For Ashley Akers, becoming a bartender fell into her life.
Originally going to school to study interior architecture, she received a job in Vicenza, Italy as a construction administrator. She realized the job was rather mundane, and exploring the country through wine and food piqued her interest.
She ended up returning to the states, furthering her wine education and knowledge, which led her to a fascination with vermouth and Amari.
“That fascination pushed me toward creating new cocktails using those products as key ingredients, making it a fun project to find a combination of flavors that highlight the unique spirits and allows them to shine through.”
– Ashley Akers
As the beverage director of two of the hottest Italian concepts in Chicago, she knows how to run a successful bar program. She takes a deep dive into the history of regions and draws inspiration from ancient techniques to create killer cocktail lists.
Akers gave us some insight on how to run and create a successful bar program.
Tell us about the bar program at your bar.
Osteria Langhe is a Piedmontese-focused establishment with a predominant emphasis on wine. A byproduct of this famous wine region is the creation of many intriguing vermouths, amaro, and grappa options. So for the bar program, I love incorporating these special ingredients into each cocktail, making them the star of the show.
For Testaccio, a Roman-inspired concept that officially opened in early 2021, we’ve taken a bit more of a historical approach. When planning the menu, I referenced a few culinary books from the Ancient Roman Empire, pulling out unique techniques and ingredients that represented the history and tied them into our menu. For example, The Honey Refresher is a modern interpretation of a drink served to weary travelers making their way across the country. While the original was based around wine and heavily seasoned with black pepper and honey, ours has a bourbon base that’s combined with grapefruit juice, black pepper honey simple syrup, and a spritz of black pepper on top for a deep olfactory experience.
Give other bartenders 3-4 tips for running a successful beverage program.
- Don’t be afraid to fail. Not all recipes will be a success on the first attempt. Know when there’s potential to keep tweaking or when to just move to another idea.
- Find two recipe “taste testers” on your bar staff — one with a palate similar to yours and with one completely opposite of yours. A balance of opinion when testing cocktails is important since your guests may not have the same preferences as you, but having that feedback can show you how to tweak recipes to accommodate everyone.
- Keep recipes consistent by having a written copy of each behind the bar. Having exact measurements on hand means that no matter who is on shift, syrups, shrubs, and all drinks will come out as intended.
What skills come in handy to succeed at your position?
Communication, creativity, and organization. Every busy day behind the bar comes with its own set of struggles when executing orders to the highest degree and keeping customers satisfied, but being communicative with your team, organized with your methods, and ready for creative problem solving keeps everything moving smoothly.
What inspires the cocktails?
Regional favorites and historical touches, as well as seasonal ingredients all, play a factor in the design of drinks. When creating new cocktails, I also try to match flavor profile and texture with the season. For example, I associate egg whites with blankets and coziness in the winter. The fluffy texture envelopes your whole mouth with a pleasant feeling.