When Rachel Beardsley applied for a job behind the bar at Barndiva three years ago, the first thought I had was that she was too damn pretty to survive. Audrey Saunders (Pegu Club) notwithstanding, bartending and mixology are still very much boy's clubs. Sure, you can find women bartenders from time to time, but stellar female talents who really command the space, creating exciting, transformative spirit based drinks? Not so much. Historically the only permanent place women have thus far carved out for themselves in this profession have been serving drinks, not making them.
This isn't a screed on why women should run the world, or at least have an equal place in it. (don't get me started). And I get that when it comes to an environment comprised of low lights, soft seats and seductive music, Sheryl Sandberg's advice to lean forward is more likely to get you a customer's phone number than their respect. But that doesn't explain why, on the creative side mixology is still so gender sensitive. There is a lot more science involved at the cutting edge these days, but it's truly sexist to think women can't master the math. More to the point great cocktails, like great dishes, flow from a place where intuition leads. Women are intuitively programmed; to survive in what has always been a man's world we have learned to adapt. To thrive we have learned to master the art of finessing the variables.
From the first sip that hits the nose to the last lingering grace note, a great cocktail's success rises or falls on it's ability to bring disparate elements ~ spirit, sweet, bitter, herbal, floral, spice ~ together, without losing the unique elements that made those ingredients right for the drink in the first place. We like to say the name barndiva flows from a desire to hit the high notes, and nowhere is this combination of a refined taste narrative presented in seductive surroundings showcased more than at the start of a meal, the beginning of a great evening, when the customer expects a perfect moment delivered in liquid form.
Turns out I needn’t have worried about Ray. Now Barndiva’s Bar Manager, she’s a consummate professional with guests and a joy to work with creatively. In bar programs like ours you are dealing with a staggering selection of bespoke spirits from around the world, a constant flow of seasonal ingredients from the farm and the kitchen. With our syrups, juices, purées and infusions already all made in-house, I should have not been surprised when Ray came to me a few months ago with a plan to push the boat out further with a program to develop a full range of house-bitters. She said she wanted "to start" with 11.
First thought that came to mind this time? You go, girl.
Ray's Gingered Orange bitters (above) are used in Millie the Wise, a chai infused vodka cocktail that incorporates vanilla bean and orange peel steeped honey, lemon juice and black tea syrup. It’s finished with an Early Bird egg white foam and a grind of black pepper.
The 'Millie' in Millie the Wise is Matilda of Flanders, Queen Consort to William the Conqueror, a woman who lived during one of the most fractious times in the history of England, managing not only to keep her head but remain married to William "the bastard" for life. She bore him nine children, two of them future kings. I love the spirited spicy balance Ray achieves with this cocktail, the robust way the pepper hits the nose followed by a soft ethereal foam that allows you a peek around the corner before encountering the full complexity of a drink redolent of ancient flavors.
Half the bitters on the list below are now featured in the new fall cocktail list; the rest will be ready by Christmas. Spiced Pear Bitters and Apple Bitters (used in our knock out bestseller Why Bears Do It ) incorporate heirloom dry farmed fruit from Barndiva's farm in Philo.
Apple bitters American Oak bitters Sour cherry/Almond bitters Ruby Grapefruit bitters Lemongrass Lime bitters Rhubarb bitters Meyer Lemon/Thyme bitters Orange bitters Gingered Orange bitters Spiced Pear bitters House Aromatic Bitters
We entered, we won, we pressed juice for you!
Our apples aren't just winners in the new fall cocktail list ~ at this year's Mendocino County Apple Fair Barndiva Farm won ribbons in seven of the nine categories we entered! We took first place for our Red Romes, second place for Winter Banana, Yellow Bellflower, Splendour and third for Melrose, Jonathan, and Sierra Beauties. It's not too late for you to taste these winning varieties ~ a few days after the fair we blended them into juice at Apple-A-Day, Ken Ratzlaff's wonderful Ranch in Sebastopol. Apple-a-Day is a family run apple farm with a new state of the art press that pasteurizes but does not 'cook' the apples. Ratzlaff Ranch is a Sonoma County treasure. Check them out on Farm Trails.
If you are in town and have a few minutes to kill, come in for a complimentary apple juice shooter. Or better yet, stay for lunch or dinner and enjoy it by the glass or in a Millie the Wise. For a limited time only we are also selling half gallons at the host stand in the restaurant.
In addition to winning ribbons for our apples, DCWest (aka Daniel Carlson, seen here polishing apples with Lukka, Francesca and Emanuele) won two First Place Blue Ribbon's for his floral arrangements!
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Barndiva is now on Instagram and Pinterest. If you have been following the blog you know we don't go in for superfluous bullshit ~ so if you add us to your social media dance card we promise we won't bore you or inundate you with anything we wouldn't want to see or read ourselves. Hopefully, we will keep you amused, connected to the Northern California food shed, the life of the restaurant and Ryan's kitchen, the art gallery, and our fabulous weddings and parties. If you are not already on Instagram or Pinterest, join us as we take the plunge!
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All text Jil Hales. Photos Jil Hales, Dawid Jaworski