It was all about good times and picking up easy work for Caitlin Laman until she landed in San Francisco four years ago.
Now the 29-year-old is one of the city’s coolest mixologist at one of the city’s newest and hottest bars, Trick Dog (3010 20th St., 415-471-2999) in the trendy Mission District.
In her spare time, she’s giving Napa a little shake and stir as the consultant for the not-yet-year-old Andaz Napa’s (1450 First St., 707-687-1234) bars: Mercantile Social and Terrace Bar. These upscale bars offer unique beers, spirits and wines hand selected and cocktails tailor designed seasonally by Caitlin.
Crafting the Mixologist
So, how did this Portland native, who was tripping it through the bars and resorts from Boston, New York and Utah before landing in San Francisco in 2009 become one of the preeminent mixologists in the Bay Area’s competitive bar scene?
It all started in college, “I bartended a lot when I was younger,” says Caitlin. Bartending was easy money through college as she studied business administration outside of Boston, but she always had an eye on the hospitality industry.
Caitlin was fascinated with the idea of the “image of perfection” projected to guests as they enter a hotel, restaurant or bar, “everything should look easy, fluid and beautiful.”
Backstage it’s a completely different reality. That yin and yang captivated and intrigued her not only because of the details, but also because of the competitive spirit.
“I really liked that dichotomy,” she says. “I thought it was a really beautiful thing.”
“We work our asses off to make the guest experience as fluid and wonderful as possible without letting them know how hard our job is,” continues Caitlin who played competitive sports. “I like that. It’s competitive to me.”
Cocktails with Her Own Twist
After graduation picking up jobs in bars and hotels when she landed in a new city was easy for her. But her happy go lucky days became more serious soon after she landed in California. After stints working at a New York beach resort and being a ski bum in Utah, she returned to the beverage industry taking up wine when she first arrived in San Francisco. In the process she met a mentor Alexander Bachman at the former Lafitte Restaurant who began teaching her the ways of artisan cocktails and about small producers of spirits. Suddenly, she was hooked learning everything he had to show her about the craft of creating a cocktail from classic to modern along with the history of spirits and drinking.
Slowly, she began to realize that she was passionate about adult beverages and began taking steps to turn her trade from a casual job into a career. It was the right step to take. Nearly a year after Caitlin began intensive training about spirits and cocktails, Alexander moved to Chicago leaving her and a colleague with a cocktail program to run.
She continued learning her trade with Lane Ford at Lolinda and Morgan Schick and Chad Arnholdt at Trick Dog.
It wasn’t too long before she was brought to the attention of the Andaz Napa, who hired her to create their cocktail menus and train their staff.
Now that she’s consulting and running cocktail programs her degree has come in handy, she says, but really knowing beverages — how they are made, where they are made, who makes them — in the competitive world of beer, spirits and wine is where it’s at for her. It doesn’t matter what the trend is or how big or small the brand, if it is made well with a good story behind it, it’s a winner.
“One of the more interesting parts of the job to me is bringing people new spirits,” says Caitlin, who believes it is a bartender’s job to introduce new beers, spirits and wines to guests.
“There’s a lot, a lot of really cool stuff out there that people don’t really know about,” she continues. “Our job as professionals is to bring stuff that they have not had before and get them excited [about it].”
Try this cocktail by Caitlin and let us know what you think:
1 oz St. George Terroir Gin
1 oz Aveze Gentian Liqueur
1 oz Cardamaro Amaro
1.5 oz lemon juice
Muddle all with cucumber in a large bucket glass. Add crushed ice and top with Dr. Brown’s Cel-Ray Soda. Quick stir, pile more crushed ice on top. 4-5 radish flowers as garnish.