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Bar Management Author, Award-winning mixologist, AMA contributor

Ramona Pettygrave Shah
May 14, 2018

Ramona Pettygrave Shah called the restaurant industry her home for close to a decade before embracing the role of beverage consultant and author She gleaned wisdom directing the beverage program for a hospitality group comprised of nine restaurants, and prior to that she was a tenacious bar manager and bartender. Her need for efficiency and understanding has fueled her quest to improve bar operations and bottom lines all while inspiring engaged teams, and empowering them as individuals. She looks to writing to give bartenders and managers the boost they need to make the beverage industry work for them, while upleveling the culture with their influence.

 Her specialties are personal organization, cocktail efficiency, team development and leaderships, and developing and integrating systems.

Be sure to sign up for her mailing list on her website www.straightupbarmanagement.com to stay up to date with her latest adventures, join her Facebook Group Straight Up: Real World Secrets to Running a Killer Bar to become a part of the bar management community, and follow her on Instagram @straightupbarmanagement.com

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Do you know of any free online tutorials on mixing drinks?
May 18, 8:10PM EDT0
Would you be releasing more books in the future?
May 18, 1:09PM EDT0
What cocktail drinks do you highly recommend for weddings?
May 18, 2:05AM EDT0
Do you use a specific brand of drinks when mixing or can you work with any?
May 17, 7:29PM EDT0
How would you describe the perfect cocktail experience?
May 16, 4:41AM EDT0

The perfect cocktail experience is one that fits your mood at the time. Sometimes nothing would make me happier than a Paloma, and sometimes I want an unusual and complex spirirt-forward cocktail. It all depends on your state of mind, and if a bartender can listen to what you are telling them and help you find the right experience, you are in good hands!

May 16, 10:55PM EDT0
If you were to name a cocktail, what would you go for to grab my attention?
May 16, 3:11AM EDT0

Usually when I am naming a cocktail, I am looking at what kind of a person I would think would enjoy the cocktail before I pick a name. (This s all basedon previous experience and not just generalizations of course.) While something very dramatic and action oriented may be attention rabbing, it may not fit a soft, pink and floral cocktail. That is why names I have used in the past that will have those qualities of pink, floral, etc will have a name that while catchy, also reflects that sensibility so the drinker has an idea what they are in for just by the name alone. 

May 16, 10:53PM EDT0
What are some of the cocktails that are fashionable presently?
May 15, 10:58PM EDT0

I am lucky to be in the cocktail-centric area of Boston. The bars around here are always hungry for something new and pushing the boundaries. So, the things that are up and coming here may be different than in other parts of the country and certainly the world over. In Boston and in my recent trips to Seattle and NYC, tiki is still on the up and up, as well as sherry cocktails, low abv cocktails and mezcal and high quality rum cocktails.

May 16, 10:50PM EDT0
What are the unusual similarities you have encountered between your career as an author and that of a mixologist?
May 15, 1:53PM EDT0

I hadn't really considered the commonalities between author and mixologist, and love the idea of exploring it.

So, obviously there is an underlying current of exploration in both. Stream of consciousness at times with writing and building new drinks that is then edited until the final product has the perfect balance. 

There is certainly the collaboration element that is present in both. When writing and mixology, you share your early work with trusted friends and colleagues to get their opinion as you shape the product bit by bit. When you are done, you then look to the drinkers and readers hoping they enjoy the product you have created for their approval. 

And certainly with either profession, as you build your skills and have a base of regulars, they will come to trust anything you create!

Thanks for the great question!

May 16, 10:48PM EDT0
What type of training does one need in order to be a mixologist?
May 15, 1:33PM EDT0

there is no specififc training requirements since "mixologist" isn't a label that has any real meaning. The best way to become great at mixing drinks is to be fully engaged in the process. Immerse yourself in great bar books all the time, go to great bars and talk with the bartenders (not hounding them for a job of course). The most important part is being humble enough to take a job as a barback, host or server first to get acquainted with the industry and work your way up until you are working under the very talented bartenders who have much value to give you. Not only will you learn the technique, but you will make many valuable connections that will help guide you on your path to the place you want to be. 

May 16, 10:28PM EDT0
What is your process as a mixologist and an author, respectively?
May 15, 8:17AM EDT0

As a mixologist, I have many different approaches to cocktail creation which I go into great detail in Straight Up: Real World Secrets to Running a Killer Bar. I do a lot of research in general to find inspiration and techniques and ingredients that I am not familiar with. Hitting leading bars is important for those same reasons. The landscape changes so quickly, that you need to get out there to stay abreast of what's relevant. I also love to just throw things together to see what sticks, as well as going on a tangent with one ingredient for a stretch of time. That way, you come across a number of variations on ideas and start to perfect some that work better than others. 

For writing, I am usually writing from the experience that I already have, so most of the research is in the best way to get the idea across. The important part for me is being consistent with time management to get the writing done. So, committing to a set schedule was what worked best for me. At least an hour every single day was the only way I could stick with my plan. 

May 16, 10:25PM EDT0
What has been the most unusual drink request you have ever received?
May 15, 8:10AM EDT0

I had to think about this one. I had trouble recalling any especially strange orders. But, there was this one woman who came in and wanted our "most expensive wine," and didn't care if it was even red or white. She then loudly proclaimed that it wasn't "expensive enough!" Okay lady. 

May 17, 12:54PM EDT0
How did you get into the mixology business and what intrigues and inspires you most about mixology?
May 15, 5:53AM EDT0

I fell into the barteding side of the hospitality industry from a path of filmmaking when a previous manager offered me a job bartending (which I had no business doing at the time!) I ended up falling in love with many of the elements. It started off as a love of socializing. Over time when I was exposed to ore sophisticated bars, I realized that there was passion in these people's eyes and that this could be a legitimate career. I love the never-ending exploration of flavors and concepts and collaborating with a team of passionate individuals.

May 16, 10:01PM EDT0
What did you find to be particularly challenging when writing your book?
May 15, 5:28AM EDT0

As I mentioned in a reply to a similar question, one of the most interesting things while writing Straight Up: Real World Secrets to Running a Killer Bar was finding out how much impact an editor has on the finished product. Depending on the editor's knowledge of your subject matter, interest, experience and resonance with your idea you can have a cmpletely different book! I also learned that marketing and all of the technical elements were more challenging for me than the writing component itself.

May 16, 9:26PM EDT0
Where do you get the inspiration for your cocktails?
May 15, 4:43AM EDT0

Great question. I actually have an entire section in my book, Straight Up: Real World Secrets to Running a Killer Bar regarding this concept because it is a common quandry for new bartenders. Ideas can come from anything from a non-alcoholic drink that has good flavors, to a twist on a classic. Each bartender has their own blend of places they find inspiration. I oftentimes start with an herb or botanical that I would like to create an infusion to, and then exhaust all of the possibilities of how that flavor could be used. A lot of unique concepts and flavor combinations come about that way.

May 16, 9:25PM EDT0
What cocktail creation are you most proud of?
May 15, 3:16AM EDT0

Great question. The most popular and well-loved cocktail I ever made was the Climbing Rose cocktail, which was comprised of house-infused grapefruit vodka, Combier Rose Liqueuer, orgeat, fresh lemon juice and house-made grenadine. This was a house twist on a Cosmopolitian, and has flown off the shelves since its inception! As far as my personal favorite is probably the Lux Interior, first, it is named after the after the lead singer of the Cramps (RIP), so that makes it special, but it also was a concept that worked as well in practice as it did on paper, which is a rarity. This drink has licorice root infused in, fresh squeezed lemon juice, Tempus Fugit Violette Liqueuer, and simple syrup. It is a twist on the aviation, and foams up a bit due to the proteins in the licorice root. It is delicious and unique!

May 16, 9:23PM EDT0
What was the most surprising thing you learned when researching and writing your book?
May 14, 10:46PM EDT0

That is a great question. One of the most interesting things while writing Straight Up: Real World Secrets to Running a Killer Bar was finding out how much impact an editor has on the finished product. Depending on the editor's knowledge of your subject matter, interest, experience and resonance with your idea you can have a cmpletely different book! I also learned that marketing and all of the technical elements were more challenging for me than the writing component itself.

May 16, 9:12PM EDT0
What would you say are the personal hallmarks of your cocktail creations?
May 14, 8:38PM EDT0

My personal style uses a lot of herbal and tea infusions for sure! I love the interesting flavor profiles that you can get by using herbs. These can work really well with some of the standard syrups and juices that bars use. Tea infusons add so many layers of complexity with minimal expense and effort. You should try some out!

May 16, 9:09PM EDT0
What new things are you working on in terms of drink creation?
May 14, 8:02PM EDT0

I am only working on cocktails for events that are promoting the book and cocktail development with consulting clients at the moment. I do not have any standard bar shifts at this juncture, but I am sure I will miss it soon!

May 16, 9:06PM EDT0
What words, phrases or statements did you use in your book to catch and retain the attention of the reader?
May 14, 7:43PM EDT0

Straight Up: Real World Secrets to Running a Killer Bar is written in a very conversational and candid tone which captures the attention of the reader and makes the 450 pages a quick read. There aren't any phrases I used intentionally to catch or retain the reader's attention per se, just the overall approach. 

May 16, 9:05PM EDT0
Why is it important for an organization to provide a supportive context for effective teamwork to flourish?
May 14, 7:29PM EDT0

As I go into more depth in my book Straight Up: Real World Secrets to Running a Killer Bar, in any environment, if an employee feels supported and genuinely cared for, they will have more trust in the establishment and be more willing to give ofthemselves. This opens the doors to synergy and creativity much more so than when an employee feels on guard all the time.

May 16, 9:03PM EDT0
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