Jillian Vose is Beverage Director and Managing Partner at Dead Rabbit in New York. She has made a name for herself after working in the industry for 17 years and being in bar management for over a decade.
Starting in Beer, then moving onto Wine, and later cocktails her experience spans numerous locations and bars like Clover Club and Death & Co, and includes the StarChefs Rising Stars Award 2013. With an illustrious career traveling the world to give seminars and guest bartend, she has also co-authored two books: Mixology and Mayhem, and Paddy Drinks.
When did that Eureka moment happen when you realized your mission is to be a bartender?After high school I moved to Arizona and started working in a brewpub in Arizona - I was pretty young at the time. I’ve always been really social and loved hosting parties and the community aspect of that, so I fit right in when it came to the hospitality industry.
When I was old enough to finally get behind the bar I fell in love with it; the sense of friendship and fun was amazing. I would go to work every night and make myself these goals and figuring out this puzzle of things I had to do was so totally me - I’ve never looked back.
What are the TOP 5 skills every bartender should have?Empathy is maybe the first and most important; you never know what is going on with someone the first time that you meet them. If they look like they’ve had a bad day, they may well have, so keep that in mind. There are people that just need their favorite drink and a smile, and others who want to sit in quiet if they’re mourning.
You can’t take yourself too seriously.
Next I’d say knowledge obviously, and patience, you really have to learn that one. The people ahead of me for example didn’t make a name for themselves over night, they really had to figure it out and practice and practice. (Also it’s great to be able to understand how you learn best. I learn by doing and experiencing rather than reading a cocktail book cover to cover.)
Then I would say showing up and being reliable, and lastly keeping your ego to one side; some people think it’s cool to have this look-at-me attitude but that’s not for me. I always want to be relatable. You might think what about technique? Well you can teach that, but these other skills are things you need to work on yourself and for me, you can’t do without in the job.
Which cocktail is the biggest pain in the ass to make, pardon our French?Usually the ones that are creamy or eggy, they make a bit more of a mess of your sink or tools, so it’s a pain because of that, and you have to shake them a little longer or a little harder. There are more steps involved, you have to go to the fridge, crack something, and of course the extra time to clean your tools.
I gravitate towards drier, brighter, Martini drinks.
At Dead Rabbit we have some unique set ups to make sure that isn’t too big a pain for us. And you know those cocktails are actually great and are always going to be good sellers. They might be someone’s dessert or guilty pleasure that night.
And which cocktail is your version of heaven?As funny as it might sound, I’m a bit of a purist. I know all of my cocktail menus over the past eight or nine years have been full of multi-ingredient or more complex cocktails, which are great too. But top for me would definitely be a clean, crisp Martini style drink. I gravitate towards drier, brighter, Martini drinks.
Which drink or cocktail would you say is way underrated? (And a tricky followup: Which one is the most overrated?)Maybe if you caught me five years ago I would have been more harsh, but now I think who cares? For overrated, that’s a really hard one, I’m not sure I could pick something for that.
You come home, slide into something comfortable, and throw yourself on the couch. What's in your glass?I would normally pick a red Wine, a dry apple cider or a neat Spirit like a Calvados.
What are the five essential ingredients every booze lover should have in their home bar?I would definitely say having a classic London Dry Gin, a Whiskey - an Irish Whiskey, Scotch, or an American Bourbon (depending on your taste), then an aromatic bitter like Angostura bitters, Vermouth (Sweet or Dry) buy that in smaller quantities as it starts to turn after a couple of weeks, and then... some kind of sugar syrup.
What people think is okay to do in a bar sometimes is so weird...
I like cane sugar, it won’t be as processed as a caster or white sugar. I make my own syrup out of that with one part sugar to two parts water and it will keep for a couple of weeks. With those ingredients you could make a lot of the classics.
Which booze is the most versatile?I mean… obviously something like Gin will be more of a blank canvas. I’m a Whiskey lover and Irish Whiskey is a huge part of the DNA of the bar, so I might pick that. There’s so many types of it and there’s so much innovation going on too with blending it in different barrels.
Is there a favorite life hack you learned at your job?Like I was saying before, owning your shit and humility is a big one for me. It maybe isn’t a “hack”, but it might be the best life lesson out there. You can’t take yourself too seriously.
What's the craziest anecdote you're willing to share with us?There are a lot of wild things that happen in bars, I guess the lighthearted moments, which I’m sure a lot of bartenders go through, are with people trying to steal stuff. We have these beautiful huge carved ice cubes, and it’s just hilarious after people have had a few too many drinks and try to slip one in their bag. And whenever I see someone, I’m like “where do you live… Queens? That thing is going to be a puddle when you get home!” What people think is okay to do in a bar sometimes is so weird...
What are your passions outside the world of Spirits?Well, anyone that knows me knows that I’m a bit of a workaholic (I’m trying to be better about that!) Recently I’ve got back to reading again, I love history books for example and documentaries as well.
What would you be doing if you weren't a bartender?If I wasn’t a bartender hmm… I studied business management and finance at school but I wasn’t sure about that. I’m definitely a social person, so I’d want to be around people. I thought I might be a physician's assistant at some point, maybe something along the lines of that - although I’m not sure I have the stomach for it!
Tell us what's your favorite tool of the trade and why.I guess my ice pick. I had never really hand carved ice before working at the Dead Rabbit, and when I arrived I started to build that skill and now it’s something I really love. Everyone stinks at it before they practice - the new challenge was great for me.
Fast-forward five years. Where do you see yourself?It’s really important to me to hold other people up and help them to shine. I think it’s my time to do that for others, knowing that other people did that for me. Also I would hope that we have at least three more Dead Rabbits by then, and would love to have some more books out as well.
When I was old enough to finally get behind the bar I fell in love with it.
We have a book called Paddy Drinks coming out too, inspired by my time at Death & Co when I made a selection of Irish Whiskey only cocktails, to showcase the category. We pitched that section of our menu and the publishers loved it, so that will be out soon.
I guess in five year’s time I should also have learnt how to have a little bit more work life balance, I definitely hope to have mastered delegation by then!
A Genie tells you to pick someone to fix a drink for; dead or alive, real or fictional. Who would it be?I would have really liked to have met Anthony Bourdain and make him some drinks. Well, rather have drinks with him and talk about his life and travels!
Cover Image Source: Dead Rabbit NYC Facebook