This edition of Mixology Spirit features Katie Kennedy who is a big fan of our Seasonal Flavored Vodkas, especially our Blueberry Vodka. Her cocktail, Life Gave Me Lemons, showcases our Blueberry Vodka and is a refreshing drink to enjoy during the summer. Read on to learn about Katie’s background and how her restaurant work adapted during the COVID-19 crisis.
Batchers: Welcome to Mixology Spirit, Katie! Can you let everyone know where you work and what your role is?
Katie: Thank you! I am the restaurant and bar manager at Hop Haus in Plantsville, CT.
Batchers: How long have you been bartending? What attracted you to the work?
Katie: I started working in the restaurant industry when I was 16. I love the “family” mentality that is associated with working in the business. Having been brought up to respect the importance of family, I resonate with career opportunities that make me feel connected to others. I remember how my mother would come home after her long shifts, sometimes toting a couple of coworkers with her, and we were always one giant family. There are only a handful of careers that really take hold of the family concept to this degree, so that’s what attracted me to work in the industry.
Batchers: Tell us a little bit about what Hop Haus is all about. What makes it distinctive?
Katie: Hop Haus specializes in local craft beer, specialty cocktails and a farm-to-fork menu. We focus on using the best local ingredients, which include a lot of organic-based products. Most of our craft beer and spirits selection is from Connecticut and the surrounding region. I believe sourcing local and really knowing where everything comes from makes a huge difference in crafting cocktails. I love being able to tell my customers that if they enjoy a certain cocktail, beer or food item that they can visit and experience those places in person.
Batchers: How has Hop Haus adapted and innovated during the COVID-19 crisis and partial re-opening?
Katie: Hop Haus never fully closed down, which helped us tremendously. We went straight into “take-out mode” and as the guidelines changed, we changed with them. It forced us to innovate by adding new procedures and offering new things we hadn’t offered previously. We did everything we had to do to ensure the safety of our staff and customers while maintaining that “home away from home” atmosphere we worked so hard to build over the years. When the state allowed restaurants to expand outdoor seating, our owner built a lower level to our Beer Garden, which really made it feel more of a part of the restaurant. In addition, the Owner, the Chef and I collaborated with our purveyors to create new menu items and update current selections to allow us to offer delicious menu items that were also efficient for both take-out and eat-in.
Batchers: What did you do personally during the shut down to maintain your creativity and productivity?
Katie: Since customers weren’t able to be with us physically during the early part of the shutdown, we wanted to be creative and bring as much of the Hop Haus experience to them. I created “buildable cocktail kits” that folks could order and get a little of that Hop Haus feeling at home. It was really nice to see many of our loyal customers through the curbside takeout program. It allowed us to keep in touch and hear how everyone was holding up, which created a sense of connectedness. Even if only for a brief moment, catching up with customers and getting their feedback about the cocktails and food did wonders to maintain our relationships with patrons.
Batchers: Got a good story about a really hard night behind the bar?
Katie: We’ve had a few nights where we unexpectedly had a bus full of people roll in during the middle of an already busy evening. In these types of situations it is critical to remember how important operating as a team is. You hunker down, you give the best service you can, and you smile while doing it. The attitude you project behind the bar to your customers and your coworkers sets the tone for everything. If you project calm and in-control, that’s what everyone else will feel. No matter the circumstances, I think the most crucial part of a hard night is who is working alongside you. Whether it ends up being a bad night, a good night, or somewhere in between, as long as you have a good crew and a positive attitude you can get through anything.
Batchers: What is the best cocktail you’ve ever had? What made it so great?
Katie: I remember traveling to my favorite spot in Maine and stopping by Beachfire Bar & Grille. I had a cocktail there that was built with 100% local ingredients: fresh Maine blueberries, locally made soda and liqueur…the whole nine yards. It really opened my eyes for the first time about how much locally sourced ingredients can make a difference in drinks.
Batchers: What is your favorite Litchfield Distillery Spirit to work with?
Katie: I would have to say their Seasonal Vodkas are my favorites with the Flavored Bourbons being a close second. The flavors and aromas are just so prominent and well-balanced that it makes crafting cocktails that much more fun…and delicious!
Batchers: What does The Spirit of Hard Work mean to you?
Katie: To me, The Spirit of Hard Work means continually modifying yourself with the times to better yourself and ultimately improving the quality of what you’re offering the world. Learning new things to help your craft isn’t always easy and takes commitment, but it’s certainly worth it.
Katie’s Featured Cocktail: Life Gave Me Lemons
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
2020 Litchfield Distillery. Photography & Editing Credits: Tony Vengrove