Interview with Kentucky-Tennessee Rising Star Mixologist Susie Hoyt of The Silver Dollar – Louisville, KY
Caroline Hatchett: How did you get your start in the industry?
Susie Hoyt: I was interested in bartending and the bar when I was turned 21. I didn’t know about spirits or classic cocktails or wine. I was drawn to fun and excitement. I was working at a restaurant, and the owners told me they would teach me how to bartend with I turned 21. I continued bartending when I moved to Cincinnati. Even though I had a degree and worked at an insurance company, I couldn’t sit still. I just kept doing it. When I moved to Chicago, that’s when things changed. That’s when I really got into bartending and took it more seriously.
CH: What’s your advice for young people just starting in the industry?
SH: It’s not just about competing or getting press or making cocktail menus at a bar. There’s a lot that goes into creating and maintaining a strong cocktail program. And I think the best way to learn is to find someone who’s really knowledgeable and will teach you. It has to be someone who’s really into their craft and takes it seriously. Find a way to get a job at that bar.
CH: What are some of the biggest challenges to running a beverage program?
SH: Managing employees and ordering can be cumbersome. And if you’re doing a progressive program, the prep involved, making different syrups, bitters, etc. At El Camino, we make jamaica, orchata, hot chocolate powder. It’s keeping and maintaining the quality and making sure everyone knows how things are supposed to be made. There’s lots of tasting and getting everyone on the same page.
CH: You manage 18 bartenders and two bar programs. How do you train your staff?
SH: There is an extended period of training. We give new employees recipes for all the drinks on the menu and packets on bourbon history, packets on what drinks go in what glasses, packets on steps of service. It’s complicated. Before anyone can bartend, they have to take a practical exam. They have to makes all cocktails on the current list without recipes. Myself and a general manager or lead bartender will watch them make cocktails. Did they choose the right ingredient? Are they jiggering correctly? We have a score sheet and score them for drinks included on the cocktail list and a few classics—an Old Fashioned and a Manhattan. They can’t bartend unless they pass.
CH: Is this type of training common in the industry?
SH: It’s not common practice. I think most people are careless. Otherwise, how do I measure the proficiency at which our bartenders are performing? We have an extensive set-up. Are they actually contributing to set up so we can do what we do during service? It helps with measuring people, whether they should take classes or if they need additional hand-outs.
CH: What are some current trends you’ve seen in Louisville cocktails?
SH: One of the main trends is barrel aging. That’s common with bourbon cocktails and cocktails with amaro and vermouth—Negronis or Boulevardiers. Also, house-made bitters, switching out bitter components for other bitter components—like Negroni variations with Aperol instead of Campari.
CH: Where do you look for cocktail inspiration? Is it outside of Louisville?
SH: We definitely want to see what other people are doing. We see people in other markets doing cool stuff; it keeps fresh ideas coming. But it’s also lots of reading and looking through old cocktail books. Especially at The Silver Dollar, we stick to rustic, classic drinks and do them really well.
CH: How did you develop your recipes?
SH: I think about what kind of cocktail I want it to be. There are mother cocktails, and most cocktails are a riff on these. Generally, I want my drinks to be a classic style or variation—a Tom Collins or Manhattan variation. I also think about what I want it to be for the guest and how I want the guest to experience it. Then I start adjusting, balancing flavors, adding bitter components, and balancing the sweet to tart components.
CH: What’s your favorite cocktail you’ve created?
SH: That’s so hard. One of my favorites is Autumn Leaves. That one is awesome because Manhattans can be tough. It’s not most accessible drink. [Autumn Leaves] is lightened up with herbal notes, and citrus with lime juice and lemon oil on top. One of my favorites on our current menu is Hello Trouble. It’s a bourbon Collins with green Chartreuse, allspice dram, and vanilla bean syrup. Some people don’t like bourbon, and it gets people interested in trying it. And after drinking for a while, it’s a good way to take step back.
CH: How do you want to grow as a bartender?
SH: I want to keep studying things I don’t know about. I’m working on wine next. I know the basics, but I want to know more. I’ve never done deep research, and I want to be able to help our bartenders learn more and sell more wines by the bottle.