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Published on April 19th, 2018 | by Darren Paltrowitz


11 Top Mixologists On Working With Cocktail Artist, Great Concerts & Life As A Mixologist

Cocktail Artist is a line of premium cocktail mixes and bar ingredients designed in collaboration with award-winning mixologists from across the United States and the Bahamas. Simply put, the brand has been reinvigorating the mix category by using premium ingredients and having beautifully-designed packaging. Cocktail Artist launched nationally one year ago at Walmart with eight mixes and bar ingredients, and just one calendar year later, there are now seven new mixologists’ products under the Cocktail Artist umbrella; one of them of the participating mixologists is Skyy John, a.k.a. Tipsy Bartender, who has 27 million followers worldwide on social media. In addition, Cocktail Artist is now expanding its distribution to now include many other supermarkets across the country.

On behalf of The Hype Magazine, I had the chance to speak with 11 different acclaimed mixologists who have been working in partnership with Cocktail Artist:

– Vincent Stipo – Restaurant Consultant for MSC Retail
– Bonnie Wilson – Area Manager for Sonoma-based Don Sebastiani & Sons Winery, Founder & CEO of BBB Cocktail Creation Services in Dallas, TX
– Luke Andrews – Founder & CEO of BoomBox Consulting in Chicago, IL
– Darnell Holguin – New York City-based Beverage Director
– Sadiyyah Iddeen – Lead Bartender at Escorpion in Atlanta, GA
– Robert Porter – Head Mixologist at J&G Steakhouse at The Phoenician in Scottsdale, AZ
– Marv Cunningham – Lead Mixologist at Atlantis Paradise Island Resort in Nassau, Bahamas
– Juyoung Kang – Lead Bartender at The Dorsey in The Venetian Resort and Hotel in Las Vegas, NV
– Jen Ackrill – Director of Mixology at Top of Waikiki and Sky Waikiki in Waikiki, HI
– Stephanie Sanchez – Bartender Supervisor at Severino’s Bar and Grill in Santa Cruz, CA
– Tenzin Samdo – Bar Director, and Partner at ArtScience Culture Lab & Bar in Boston, MA

More on Cocktail Artist and its products can be found online at

To you, what is the difference between a bartender and a mixologist? When did you become a mixologist?

Vincent Stipo: “Mixologist” is a term that was developed as the craft of drink-making has been elevated and integrated into concepts over recent years. A “mixologist” must be a great bartender. At its core, I believe any great individual behind the stick will have a rapport and true hospitality, recipes and techniques will always come second.

Bonnie Wilson: A bartender is a steward of an experience. A mixologist should always be a bartender, but not every bartender is a mixologist, and that’s OK! Bartenders are a staple of society, offering a respite from the daily struggles of life. They value service and hospitality they offer can be a laugh or a sympathetic ear. And they do that through the service of tipple, whatever the customer wants, no judgment ever on the ordered drink.

Mixologists dream of ways of combining flavors and textures into something delicious, sometimes exotic, and generally unexpected. They have trained for this craft by first learning the basics of flavor pairings and the structure of classic drinks. A bartender is really more about service and experience than he is about the creativity of drinks. Sure, a bartender can also be a mixologist, but if you don’t understand and love service of others, one is not a true bartender, no matter how many fancy drinks you can make.

Luke Andrews: I think that a mixologist is a subcategory of the umbrella term “bartender,” which is subsequently a subcategory itself under the umbrella of food and beverage service or front of house.

So, to simplify, we are all bartenders, but not all bartenders are mixologists. To be a bartender you must focus on the guest and service is of the utmost importance. You have to be a bartender first because the guest is the most important part. Once you have that down, you can move into training your taste buds and building ingredient knowledge to add onto the abilities that come with the title of mixologist. A bartender should remember your name and drink. A mixologist should remember your name and drink and use that information to offer you other things that you would like. Basically, to use Spotify as an example, a bartender is just picking a song or an album. A mixologist is the “daily recommended playlist based on what you’ve liked and disliked so far.”

Darnell Holguin: I equate the terminology to a kitchen in a restaurant. A mixologist is the executive chef of the bar. Bartenders are the chefs who work the “line” and execute the chef’s recipes. Truthfully, there isn’t a huge difference other than how much education a bartender is willing to give themselves so they can understand the art of mixing cocktails.

Sadiyyah Iddeen: The difference between a bartender and a mixologist is the love of the craft. A bartender tends the bar and usually make drinks in a high-volume venue. A mixologist is a creator who mixes ingredients together that will work together, combining multiple flavors to get a well-balanced cocktail. Mixologists show love for the craft and express it in every cocktail they create. I became a true mixologist when I started using fresh ingredients in every drink and when I learned the art of mixing ingredients with different spirits.

Robert Porter: A mixologist looks at creating a drink just like a chef does by understanding flavor profiles and ingredient pairing. To be a mixologist, you have to become educated about cocktail history and know the processes of creating spirits.

Marv Cunningham: In a beverage world that’s always evolving and with everyone looking for new trends, if you order a Rum & Coke from a bartender or mixologist, it will still be Rum & Coke. However, it’s how that Rum & Coke is prepared that makes the difference. A bartender would be able to transform your experience with mere words, while a mixologist will give you the same drink but they will build your cocktail with precision and finesse. Both have their place behind the bar, and I think you can be both depending on the client, venue and experience you want create. I became a mixologist starting in 2005 when I wanted to offer my customers a unique and different cocktail experience.

Juyoung Kang: A bartender is someone who takes care of the bar. A mixologist is someone who knows the science of mixing beverage related ingredients in a highly-technical form. They have mastered the skill of mixing all things beverage-related. I have always been a bartender. I started about 19 years ago. I started truly making mixologist-level cocktails about 10 years ago. It all started with crappy schnapps and colorful martinis before I moved onto refined and fresh ingredients, which are vital elements of mixology.

Jen Ackrill: I have a friend here on the island that when working events, asks that same question: do you know what the difference between a bartender and a mixologist is? To which he answers: if there was a bartender back here, you would already have a drink in your hand! I feel that we — mixologists — will always refer to ourselves as bartenders who specialize in mixology or “craft” because, at the end of the day, we are just making drinks while we make people happy. This is really what is at the heart of bartending.

Having said that, I started my bartending career with a little white lie in 1997 — I said, in an interview, that I knew how to bartend when in fact, I did not! And then I made the transition to mixology/craft in 2006 in San Francisco at Rye, one of the City’s first craft cocktail bars. Being in San Francisco, at that time, with so many amazing chefs exploring farm-to-table cooking was a natural catalyst for bartenders like myself to get inspired and follow them to the farmers market to bring fresh and local ingredients into our growing arsenal of new and classic cocktail recipes. Today, putting an herb like shiso into a simple recipe of vodka, triple sec and lemon juice seems pretty obvious, but 12 years ago, it was exceptional.

Stephanie Sanchez: A mixologist is really skilled at mixing different combinations of ingredients. A bartender, I would say, tends to mix less complicated drinks. I became a mixologist when I worked at a bar that made skilled/unique cocktails and was able to really expand my knowledge. But I think it is so important to have both skills in the world of mixing. When working behind a bar, you are serving many different people and you have to be able to take care of each individual. Whether it is a fancy or simple drink, you want that customer to be happy and keep coming back for more.

How did the opportunity to work with Cocktail Artist come up?

Vincent Stipo: It was very organic. I have been honored to have worked on some spectacular restaurant projects over my career and been humbled to be recognized by a number of national press outlets with features and awards. Once I was on the radar, Cocktail Artist reached out and shared their vision. It was a perfect match, and I was instantly committed to developing this line that helps the home bartender.

Bonnie Wilson: I have always tried to have a positive and uplifting social media presence and have made a name for myself as a competent mixologist, bartender, and a mentor of others in the service business. The Cocktail Artist team noticed my page when scouting for strong, female artists to feature in the line.

Luke Andrews: Cocktail Artist reached out to me through Twitter, of all places. They needed someone to help formulate their lime juice bar ingredient so that it could stand up to real cocktails. We went back and forth for a while until it was right. As a bartender, my word is very important. If I claim that this is a good product, it has to be good. I dig it so much that I let them put my face on the bottle!

Darnell Holguin: Cocktail Artist works with some of the best mixologists and bartenders in the country to guarantee a great tasting mixer. I’ve been blessed with having become the East Coast Regional Champion for Bacardi Legacy. Winning that competition brought forth this opportunity.

Sadiyyah Iddeen: I was introduced to the Cocktail Artist family when I was named the top 5 black bartenders in Atlanta.

Robert Porter: I was discovered by Cocktail Artist. I am a former graphic designer, so I love to create on many different levels. As a bartender I had a few blogs written about me, I was also featured for a Super Bowl segment on mocktails. In 2016, I won the Arizona Star Bartender award and a great filmmaker shot a story about me that featured my mixology as well as my art.

Marv Cunningham: I received an email from a gentleman at Cocktail Artist asking if I would be interested in assisting with the development of a Blue Curaçao Syrup. It was a no-brainer!

Juyoung Kang: After Cocktail Artist reached out to me and we started talking, it was that simple and it happened organically. After tasting the samples, I started tweaking the elements involved, and working back and forth on the final product.

Jen Ackrill: Cocktail Artist reached out to me about participating, and I had several friends that had done the first production. They all said that it was such a great experience and that I should definitely do it, so here I am! It’s been really amazing to get to collaborate on all of the details of the production, from what goes into the syrup all the way to the design of the bottle.

How would you describe your mix collaboration with Cocktail Artist?

Vincent Stipo: The mule mix was an obvious choice for me. Ginger is one of my favorite ingredients to work with, and I knew helping to develop the mule mix would be the best fit for both sides. It has been fun to share some simple builds using this mix, and exciting to play around with new recipes as well!

Bonnie Wilson: I wanted to collaborate on a syrup that really held the original essence of what grenadine is supposed to be — a pomegranate-based syrup — not bright red, not cherry flavored, and not artificial tasting. The Cocktail Artist team and I worked closely on this. They sent me a number of samples, and I sent back notes on each, we did this several times and we finally came to a mix that was satisfying and exciting to everyone involved!

Luke Andrews: I have had a blast working alongside Cocktail Artist. It’s a neat group to be a part of. Living in Chicago, I am stoked to help get these products into my local liquor stores and grocery stores. In terms of the product itself, I think that the lime juice is a cornerstone product. I am proud to be “the lime guy.”

Darnell Holguin: Cocktail Artist’s Sweet & Sour is a fantastic mixer that makes creating a cocktail much easier for the at-home bartender. I worked at a high-volume cocktail bar years ago where we would make a fresh house sour mix. It helped with speed and efficiency and always guaranteed a balanced cocktail for our guests, so they can spend more time enjoying the party. Cocktail Artist and I were looking to recreate that and I really think we did!

Sadiyyah Iddeen: My collaboration with cocktail-artist simple syrup is? I wanted to display a syrup that is organic and made with agave nectar with 0% fat without breaking the bank.

Robert Porter: My Cocktail Artist Manhattan Mix takes the guesswork out of making the perfect Manhattan cocktail. I was given a chance to create multiple recipes using my mix as well as help to set the proportions and styles of other Cocktail Artist products.

Marv Cunningham: It’s been an awesome opportunity to collaborate with Cocktail Artist, and I am confident that it’s the best quality mixer on the market.

Juyoung Kang: Being in Las Vegas, I believe the mint syrup I helped to create with Cocktail Artist is a perfect fit because our summers are becoming one giant party, and no party by the pool is complete without a mojito!

Jen Ackrill: Working with the team at Cocktail Artist has been fantastic. They have been super-helpful with any changes or updates to the flavor profile ensuring that the triple sec syrup is the best expression of bright orange and subtle sweetness that it can be. Making the product with cane sugar and natural ingredients is so important to me because I have been not only crafting cocktails with my triple sec, but I’ve also been using it as a substitute for sugar and citrus in soups, vinaigrettes, and cookies.

Cocktail Artist collaboration aside, what is coming up for you work-wise?

Vincent Stipo: My main gig is restaurant brokerage and consulting for MSC Retail, a boutique commercial real estate firm here in Philly. It gives me a great platform to provide all sorts of consulting, with beverage as a focus, to expanding or new restaurant groups across the country.

Bonnie Wilson: I have a number of cool projects coming up with some of my consulting clients. We are launching a brand-new 100% agave tequila in Texas in April. We are thinking about holiday cocktails — already! — and I have a number of private events like bachelorette parties and weddings coming up!

Luke Andrews: I have a few consulting gigs coming up, and I am constantly writing and doodling over on I can’t say much but my wife and I are in the starting phases of opening our own spot. Think like a small bed and bar. We won’t make you breakfast but we will make you a nightcap! We’ve always been attached to hospitality. She’s got the back-of-house locked down and the front office business sense. I just make good drinks!

Darnell Holguin: I have recently become a Leblon Specialist. This means I get to go to bars and talk to amazing people about Cachaça, the national spirit of Brazil. It’s an exciting new opportunity.

Robert Porter: I am currently the head Mixologist at J&G Steakhouse A premier restaurant located at the Phoenician resort. I am also collaborating with Celebrity Cruises To work this summer. However, I will be returning to the Phoenician in the fall.

Sadiyyah Iddeen: My upcoming venture will include a mixture of innovative technology and common sense of sight, meaning that my line of bar tools will aid with the customer experience. In closing, I have been blessed to meet amazing people that have allowed me to grow and prosper so that I can be a great wife to my husband and our children. I love my ability to listen to others and know I was a positive influence in their day

Tenzin Samdo: I’m very excited about my new bar project, ArtScience Culture Lab & Bar. We are a sustainable bar, meaning we have not used a single plastic straw since July of last year. Nothing gets wasted from citrus, to fruits, eggs, etc. All of the bar ingredients that go unused are turned into other ingredients like Oleo sacrum, dehydrated citrus dust, candies and garnishes. We even have a robot running around my bar delivering a sensorial cocktail flavor cloud. Our cocktail program is based on an altitude and every one of our cocktails are inspired by endangered species.

Marv Cunningham: Besides being a Mixology Judge at the Taste of the Caribbean Competition, June 22nd – 26th in Miami Florida, which is the largest showcase of Caribbean Culinary Cuisine and Cocktails. I will be traveling throughout the Caribbean hosting Mixology Workshops.

Juyoung Kang: I am working on opening another bar at The Venetian in Las Vegas. I’m also in the middle of finishing my business plan and traveling to get inspiration for new cocktails.

Jen Ackrill: I have a cool little project here on the island that I can’t quite mention specifically yet, but you can follow me on Instagram to see what pans out!

What was the last concert you attended for fun?

Vincent Stipo: I just saw Tennis play live, then proceeded to buy all of their vinyl AND got them signed by the lead singer. Boom.

Bonnie Wilson: Just went to Lorde last night and she was AMAZING. Love her!

Luke Andrews: My apartment looks over Grant Park, so I mostly get a muffled echo of all the summer festivals. We don’t head out much for music. We don’t like being too far from the kitchen!

Darnell Holguin: I got lucky recently when one of my friends asked if I wanted to attend a Damian Marley concert. The best part is that it turned out to be a Hot 97-sponsored concert. It was incredible and Damian Marley lit the space up!

Tenzin Samdo: Michael Franti.

Robert Porter: The Deftones last summer. They rock!

Marv Cunningham: The last concert I attended for fun was the Hennessy Artistry concert that was held in The Bahamas that featured Mavado & Torey Lanez.

Stephanie Sanchez: Last concert that I attended was a show by The Expendables opening for Snoop Dogg. I had backstage passes, and it was so fun to be up close and personal checking it all out!

Jen Ackrill: Living on a teeny island in the middle of the ocean like Waikiki doesn’t allow for many artists to stop over for concerts, BUT Duran Duran made an appearance just before Christmas and I had some free time in my schedule to go check them out. I think everyone here is hoping that Beyonce and Jay-Z will work us into their schedule!

Finally, any last words for the kids?

Vincent Stipo: Last words? Find the artist inside you? haha. Go get Cocktail Artist Mule Mix. Now!

Bonnie Wilson: I am very proud to have been chosen to associate with the Cocktail Artist line, I think what they have done in creating at-home mixes that are actually of a great quality and flavor is really revolutionary to the home mixologist. I think it only enhances the cocktail culture in America!

Luke Andrews: Check out the new Cocktail Artist mixes! They are super-rad. The people that have joined the Cocktail Artist family are the real deal. I am excited and honored to be included in this extremely talented group!

Darnell Holguin: To all the dreamers and go-getters out there, keep the hustle alive.

Robert Porter: What I love most about my profession is the people I meet, and the personal challenges to create and express my creativity as an artist.

Marv Cunningham: I am honored to be a part of the Cocktail Artist family and super excited to encourage the at-home Bartender to make their favorite glass their canvas. I also think that ensuring that your customer who has entrusted you with their palate has an excellent, unmatched, quality cocktail experience.

Stephanie Sanchez: I am very fortunate to love what I do, whether it is pouring a good shot of tequila, mixing up something complex or pouring at home, it is just important to have fun with it!

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About the Author

Darren Paltrowitz is a New York resident with over 20 years of entertainment industry experience. He began working around the music business as a teenager, interning for the manager of his then-favorite band Superdrag. Since then, he has worked with a wide array of artists including OK Go, They Might Be Giants, Mike Viola, Tracy Bonham, Loudness, Rachael Yamagata, and Amanda Palmer. Darren's writing has appeared in dozens of outlets including the New York Daily News, Inquisitr, The Daily Meal, The Hype Magazine, All Music Guide, Guitar World,, Businessweek, Chicago Tribune, L.A. Times, and the Jewish Journal. Beyond being "Editor At Large" for The Hype Magazine, Darren is also the host of weekly "Paltrocast With Darren Paltrowitz" series, which airs on dozens on television and digital networks. He has also co-authored 2 published books, 2018's "Pocket Change: Your Happy Money" (Book Web Publishing) and 2019's "Good Advice From Professional Wrestling" (6623 Press), and co-hosts the world's only known podcast about David Lee Roth, "The DLR Cast."

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