The Most Interesting and Inspiring People We Met in 2016

Portrait of Audrey Saunders
Audrey Saunders at this year's Spirited Awards, photographed by Doron Gild at the Spirited Awards 2016 Icons & Presenters and Chivas ‘1950’s Film Noir’-inspired photobooth with Doron Gild Photography.

A highlight of our work at Tales is meeting some of the best bartenders and spirits industry folks in the business. Their stories inspire us to take pride in what we do, they teach us to dig deeper and several of them have given us a good laugh. It wasn’t easy, but we’ve culled our favorite interviews of the year from people who you’re sure to love as much as we do.

Audrey Saunders, one of the industry's greatest mentors

Audrey Saunders Audrey Saunders has been a major part of the craft cocktail movement's rapid evolution in the last decade.

Audrey Saunders is beloved in the bar community for a reason: this OG cocktail maven has shepherded some of the world’s best bartenders, whom she calls her “kids.” And Saunders is clearly among the best of the best herself, but her unique focus on educating and empowering the many who step behind her bar is what sets her apart and endears her to so many.

Jennifer Kay, the brave bartender at a 24-hour bar

Female bartender at a New Orleans dive bar Jennifer Kay has worked at Boondock Saint, one of New Orleans' 24-hour bars, for nearly eight years. We'd say she's seen some crazy stuff, but that'd be a big understatement.

Admittedly, we’re prone to complain about shifts that span until 2 a.m., but to work at a 24-hour bar? That seems simply out of the question. Thankfully, Jennifer Kay, bless her heart, is woman enough for the job. Working around the clock can involve eating breakfast with friends when your shift ends at 6 a.m. and even wielding a bat when necessary. Kay’s account is a memorable one, for sure.

Kenta Goto, who achieved greatness through humility

A man making a cocktail behind a bar. Kenta Goto recommends clean mineral flavors when working with sake, like those in his signature cocktail the Sakura Martini. Photo by Lizzie Munro.

Kenta Goto’s message is a powerful one: be humble. This all-star bartender and owner of Bar Goto built his career on a combination of modesty and dedication to his craft, which is refreshing in an age when shameless self-promotion seems par for the course. To be honest, we think we all could be a little more like Goto: focused, earnest and committed to excellence.

Nick Kokonas, who finds creativity in constant change

Headshot of Nick Kokonas, partner at Chicago's Alinea Nick Kokonas (Alinea, Aviary, Next, Roister) says that listening to instinct is part of what leads to creative success in the long run.

Nick Kokonas co-owns three of the best restaurants in the world: Chicago’s Alinea, The Aviary, Next and Roister. He attributes his success to a penchant for change and the all-consuming desire to be the best — and a fruitful partnership with Grant Achatz, who has a gift for making dreams a reality. We talk about the great rewards that come only with great risks and the necessity of constant reinvention.

Ms. Franky Marshall, the world's most fabulous bartender

Portrait of Ms. Franky Marshall Ms. Franky, pictured in her element at Le Boudoir for Bit By A Fox's Bartender Style series. (Photo: Rose Callahan and Bit By A Fox)

We hate to play favorites, but there are few more fabulous people in the bar scene (and maybe in the world) than Ms. Franky Marshall. She oozes confidence, intelligence and style, and we’re dying to go to her Marie Antoinette-themed speakeasy, Le Boudoir. It comes as no surprise that Ms. Marshall spent her formative years in France and continues to traverse the globe for inspiration. And if you’re not sold, just take a look at her amazing outfit. Ms. Franky Marshall, we’d follow you anywhere.

Mirella Amato, one of the foremost authorities on beer

Beer expert Mirella Amato with her book (and a beer) Mirella Amato. Photo: Laura Brehaut.

Mirella Amato is one of only 11 people in the world to have earned the title of Master Cicerone, the highest level of certification in the beer industry, and a distinction that only comes after acing an exhaustive 14-hour exam that very few of its takers have actually passed. This exceptional lady followed her passion to an elite career (and that’s after years of working as an opera singer in Naples, Italy, mind you). Amato offered advice that’s pertinent to bartenders and casual imbibers alike, “People should care about what the things they eat and drink taste like. People should care about where they come from. They should take a moment to enjoy.”

The female bartenders forging a path in Mexico City

A woman behind a bar, pouring a cocktail. Raquel Ramos, a bartender at Fifty Mils in the Four Seasons, is one of several female bartenders leading the Mexico City cocktail revolution.

This year we talked at great length about the problems of gender inequality facing women in the bartending world — a study we published demonstrated that women are less likely to be in high profile bartending positions, less likely to make as much money and frequently subject to sexual harassment. So, we were thrilled to travel to Mexico City, where women are leading the charge for equality in a nascent but bustling cocktail scene. We talked with several of these ladies behind the stick about their role in the growing community.

Elias Barber, a sixth generation farmer turned distiller

Elias Barber is writing the batch number on a bottle of vodka. After deepening his knowledge of agriculture at Cornell, Elias Barber set out to learn about distilling. After a long course of self-appointed study and experimenting, he's releasing his first product — potato vodka.

When life gives you potatoes, make vodka. At least, that’s what Elias Barber did. This sixth-generation farmer applies his knowledge of science and agriculture to make an impeccable vodka from what is typically a surplus crop. Barber’s story is certainly an inspiring one, and we can’t help but lust over the views of the Barber family’s sprawling upstate New York farm.

Ian Burrell, the world's only global rum ambassador

A man smelling rum in a snifter. Ian Burrell has made a life of bringing his love of rum to the masses. Photo courtesy of Ian Burrell.

Finding your life’s purpose is rarely as simple as applying to a job on LinkedIn. Quite often, the positions worth aspiring to require striking out on your own to forge an undefined path. Such was the case for Ian Burrell, an actor turned global rum ambassador (a title which he invented himself) who followed his passion for rum to a fulfilling career that’s taken him around the world. “... No one appointed me; I appointed myself,” Burrell says, and it’s that kind of initiative that we respect.

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