Tracey Mellon is a bartender at American Whiskey in New York.
Better Bartending: You just won the New York leg of Drambuie’s 2nd annual Modern Classics. Is this your first cocktail contest or have you competed in others?
Tracey Mellon: This was in fact my first competition. After I joined the U.S. Bartender’s Guild, and I started bartending at American Whiskey, I was heavily exposed to the cocktail competition world and immediately wanted to take part.
I also grew up doing dance competitions and have degrees in both dance and musical theater. I felt that doing a cocktail competition would give me the ability to use my training in the arts and my passion for creating cocktails all in one. It seems to have worked out—so far so good!
BB: What do you think made your cocktail, Peni For Your Thoughts, a winner? I went with my gut and loved what I had to present. I chose to use Montelobos mezcal for the smoking element of the classic Penicillin cocktail, normally provided by an Islay scotch.
TM: My reason for using Ancho Reyes chile liqueur was, “why not?!” I enjoy a bit of spice, so I hoped other people would as well. I threw in a small amount of fresh pressed ginger juice to get instant bright heat and the ginger flavor showcased in the classic.
Finally, I realized that not using lemon juice and substituting it with orange bitters and expression from a lemon peel gave the impression that there was citrus in it by the smell. But once tasted, not having fresh lemon made the Drambuie the star.
BB: What advice can you give bartenders about mixing with liqueurs?
TM: Learn as much as possible. I’ve joined this amazing community of like-minded people who have helped me learn so much and become educated on so many liqueurs through tastings, workshops and events. I’m proud of myself for working hard and dedicated many hours in a short amount of time to grow and succeed.
If you like certain flavors together, play around and do spins on classics. If you like the end result, awesome! If it sucks, change it up. But always remember that not everyone is going to love it. Never take it personally, everyone has a different pallet.
Tasting drinks is subjective, and if someone doesn’t like a drink that you love, it doesn’t mean you failed. Look to your mentors for help and guidance; knowledge is always useful.
When it comes to playing around and pleasing a customer, start out by ask what flavors they are craving and what base liquor they prefer. The more you communicate, the more likely you are able to made something they will enjoy.
BB: What are some of the trends you’re seeing at American Whiskey—what’s popular with guests?
TM: Since we are very whiskey heavy, I’m asked on a regular basis to make spins on Old Fashioneds and Manhattans. I’m very thankful to work behind a bar has so many different liqueurs, bitters, fresh juices and infused syrups that we can have fun with while giving our customers a great experience. Also, I don’t see the classic beer and shot combo dying anytime soon.
BB: As part of the Modern Classics prize, you’re going to Scotland to explore Drambuie’s roots. What are you most excited about seeing or doing?
TM: I am looking forward to gaining knowledge and memories. Getting to travel with the winners from all over the country and Vance (Drambuie’s brand ambassador Vance Henderson) will be filled of so much history.
I spoke with my amazing friend, Stefanie Bair (who took home the win for New York last year), and she only had positive things to say. I can only imagine it will be a trip of a lifetime and I am so humbled to be given the opportunity.
Peni for Your Thoughts
1 ½ oz. Drambuie 15 Year Old heather honey Scotch liqueur
¾ oz. Montelobos mezcal
½ oz. Ancho Reyes chile liqueur
¼ oz. Ginger syrup
2 dashes Orange bitters
Combine ingredients, shake, strain over a big ice rock and garnish with lemon peel.