Delaware based bartender Daniella Keenan started bartending right at the age of 21.
She started her career as a server before heading behind the stick and has over 20 years in the hospitality industry. She’s been recognized for her work both as a bartender and a pastry chef and uses her unique experience to craft unique cocktails. Recently, she made it to the top 20 finalists in the Indoggo Cocktail competition with her Gin Makes The Tart Grow Fonder cocktail.
What inspired you to become a bartender? Tell us about your background.
I started bartending when I turned 21. I was a server in a TGIFriday’s and got put on the bar when I was old enough. From there, I went on to work in nightclubs in New Orleans, LA, and moved back to Delaware in my later twenties. I spent about five years working as an executive pastry chef in a few local kitchens and eventually went back to bartending. Becoming a bartender wasn’t really an inspired choice. I continued to do it was because it became a part of me. My brain is writing recipes all the time, and I can’t imagine ever not being behind the bar.
Where do you tend bar now? What makes it unique? Distinctive drinks, décor, a certain vibe?
I work in Newark, Delaware at a brunch themed restaurant called Eggspectation. It is sort of unique in the area because it is the only brunch location with a full bar that runs morning to night. The vibe is very fresh, modern, and just a little bit bougie (what brunch isn’t bougie?!). We highlight mimosas and Bloody Mary’s but complement our extensive menu with a unique, seasonal cocktail menu that I had the opportunity to write. We try to find a balance between classic cocktails like the French 75 and fun, quirky sips like the cotton candy mimosa.
Who has been most influential in your development as a bartender? A mentor, a parent, a fellow bartender, and why?
There are a lot of people who have influenced me as a bartender, and I have been doing it for so long and met so many on the way that I don’t think it would even be reasonable to pinpoint a single person. I had a really great “wingman” for a while, a fellow bartender named Mel, who was always pushing me to do more and create and really believed in my talent. I’ve had amazing liquor reps who developed relationships with me and prompted me to enter cocktail competitions all the time, which served to really make me better in a lot of ways. My current managers are important to my development in the ways that they have supported me heavily and given me a lot of extra responsibility on the bar such as handling the liquor order and doing the monthly inventory, calling on me to work extra events and really going above and beyond as managers to make sure my personal life didn’t crumble around me at times. I’m thankful for the people I’ve met along my journey.
Do you have any advice for novice/at home bartenders?
Try everything!! Think of something that sounds good? Just make it. Keep trying stuff until it works. Some of the coolest flavor combinations have come from the most random places and you just gotta try them out to see how they work. Then tweak it. Then tweak it some more. Just try everything.
What is your favorite ingredient right now and why?
Bitters have always been one of my favorite ingredients. They’re underrated and magnificent. They change the entire drink. The difference between an old fashioned and a black walnut old fashioned is just mind blowing. There are so many options, it’s a great way to create balance and it’s often just the thing that’s missing.
How do you go about creating a new cocktail? Is there a specific process or simply a moment of inspiration?
It’s almost always a moment of inspiration. Sometimes I’ll just be lying in bed and different flavors will come into my brain and I just start working it out. Sometimes it’ll be a dish, like, “oh I want to make a cocktail that tastes like this blueberry cobbler here,” or an event theme, like what can I use that tie into this. Once I figure out what I want, then I start thinking of flavor profiles and what goes together. What’s going to make this pop? How can I balance it? Then I make it and I change it and I make it again until it’s perfect.
Do you have a special technique you use or a tip for making a particular drink?
I don’t know that it’s unique or special, but I always use a little more bitter than a recipe calls for, I always use both angostura AND orange bitters in my old-fashioneds, and I always add a little bit of cognac to my espresso martinis to enhance and elevate the coffee.
Where do you see the bartending/cocktail culture headed?
Honestly, I’m happy to say that I feel like this trade is finally starting to get some of the respect it deserves. It used to be all “so when are you getting a real job?” and now it’s cocktail competitions and local bartenders being featured in magazines and cities being judged by their best watering holes. Your city’s best bartenders become some of your favorite people and I think a lot of people are starting to understand there is a skill involved here…when they go home and say “I tried to make this drink exactly the way you told me and it just didn’t taste the same” yea, we know. We’re kind of magical that way. So, I think the culture is just going to get bigger and better, more respected and revered, and I really love that.
Rye Got My Peaches Down in Georgia
By Daniella Keenan
- 2 oz. Green Tea Infused Rye Whiskey
- 1 oz. Domaine De Canton Ginger Liqueur
- 1/2 oz. Star Anise Syrup
- 3 bar spoons Jalapeño-Peach Shrub
- 3/4 oz. Orange Juice
- 4 dashes Peach Bitters
Preparation: Stir all ingredients in a mixing glass with ice and strain over fresh ice. Serve with dehydrated orange slices and peach peel.