worst thing you ever drank:
A barrel-aged Mai Tai. Just because you can doesn’t mean you should…
First time you ever got drunk:
I loved to bake growing up. When I was 15 my best friend and I followed a recipe for lemon meringue pie and it called for “1 tsp of vanilla extract or 1 tbsp of rum.” I found the handle of Bacardi white my mom kept in the pantry and we used that, then sipped it, then sipped some more. We spent the night calling my boyfriend and being ridiculous in that way you are with your friends when you are teenagers. Adult friendships are never the same.
If you had to listen to one album on loop, for the rest of your life, what would it be?
Bob Dylan’s Blood on the Tracks. Or Flogging Molly’s Swagger. Maybe the “Hamilton” soundtrack. Or Trompe le Monde by the Pixies. I hate this question.
What’s the weirdest hobby you currently have or have had?
Several years ago I took raw wool and spun it, felted it, built a frame loom, and wove it into a rug. It’s still in my living room. I have designs for another one but don’t have the time.
What do you know now that you wish you’d known five years ago?
Depression is hereditary and can be managed.
Weirdest cocktail experiment you’ve ever attempted:
Clarified loaf sugar with egg whites, as described by Christian Schultz in Jerry Thomas’ Bar-Tender’s Guide. I subsequently caramelized my stove.
What’s your favorite thing to do when you’re not eating, drinking or drink-making?
Weirdest drink request you’ve ever gotten:
A Mojito with Splenda packets the guest had brought herself.
Your favorite bar, and why:
The Strawberry Tree in Killarney, drinking Guinness from a handled jar and gambling in the snug while listening to musicians play next to the peat fire. Do you need to ask why?
Best meal you’ve ever had:
The egg yolk raviolo at Quince. The cacio e pepe made with fresh pasta that used to be on the menu at SPQR. The liquid toast at Saison. The Reuben at Stein’s in New Orleans. The carne asada tacos at the Chile Bravo truck in West Oakland.
What’s your go-to drink in a cocktail bar?
Rye Manhattan with Carpano and an orange twist.
Gamay or Austrian riesling.
In a dive bar?
Buffalo Trace, rocks.
Your preferred hangover recovery regime:
Water, vitamins and chilaquiles.
The one thing you wish would disappear from drink lists forever:
House-made for the sake of being house-made, not because what they make is better than what is commercially available. It’s ego over quality.
The last text message you sent:
“No worries got it sorted.”