Mixology Spirit: Karen Veillette
Our latest Mixology Spirit excursion required a short trip, just a couple miles south of the Distillery, to the amazing Community Table Restaurant. We met up with bartender, Karen Veillette who is part of the restaurant’s impressive team that delivers a quintessential country dining experience. Community Table’s mission is to sustainably prepare the highest quality, locally grown, and procured ingredients to serve its community in a casual, vibrant atmosphere. Ever since her childhood, Karen has had an affinity for nature and plants — a passion she now puts to use in her craft cocktail creations. As we spoke to Karen, she built us a cocktail she calls, “Sicilian Socialite,” which is a spin on a classic Boulevardier. The drink features our Straight Bourbon Whiskey along with a mulled spice-infused Aperol, Nonino’s Amaro, and fresh juices. It’s a wonderful, festive cocktail to enjoy this holiday season and beyond. Read on to learn more about Karen’s Spirit of Hard Work and to get the full drink recipe.
Batchers: What is your official title and role at Community Table?
Karen: Jokingly, my title is Spirit Guide (I get a kick out of puns). Officially, I am the Lead Bartender at Community Table in New Preston. For the last two and a half years, I have been the main bartender and creator of the specialty cocktail menu at the restaurant.
Batchers: How long have you been bartending?
Karen: I have been in the hospitality industry since I was 16, in just about every role, from line cook to General Manager and everything in between. I have been bartending collectively for about 10 years.
Batchers: What inspired you to become a bartender?
Karen: Well, I kind of got thrown into it one night while I was managing a restaurant outside of Boston. My bartender called out sick, and couldn’t find coverage so I worked a shift behind the bar and fell in Love. I am a pretty introverted person in general, but being behind the bar provides a space to really connect with guests in a more open and social way. You can’t really be shy and be a bartender. There is a part of me that flourishes when I’m behind my bar. Being a bartender isn’t just about serving food and drinks, it’s about providing an experience to those that belly up. It’s about genuinely caring for every person that sits with you, and learning how they would like to be tended to. Some just want to come, read a book and have a quiet meal. Some want to be entertained and joked around with. Some guests are even looking for someone just to ask how their day was, someone to listen to them, to give advice, to make eye contact and to care. It’s my honor to be able to learn and navigate their needs in a way that is genuine and in alignment with my Love of the hospitality industry.
Batchers: What is it about the craft that you enjoy so much?
Karen: When I was a little girl, my favorite thing to do was to play outside, gathering up leaves and sticks, small stones and rainwater, and to mix “potions” in the backyard. I could spend hours out there creating ‘drinks’ and serving them to my brother, cousins and even an imaginary friend or two. I have always had an affinity for nature and alchemy, and the magical feeling I’d get as a mini mixologist in my back yard is still the same I conjure up now when crafting cocktails. A little of this, a splash of that, stir stir stir…trusting your intuition, taking a chance with different ingredients, never knowing how something is going to turn out until you take a sip. Some of my weirdest ideas have turned out to be my most popular drinks.
Batchers: How do craft cocktails integrate with the broader menu and experience at Community Table?
Karen: At Community Table (CT) we are incredibly passionate about utilizing the gifts that Nature and our surrounding community has to offer throughout the year. Both the kitchen and the bar source locally whenever possible for the freshest ingredients. We change our menus frequently to align with the changing seasons. During the summer months, I harvest from the gardens right in our own CT back yard, integrating the herbs and flowers into the craft cocktails. You can’t get more local than that!
Batchers: How would you describe your approach to creating new cocktail recipes?
Karen: Before the seasons start to change, I start to think about the energy and feeling of that time of year we are approaching. What memories are associated with those months? What experiences of the season do I want to take my guest to with each sip of their cocktail? Then I look at what is available to me at that time, and I start to piece together a blend of ingredients that will hopefully result in that feeling. Sometimes I have to tweak a recipe multiple times before it speaks the story I want it to tell, but when it all comes together, it’s a very rewarding feeling.
Batchers: What advice do you have for folks trying to make better cocktails at home?
Karen: Have fun! Get weird! Don’t be afraid to try something new. Walk around the produce aisle at your local store or visit a farmer’s market for inspiration. Remember, Spirit isn’t just another name for liquor, its also the unique expression inside each and every one of us.
Batchers: Got a good story about a hard night behind the bar?
Karen: Oooph, the summer of 2020, I was feeling ambitious and put seven specialty cocktails on my menu (I usually run 4-5). Each one had at least 5 steps to them, which made them time consuming to make. At the time, due to the pandemic, we were operating both indoor and outdoor dining, and were incredibly busy! By 6pm on that Saturday night, the bar drink tickets start rolling in, and before I knew it, I had 25-30 drinks waiting for me to make within just a few minutes–and it didn’t stop for the next 3 hours! I felt like an octopus, trying to craft all those drinks! By the end of the night, I ended up making close to 140 specialty cocktails, on top of all the other classic mixed drinks that were being ordered. It was challenging and exhausting, but admittedly, really fun. This profession challenges you in many different ways, and we are constantly pushing ourselves to provide our guests with the best experience we can.
Batchers: What Litchfield Distillery spirit do you enjoy working with the most?
Karen: I really enjoy working with both the Maple and Vanilla Bourbons, especially during the colder months. At home, I like to mix up a classic Apple martini with the Litchfield Apple Vodka, sour apple spirits and a touch of cinnamon.
Batchers: What does The Spirit of Hard Work® mean to you?
Karen: Simple. You can’t go wrong if you are living your passion. If there is something that inspires you and lights a fire in your Soul, go do it, and do it with Love.
Karen’s featured cocktail is called “Sicilian Socialite.” It is a play on the Boulevardier, which translates to “a dapper man about town.” It features our Straight Bourbon Whiskey and a Mulled Spiced Infused Aperol, which makes this a very enjoyable cocktail for the holidays (and beyond).
- 1 oz. Litchfield Distillery Straight Bourbon
- 1 oz. Mulled Spice Infused Aperol
- 1 oz. Amaro
- 1/2 oz. Fresh Lemon Juice
- 1 oz. Fresh Blood Orange Juice
- 2 Shakes Cardamom Bitters
Method: Combine all ingredients in a shaker over ice, stir about 22 times, clockwise. Pour over a king cube and garnish with a blood orange slice.
Karen invites you to follow her on Instagram. Be sure to visit Community Table on their Website and on Facebook or Instagram. The restaurant is located at 223 Litchfield Tpke, New Preston, CT. To contact or make a reservation please call (860) 868-9354.
About Mixology Spirit:
Mixology Spirit is a Litchfield Distillery blog series dedicated to sharing the stories of creative and passionate mixologists who embody The Spirit Of Hard Work®. Think you got what it takes to be featured? Drop us a line at email@example.com.
© 2021 Litchfield Distillery. Photography & Editing Credits: Tony Vengrove
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