Tips From the Founder of Girls With Bols
Every year, Tales of the Cocktail inducts hardworking women of the spirits and cocktail industries into the Dame Hall of Fame to celebrate their contributions to the industry. Each of these women has their own story: from their starts, to their stumbles, and, finally, to their successes. In this series, Tales co-founder Ann Tuennerman highlights some of the past Dame Hall of Fame recipients, and explores the path that led them to where they are today.
After being the first American AND female to win the Bols Around the World international competition in 2014, Kate Gerwin founded Girls With Bols, a mentorship initiative that sees female industry veterans acting as mentors to the newer generations of bartenders. In addition, the program raises money for charities that share a similar goal of promoting mentorship (such as Big Brothers and Big Sisters), and holds educational seminars and events designed to foster environments for women in the industry to flourish.
Where were you born and raised?
Northern California — and a lot of stops in between.
What attracted you to enter the cocktails/spirits industry in the first place?
I was in the wine industry and loved it. But I found I was always trying to find a link between what two artists had created. I was always looking for the right wine that had a specific flavor profile, or acidity ... or whatever. Then I realized I could just create a drink that had all the qualities I was looking for and BOOM.
Was it planned or was it a temporary gig that evolved into a career?
It was pretty planned. It came with the territory of opening a restaurant with a bar as well. I was focused on wine, but my guests wanted cocktails. Sometimes you have to give the people what they want.
What and where was your first job in the industry?
Bubba's Crabshack in Virginia Beach, Virginia. I was a server. That was my first if you don't count working in the "fine dining" cafeteria at Westminster Canterbury in Virginia Beach. It was the "rich old persons' home" at the beach.
Was there a moment when you decided that the cocktail/spirits industry would be your career path?
When I met Charlotte Voisey and Jackie Patterson at the Santé Awards in 2010 (I think). We had won an award for spirits hospitality and they presented the award in Napa Valley. It was love at first sight, are you kidding me? Have you met those women?
As a woman in a traditionally male dominated industry, what did you find most rewarding and most challenging?
I know it is cheesy, but becoming the first woman to win an individual world title in bartending competitions was pretty damn awesome. It felt good. I am VERY aware I am not the best bartender in the world, by far. But it was really gratifying knowing that I was being taken seriously. I wasn't just there for fluff, and they noticed.
How has the role of women in the cocktail/spirits industry changed since you first joined it?
You would have to be blind to not see how inspiring women are emerging from every market. The best part, in my humble opinion, is that we are doing it with not just the support of an incredible female community, but with our male allies singing our praises and chanting our names, as well ... it's a team effort.
For a woman who wants to pursue a career in this industry, what top 3 tips would you offer?
- Lose the heels. Seriously.
- Don't take things personally. I repeat. Don't take things personally.
- When in doubt, refer to tip #2.
How did you first learn about Tales of the Cocktail?
Charlotte Voisey and Jackie Patterson told me about it, and told me I should come when I met them at the Santé Awards.
Where there any challenges you had to overcome to attend Tales the first time (financial, logistical, etc.)?
Yes. Luckily my SWS reps thought it was worth it to get me there.
Kindly describe your first Tales experience and what it meant to you.
OH. MY. GAWD. Mecca. That's what it felt like to me. Meeting all the people whose books I had read? And the parties? I had never seen anything like it in my life. I mean, they were milking a cow to make Ramos Gin Fizzes ... AND THAT WASN'T EVEN THE HIGHLIGHT.
How did you first hear about the Dame Hall of Fame?
From LUPEC and the lovely Lynette!
Were any of its past inductees your mentors or role models?
UH, yeah! Being from a small market, I wasn't fortunate enough to have a "mentor" so to speak. But I looked up and still look up to every woman on that list ... and more. Every single one.
What was it like to be inducted into the Dame Hall of Fame?
I cried in bed the morning I got the email. Like REALLY cried. Not the ... few tears that roll down your cheeks and smile cry ... I seriously cried to the point where I had to make that silly inhaling sound to breathe. And then I cried some more. Not kidding.
How has being inducted energized your career overall and what opportunities have flowed as a result?
I am not sure about "energizing" my career ... but it certainly energized me. Which makes me more ambitious and creative. I push myself more and strive to be a leader and mentor in the community.
Kindly describe any key professional relationships and friendships that were forged through your induction.
Being in the Dame Hall of Fame basically was like an "insta-family" of talented, intelligent, creative, and diverse women to call sisters. I know I can reach out to any of them and they will be there. No matter the level of distance or time, we got each other's backs and then some.