My name is Megan Campbell. I’m the course coordinator and head mixologist over at Lucidi Distilling co. The titles are mostly made up for now, but I think it still counts. When I first started bartending about 2 years ago it was a steep upward climb. I didn’t start drinking until after I was 21 and even then only rarely and not with much finesse. After I had been bartending for a while (and became slightly less terrified all the time) I began to wonder more about what was really in all these bottles. Why did people cringe at Popov? Why would some people only drink Grey Goose or maybe some would claim Goose was vastly overpriced? (Answered, BTW) I sought to answer these questions through internet research and looking at what companies said about themselves. I learned the differences in styles and techniques and what some people valued versus others. This helped me immensely in being able to make recommendations to people but it wasn’t quite enough.
As I began to study cocktails in depth and became exposed to the world of different flavors and combinations I was overwhelmed. There were so many options and so many of them didn’t make any sense at all and how were bartenders supposed to remember all of those recipes anyways? Eventually I realized that when the drinks or the liquors had stories behind them I could remember them so much better. If I learned why and how an old fashioned came into being, it had so much more value to me and I began to understand why people made them the way they did.
As a former history major, this wasn’t very surprising to me, but what was surprising was how much depth and complexity and passion there was to the history of making alcohol. It was one that tied in very deeply with the things that I had loved studying in college: the traditions and inter-community relations and behaviors that defined mankind as one race. The creation of alcohol is akin to bread making or music or dancing. It was a fundamental part of human development and a fundamental piece of the cultures that we all came from. It completely fascinated me the way that alcohol was woven through our more mainstream history; that it was alternately rejoiced and reviled; that this industry we take for granted today that’s so ubiquitous and massive could have such rich and profoundly human roots.
As I dove into this new passion I began to talk about it with my customers and my family and sometimes complete strangers… while I was usually greeted with mild interest or fun (often inaccurate) stories, sometimes I found myself deep in discussion with people who have been asking the questions I now had answers to. I found people whose interest was sparked and whose curiosity piqued at the idea of knowing so much more about what was in their glass.
This past Monday, the day after Christmas, I taught ‘Built on Booze, A History of Alcohol’, my very first course here in the distillery. I was terrified. I was nervous. I was excited. I was a little bit queasy. There were questions like… “Is the food going to be good enough?” “Will everyone arrive on time?” but so much more than that I kept asking myself “Will people actually have fun listening to me?” To keep you from dying of anticipation, Yes, people did appear to have a lot of fun at the class and the food was great and too many people arrived on time which was a better problem to have than the opposite. Not going to lie, it was a rocky start… I said too many “Umm”s and “Okay”s and just a few too many “Fuck”s but overall it was a really great start to something I never really dreamed I would be doing.
In high school I planned an event that I put a lot of work into and it ended up being a spectacular failure and everyone blamed me, since I was the only one who really worked on it. In the days before the class I was overcome by the fear that I would once again have planned an event that people really didn’t want to be at. I’ve come so far and changed so much in the last two years but it’s still hard for me to shake the feeling that I shouldn’t be here. I hear a voice in the back of my head saying that this is the kind of life someone else would lead. This is the kind of class a real bartender teaches, not me. These made up titles cant possibly be mine, I’m just Megan.
Every day I get a little bit closer to accepting that this is the person I want to be and this is the person I’ve worked to be. Every day I realize a little more that the things that I know and the things that I can do make me interesting and fun and that I deserve to have the fancy titles I’ve dreamed of. I’m nowhere near done with my journey and I really don’t know where it will take me but I know that if I keep being me, there will always be people that love that and will support me.
P.S. I’ll let you know when the next class is… I’ll let the whole damn world know when the next class is.
Featured Photo: Author and teacher can be seen closing her eyes because I literally can’t look good in a picture taken at work. Photo taken by Alan Hall