Justin Beam was born in McKinney, Texas to a Southern Baptist Minister father and a school teacher mother that met while playing piano at a revival. The mixologist grew up committed to organized sports like baseball and football - needless to say, without the pleasures of alcohol. At 15, to save enough money for a car, he took his first position in the industry bussing and expoing at a breakfast-only restaurant near his home.
From bussing tables Beam skipped bartending school and went on to train with some of the mixology world's greats: Dale DeGroff, Doug Frost and Steven Olson. Beam worked his way up to a position as Beverage Director at M Crowd Restaurant Group in Dallas where he was involved in the day-to-day operations of 24 restaurants throughout Dallas-Fort Worth, Houston, and Kansas City. Beam was responsible for the development of the entire beverage program and able to work with two of the most influential men in the Dallas restaurant scene, and two of his biggest mentors: owner Michael "Mico" Rodriguez and Executive Chef Chris Ward.
Beam's cocktail program at Craft and The Living Room at the W Hotel Dallas is sophisticated and playful, with drinks that tell their own imaginative story with fresh ingredients and attention to detail. His Grassy Knoll, a balanced mix of tart house-made lemonade, Pimm's Cup and grassy vodka, evokes an afternoon on the cricket lawn on a summery afternoon. In The Waterloo, Beam uses fresh key lime and blood orange juice to layer the flavor of tequila and sweetens it with agave nectar to create what he affectionately nicknames Napolean's Margarita. The drink is chilled by one enormous ice cube, rather than a multitude of small ones (which means no immediate watering down), and seasoned with a smoky, salty rim of volcanic salt and agave.
Interview with Chef Justin Beam of Craft - DallasAntoinette Bruno:
What drew you to restaurants and in particular, to mixology?
I'm one of three boys and our father passed away when I was 12. My mom was suddenly single, and there was some financial hardship running the house. To make some money and save enough for a car, I started doing bussing and expo work at The Original Pancake House.
AB: How were you trained in bartending or mixology?
JB: I didn’t have any formal training but I've been in this business since I was 15, learning from mentors as I worked my way up. George Delgado, who was the bar manager at Windows on the World, was especially influential.
AB: What are some current trends you’ve seen in the cocktail market? How have trends changed?
JB: Muddling is totally back, fresh fruit is big, and rum is huge now too. A few years ago it was all vodka but brown spirits are budding! Things tend to start in New York and Los Angeles and move inward. One year later, the trends are popular in Dallas.
AB: What goes in to creating a new cocktail? How long does it take to create a new cocktail?
JB: It takes imagination, research, and trying something over and over until you get it right. Then it’s important to look back at old recipes that worked and figure out why. The key is balance.
AB:What is your favorite cocktail to drink? To make?
JB: To drink: single malt scotch, neat. For my guests I like to try innovative stuff like something cream-based or rum-based.
AB: What is your favorite mixology resource book and who is the author?
JB: Craft of the Cocktail by Dale Degroff.
AB: What's your favorite hole-in-the-wall bar?
JB: Ships on Greenville is a fun, smoky, little place with lots of character - a good beer and peanuts kind of bar.
AB: Who are some of your mentors? What have you learned from them?
JB: I worked with Mico Rodriguez, a big player in the Tex-Mex scene, at Mi Cocina for four and a half years. He's a really creative guy and a brilliant restaurateur who's always pushing boundaries.
AB: If you weren’t a mixologist, what would you be doing?
JB: I like teaching a lot, so I might be a teacher or a high school coach.
AB: What person in history would you most like to go for drinks with?
JB: Ernest Hemmingway in Florida or Cuba.
AB: What does success mean for you? What will it look like for you?
JB: The bottom line of success is happiness. I would like to eventually own my own place. Not a restaurant empire by any means, just a small intimate place.
AB: What are some of your pet peeves in the industry?
JB: I can’t stand lazy bartenders who use powders or skimp on fresh ingredients! And I'm not a fan of soda guns.