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Women Who Mix: Black Mixologists You Need To Know

These black female mixologists are disrupting the cocktail space.

Human Interest

For years, the cocktail industry has been dominated by men. But women, especially women of color, are taking their rightful place on the throne and are doing what we do best - being a boss! Recently, we sat down with some of the leading mixologists that are literally shaking up the cocktail industry.

From winning cocktail competitions, becoming the first of their kind to publish a cocktail book, and to being booked and busy by some of the world's most influential brands, these women know a thing or two about the art of mixology.

These women have all worked their way through the trenches, are self-made bosses, and in their own unique way, have built companies that have notably disrupted the game.

Because we can definitely appreciate a good cocktail or two, we couldn't help but to connect with these ladies and of course, we asked them to give us the tea on how they got started and what they've done to achieve the success that they have now. Keep reading to get to know these leading mixologists and learn how they are stirring up far more than just well-crafted cocktails.

The mixologist that you and your favorite brand love to book:

​Jessica Robinson of JusTini Cocktails

@justinicocktails

Courtesy of Jessica Robinson

How did you get started?

I've been a mixologist for 12 years. I started when I was in college at Southern University. A classmate of mine started talking to me about a job at a bar she was working at. At the time, I didn't know much about liquor, just really the basics - I would just mix up Malibu and pineapple juice. But my friend convinced me and said that she would be able to help me get the job. So I started working there and that's how I got started. I fell in love with everything that came with the job, from the atmosphere to the people. Once I got started working as a mixologist, I never stopped.

Before I graduated from Southern, I actually started working in retail, and was juggling being a manager, going to school, and bartending on the side. Once I graduated, I got a job in my major which was doing marketing for a McDonald's franchise and I was also still bartending at night. I ended up getting laid off from McDonald's because they were downsizing and during that time is when I started building JusTini Cocktails. Shortly after that, I worked in HR doing contract work which allowed me to get started with bartending full-time. Now, I've been running Justini's for about a year and a half now.

What makes you unique?

I typically get a mix of both weddings and corporate/social events. I've done events for Essence, Pepsi, and the Urban League.

In my business, my brand is more than just a drink. I create an experience for my guests, from the presentation of my drink, to the name of the cocktail, and the fact that my drinks are actually really good.


What has been your biggest challenge and how do you stay motivated?

I think in the beginning, the biggest challenge that I went through was branding myself to show the need for my type of service. Once I was able to show the need, I was able to get the clientele that I wanted. A quote that keeps me motivated is by Elizabeth Gilbert and it says, "The women I love and admire for their strength and grace did not get that way because shit worked out. They got that way because shit went wrong and they handled it. They handled it a thousand different ways on a thousand different days, but they handled it. Those women are my superheroes."

The mixologist creating Instagrammable cocktails that’ll give your friends extreme FOMO

Kimberly Hunter of Potent Pours

@potentpours

Courtesy of Kimberly Hunter

How did you get started?

Potent Pours launched two years ago but I've definitely been a mixologist for longer than that. Potent Pours was actually birthed from my kitchen bar area. I would often make cocktails for myself, my sister, and friends when we couldn't get to happy hour because of rush hour traffic. When my sister and friends would come over, I would create really potent and beautiful cocktails for them using gorgeous glassware and over the top garnishes.

After a while, my sister actually suggested that I consider making cocktails professionally because of the beauty, attention to detail, and energy that I would put into every drink that I would make. When I started thinking about working in the industry, I tried to figure out where my place would be and how I could start working in it. Because of my schedule with my children, I always knew that working late nights at a bar wouldn't be ideal. From there, I did some research and started looking for a way to bring craft cocktails to the masses and saw that there was a booming market for mobile mixologists. I went ahead and did more research, got my license, and then started working on my brand.

What makes you unique?

My secret sauce is really the whole Potent Pours experience. Every person that has had my cocktails love how I create really potent, over-the-top, Instagrammable cocktails that overall makes the whole experience in indulging so much better. Also, my clients and their guests can always count on me to create original, unique cocktail recipes that they haven't seen or had anywhere else.

Since I launched my company, a lot of my business actually comes from social media. Typically, I've found that clients will book me after seeing their friends post about my cocktails. One thing about my cocktails is that I'm obsessed with making every single drink very potent, very pleasing to the eye, and really something that you would be excited to share with friends on social media.

What has been your biggest challenge and how do you stay motivated?

One of the challenges that I've faced is getting the right client. It's important for me to service clients that really appreciate all of the work and creative energy that goes into my business. Whenever I'm booked for an event, I never show up with a bunch of alcohol and pre-made, store-bought mixers. Literally, every cocktail that I make is handcrafted and are my original recipes. All of my cocktails are also made with juices or add-ons that are all created in-house. None of my cocktails have extra preservatives or anything like that. Finding the right client to appreciate all of this and the work that goes into creating the cocktail has been a challenge. I've been able to find awesome clients that get it, but every now and then, I run into some that don't.

A quote that keeps me motivated when I'm having long days is, "Just do that shit!" Whenever I'm scared to launch a new product or when I get overwhelmed, I tell myself to really "just do that shit" and it gives me the motivation that I need to keep pushing and to just get it done.

The #Blackgirlmagic mixologist duo putting Charleston on the map

Johnny Caldwell & Taneka Reaves of Cocktail Bandits

@cocktailbandits

Courtesy of Johnny Caldwell & Taneka Reaves

How did you get started?

Taneka:Cocktail Bandits ended up becoming a business because we were living in Charleston and we saw the food and beverage industries growing. Even though we saw it growing, we didn't really see a place for us in it. At the time, I was working at an urban bar and they didn't care about being creative with the cocktails. It was really about just making rum and coke or gin and juice drinks.

When I would make my cocktails really creative, my boss didn't like it because they were unable to recreate the drinks when I wasn't at work. So I started trying to find work at a high-end bar, but I couldn't find work there because of my appearance (I was natural). In Charleston at the time, we had over 400 bars downtown and maybe 5 Black mixologists. In 2012 and 2013, a lot of people weren't used to the natural look from people of color so it was hard for me to get a job. Since no one was responding back to my job applications, Johnny and I decided to create a lane for ourselves by launching our own brand.

What makes you unique?

Johnny: We talk about spirits in a very approachable way. I think in the beverage market, buying spirits can be very intimidating. Sometimes a lot of people speak about cocktail spirits in a very elevated way that most consumers don't understand. We work hard on exposing people to new things, and on educating, entertaining, and empowering the consumer so that when they go to the bar, they are confident in what they are ordering.

What has been your biggest challenge and how do you stay motivated?

Taneka: I think one challenge for us has been figuring out the budget cycles for companies. We learned that every company pretty much has a different budgeting cycle so we've been working on figuring that out for companies we're interested in. Whenever we run into challenges, one quote that keeps us motivated is to not look at anything like an obstacle but look at it as an opportunity.

Want more stories like this? Sign up for our newsletter here and check out the related reads below:

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Featured image by Johnny & Neka/Instagram

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