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How Canadian mixologist Lauren Mote changed the face of cocktail competitions

If anyone can concoct a knockout cocktail, it’s Lauren Mote. The industry sees no lack of talent, yet the Canadian mixologist stands out in many ways. When she’s not shaking up cocktails with effortless flair, she assumes other roles as a sommelier, mentor, emcee, writer, and cocktail judge. Since then, her already-impressive resume has burgeoned with yet another title, and it’s her biggest one yet. As Diageo’s first and only Global Cocktailian, her reach has extended beyond the bar, serving as an international spirits diplomat to achieve the best cocktail experience Diageo can offer.

With almost 22 years of expertise in the food and beverage industry, Mote has successfully managed to translate her savoir faire into the multi-faceted world of hospitality. The 2015 ‘Bartender of the Year’ — awarded by both the Vancouver Magazine Restaurant Awards and Diageo World Class Canada, no less — is constantly on the look-out for the latest innovation in mixology, shaping the way enthusiasts around the world consume their favourite beverage.

Her ventures have seen her crafting award-winning cocktail programs alongside culinary visionaries Rob Feenie and Dale MacKay during her tenure at Vancouver’s fashionable Lumière restaurant, as well as being co-proprietor of Bittered Sling Bitters, a line of small-batch cocktail and culinary bitters. 

Avant-garde techniques aside, Mote is, quite predictably, a walking encyclopaedia. We speak to the female powerhouse on being Diageo’s Global Cocktailian, her established career over the years, and her favourite spots for a drink. 

Tell us a bit about how you started in the cocktail industry. What motivated you to start mixing?

I’ve been in the food and beverage industry since 1996 and have been a bartender since 2000. Throughout high school and university, I couldn’t shake the hospitality bug. There’s something inside me that constantly wants to communicate and engage with people. I began my journey in the wine industry, working with some of the brightest sommeliers in Toronto.

Honing my expertise in wine and top-notch service made it possible for me to dive head first into spirits and cocktails. I had an epiphany under a pile of International Relations books in my second year at university that eventually I would have to figure out a way to incorporate my love for food and beverage, people and politics into one role – I was NEVER going to have a desk job.

I have always worked tremendously hard and have been grateful to work for/with some gracious and wonderful people who have championed me for my skills and abilities. My education and experience have helped me in more ways that I could have dreamed as a bartender, and now in my current role as Global Cocktailian.

What do you hope to achieve as Diageo’s first and only Global Cocktailian in the world?

As the Diageo Global Cocktailian, I act as a global spokesperson for our ambassadors and luxury brands, working with our consumers, bartenders and customers worldwide. I am also the figurehead of the World Class program, aimed at developing tools and education for bartenders and consumers alike, giving them the skills and confidence to create World Class cocktails, whether at home or in a bar. World Class is all about inspiring people to care as much about drinks as they do about food, and that’s what I hope to achieve. I want to continue playing a key role in developing programs that celebrate better drinking every day, no matter where you are in the world.

Mote aims to inspire both mixologists and consumers around the world during her tenure as Diageo’s Global Cocktailian. (Image credit: Diageo)
How is it really like to be a recognised female bartender in a predominantly male-dominated industry? What were the challenges you faced along the way, and how are you working to change the common stereotypes that female bartenders usually encounter?

Like all bartenders and mixologists, I’ve faced challenges throughout my career, but I’m not sure any of these can be specifically attributed to my gender or labelled ‘discrimination’. My journey is very specific to me; I have always worked tremendously hard and have been grateful to work for and with some incredibly gracious and wonderful people who have championed me for my skills and abilities – not my gender. Like many industries, male dominance exists in bartending, but it’s evolving quickly. Hiring practices are changing; recruitment is changing; and hopefully this means job criteria and financial hierarchy are changing too. 

This is not the case in all markets though. As things improve in one place, they remain an issue in another. Places such as Canada, the USA, Great Britain, Western Europe and Australia have a significant number of women working behind the bar, whereas emerging markets have a lot less. We still have a long road ahead of us to make real change in our global industry, but we are on the right track.

The World Class trend panel featuring (from left to right) Alex Kratena, Global Cocktailian Lauren Mote, Charles Joly, Dre Masso, and food critic and author Matt Preston. (Image credit: Diageo)

I have always pushed for equality and have never been afraid to speak out on what I believe to be right and wrong – for myself and for others. I feel grateful to be in my position and delighted I have the ability not just to speak, but to act, collaborate and provide a platform to empower others. I would never want to alienate men, because there is a necessity to have everyone involved working towards the same goal – that’s when real equality can be achieved and enjoyed. This is a fight that will keep going long after our generation has put in the time, I just hope that we can whip the world into warp speed, and move a bit faster on this – our community’s health depends on it.

What’s the most satisfying aspect of your job?

I’m fortunate that there’s a lot of synergy between my personal and professional life, so what you see is what you get with me. In my role as Global Cocktailian, I champion three causes which I’m incredibly passionate about: sustainability, diversity and innovation. It makes my role as Global Cocktailian a lot easier as I truly believe and support these issues in whatever way I can. 

How would you say the cocktail scene had changed over the years?

We have started to really focus on the future, rather than the now. I always speak about three topics in sessions with bartenders and ambassadors – why they bartend, what are their goals and how do they balance their work/life split? The answers are always different. Each bartender is curating a program, a cocktail and a lifestyle that really expresses who they are, and our guests are becoming more excited by that.

An experience at a bar is no longer about the drink – it’s about the people, the environment and the take away. To me, this really captures how the drinks industry has changed – it’s become really personal, intelligent and motivational, not just for bartenders, but for everyone who’s coming into contact with them/us. 

What do you think is the key to a good cocktail?

Firstly, just like in the food world, we are looking for deliciousness – balance of flavour, texture, acidity, sweetness, saltiness, savouriness and umami, and the combination of flavours – do they complement? Contrast? Does the glass of vessel it’s served in do the cocktail justice? Is the temperature and dilution of the cocktail correct? Does that cocktail match the moment? Is it stand-alone? Is it to be paired with food? Is the cocktail presented with a menu? A story?

Secondly, I am looking for the person that’s the “complete bartender”; hospitality, creativity, good preparation, time management, presentation and entertainment, service and detail-oriented. When you find all of these aspects, paired with a great story, cocktail and passion, you’ve got what we’re looking for at the World Class level.

What are some of the techniques or ingredients you’re into at the moment?

We are still really focused on sustainability, innovation and diversity, and that covers a wide range of areas across technique, community and ingredients. For example, one of this year’s challenges for the World Class Bartender of the Year Global Finals is around “Better Drinking”. We challenged each of our 57 finalists to develop a program that benefits their community and bring it to life with a signature Ketel One cocktail.

The Candy Cane Cocktail, made with Ketel One. (Image credit: Diageo)

I was astounded by the level of creativity, expertise, passion and sheer humanity of the submissions – from creating programs to employ and shelter the homeless in South Africa, to understanding where our ingredients come from through community projects in Kenya and Great Britain focused sustainable coffee and honey productions. The techniques pulled from the culinary world are still the simplest and most effective for ingredient processing and preservation, and localizing the way in which we grow, harvest, select and choose ingredients should drive local economy and support local businesses.  

You must have had some pretty crazy requests as an experienced mixologist, what are some of your most memorable?

The most memorable requests are “surprise me”. The guest provides very specific answers to probing questions like “what do you normally drink?” or “what spirits do you generally like to drink?” and further along, we engage on mood, occasion, temperature, time of day and time of year. “Surprise me” is the best – especially when you nail it.

What’s the most extreme thing you’ve done for a good cocktail?

I’ve gone several hundred meters into a glacier, to the top of a mountain and the middle of the ocean. Cocktails and mixed drinks have always been a big part of my life, and each adventure is usually complimented with something fitting.

What’s your favourite cocktail to make with a JW Blue?

I am a classicist when it comes to Johnnie Walker Blue – I love drinking this by itself, but honestly a classic Rob Roy or Old Fashioned is awesome here, too. 

The Rob Roy. (Image credit: Diageo)
What do you think makes the JW Blue so special?

Johnnie Walker Blue is the epitome of accessible luxury in the spirits industry – it’s an icon reflected in everything from gifts to TV and film appearances. When “well-to-dos” are drinking spirits, they’re drinking Johnnie Walker Blue. The whisky itself is complex, delicious, bursting with flavour and story, and the distilleries who’ve contributed beautifully aged spirits to this blend have earned the right to call themselves “Johnnie Walker Blue” – only the best casks, from the best distilleries are selected, and our incredible blending team led by Jim Beveridge ensures that each bottle and batch of Johnnie Walker Blue is as special as the last.

You must have visited some amazing bars as a Global Cocktailian, which made the top five on your list?

There were too many to pick, so here are eight!

La Guilhotina (Sao Paulo, Brazil), Carnaval (Lima, Peru), Atlas (Singapore), American Bar (The Savoy, London, UK), Lost Lake (Chicago, USA), Pretty Ugly Bar (Toronto, Canada), Central Station (Beirut, Lebanon), and Fifty Mils (Mexico City, Mexico).

The Atlas Bar in Singapore. (Image credit: Diageo)
Any bartenders we should pay attention to at the World Class Finals in Berlin?

Every bartender is different and unique, and we don’t like going into these events with any bias because everyone is extraordinary, and everyone can surprise you. The best thing we can do is have high expectations of every competitor and provide each of them the opportunity to shine brightly.

Any useful tips for budding mixologists?

Find a place or a person you really want to work with and figure out how to get a job there – you might not start alongside them, but it’s a goal to work towards. There are so many parallels to the culinary world – as a young cook, you start out looking up to certain chefs and mentors, and their incredible restaurants that you would marvel at the opportunity to work for. That’s the starting point.

You’ll always have to ensure you know the role inside and out, that means studying courses where necessary, and never discount the necessity to learn spirits, wine, beer, sake, tea, coffee, international cultures, food, classic cocktails and food as part of the role’s success. The key is to never think “I’m done” – there’s always more to learn, each day, and then it becomes your duty to teach the next generations.

Shatricia Nair
Managing Editor
Shatricia Nair is a motoring, watches, and wellness writer who is perpetually knee-deep in the world of V8s, tourbillons, and the latest fitness trends. She is fuelled by peanut butter and three cups of coffee a day.
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