Triad Beverage Alliance shakes up the local cocktail scene
A talented and diverse group of Triad bartenders intend to make the service industry better in their cities. The Triad Beverage Alliance, a regional chapter of the United States Bartenders’ Guild, is made up of 226 mixologists, bar managers, brewers and other service and beverage industry workers based in Greensboro, High Point and Winston-Salem.
TBA’s main mission is to expand education within the hospitality space.
“We do things like bartending competitions, service projects and bringing in national brand ambassadors,” said Lentz Ison, general manager at Greensboro’s Dram & Draught.
Service industry workers have long had a reputation for debaucherous behavior, but TBA is working to change that image. In addition to learning about their craft, members discuss issues such as mental health, entrepreneurship and career advancement.
“In other cities, there are more opportunities to grow your career within the hospitality industry—our goal is to showcase that. It’s not about getting drunk and goofing off,” Ison said. “When we go to seminars, we speak on topics like self-help and bringing awareness to a shortage of minority and female representation—the brands show concern for that.”
TBA also emphasizes preventative maintenance, since service industry work can be hard on the body.
“People look at this job as not being concrete, but it can be,” said Rolando Pettigrew, bartender at Dram & Draught. “If you’re in this to make money while you’re in college, that’s cool, but some people don’t have other options. You don’t look at 10 years later when your hip is eroding.”
TBA members also travel to locations near and far to expand their spirits and hospitality knowledge. Since its formation in 2017, members have visited Florida, New York City, Puerto Rico, New Orleans, and Camp Runamok, a bartending “summer camp” in the heart of Kentucky’s famed whiskey trail, among other locations. Members bring back a wealth of knowledge—and cultural flavor—to the Triad. For example, on one expedition, Pettigrew learned more about tiki culture and how it can be perceived as racially insensitive to Pacific Islanders. In response, he created a riff on the classic “El Diablo” tiki drink called the “Devil’s Advocate.” A flavorful concoction of Lunazul Reposado, Sombra Mezcal, blackberry, lemon drop pepper, beet-infused lime juice, ginger syrup and soda topped with charred lime, the drink has become a signature cocktail and is an opportunity to start a dialogue and educate patrons.
Pettigrew and Ison are part of the team at Greensboro’s Dram & Draught, which opened at 300 W. Gate City Blvd. (the corner of Gate City and South Elm Eugene) in September of 2018. Located on the old Brooks Lumber site, the building was formerly Steve’s Automotive. Dram & Draught’s original location is in Raleigh, and another location is slated to open in Durham this year. The bar’s focus is on rare and vintage whiskeys, artisanal beer, and craft cocktails.
“We have over 300 whiskeys, and 80 percent of our sales are craft cocktails,” Ison said.
While Dram & Draught definitely has outstanding cocktails, there’s more to it than meets the eye. This is also a gathering spot for those who don’t drink alcohol. The staff is passionate about creating an environment that doesn’t pressure people—customers or employees—to overindulge. Drinking responsibly is a hallmark of their vibe.
“We are not a bar where you want to come and get drunk,” Ison said. “You can come here if you are pregnant, a recovering alcoholic, or simply have to get up early the next day but want to get out of the house. We have plenty of mocktails and options other than alcoholic drinks. Here, it’s about the atmosphere, the hospitality, the music, the sounds, and the beauty of how all that comes together.”
Pop a squat at Dram & Draught’s bar, and you’re likely to see some new-to-you bottles, including rare varieties. “We definitely have the largest whiskey selection in the Triad,” Ison said. “As long as the vintage whiskeys don’t have a current label and aren’t on the market, we can sell them—some come from auctions, and some come from private collectors. Because of the way North Carolina liquor laws are structured, we spend a lot of time trying to get products that you can’t get anywhere else. We also do some fun stuff like whiskey popsicles, and vodka shots dropped in White Claw.”
Dram & Draught is the first business to activate the corner it sits on, but Ison said that in the future, he hopes to see farmers markets, concerts, pop-ups and more in the location, which runs all the way to Spring Garden Street. In the meantime, he said, they’d like to be an open door to anyone in the hospitality industry who wants to advance their education.
“For customers, we want you to leave with an experience that makes you feel better about yourself from being here,” Pettigrew said. “For those in the industry, we want to challenge everyone to make high-quality products and up the level of service.”
This year marks the 100-year anniversary of Prohibition in the United States, an important benchmark for mixologists everywhere.
“Bartending is one of the oldest occupations in the country—this nation was built on alcohol,” Ison said. “Back in the 1920s, the bartender was upheld in society, and now we are seeing a return to that.”