In our My Gin Life series this week we meet Natasha Bahrami, a US-based bar owner and gin educator and a recent inductee to our Hall of Fame. From her world-renowned venue in St. Louis, The Gin Room, to her educational Ginworld platform and her role with the Museum of Distilled Spirits, Natasha is on a mission to share as much information as possible about our beloved juniper spirit with American drinkers.
Gin Magazine (GM): Tell us how you got into the gin industry.
Natasha Bahrami (NB): I was actually in Washington DC working my day job in what I thought was my passion in foreign policy, research and advising. What I found myself doing in my ‘free time’, however, was bartending at every bar I could. At one point I was working at three different bars, including one sushi cocktail bar where I stubbornly convinced the management to allow me to host a gin night every Sunday. I had been diving into gin for so long, I started to crave a more formal outlet to share the passion.
GM: How did you come to found The Gin Room, and later Ginworld?
NB: I’m full of crazy, outside-of-the-box ideas. I’ve never followed the road most travelled, or even one that was paved. I had come to realise my years of obsession with gin – reading, tasting, experiencing, educating – had taken hold and I wanted to find an outlet where I could expose a larger demographic to the category of gin. Perhaps the most outlandish idea I’ve had to date was to leave a cushy corporate job and open a gin bar in the beer and Bourbon capital that is Midwestern St. Louis, Missouri. Despite the many obstacles, opening The Gin Room was perhaps the most fulfilling challenge I’ve ever attempted with the host city of St. Louis becoming a gin powerhouse. Ginworld is a platform of education that grew from the success of St. Louis, cloning the education and penetration model we implemented in St. Louis and taking it to cities around the United States.
GM: A lot of your work in gin has been focused around education – why is this so important to you?
NB: Education is the key to everything we do. Of course we have fun as well, but the real success is watching guests discover their excitement about the category one sip, one cocktail, one encounter at a time. Gin is a very personal spirit. Every gin is not for everyone, yet there IS a gin for everyone if they allow us to listen and customise their experience.
In St. Louis where we started, we had to create an interest, we had to build trust and an experience that was not only memorable but where they wanted to tell their friends and experiment more with the category. We took small steps and educated every person who expressed interest. There is still a lot of confusion and misconceptions about gin and through education we hope to increased demand for the spirit. We connect to our audience through education. We build trust. Our goal is to form a lasting foundation to elevate the category of gin in every city we touch.
GM: Tell us one thing you are proud of in your career, and one thing that you may do differently if you had the chance again.
NB: Lots of deep questions here! I am proud that I was strong enough to take chances (calculated risks, I should say). It’s easier to listen to naysayers shut you down, than to believe in yourself. Only you know what you are capable of. Surround yourself with those who continue to press past their boundaries.
GM: What is the best piece of career/life advice you have been given?
NB: Stop caring what people think. Still working on this one, as it’s extremely difficult in a public facing world. It is important to invite constructive criticism most definitely, but try not to allow yourself to take it personally. We are our own worst critics.
GM: What do you find most exciting about the modern gin industry? What part of the industry should we be watching for interesting developments in the near future?
NB: Gin is as expressive as the people, the industry and the consumers who drink it. The spirit is evolving. Creativity and innovation is seeping into gin bottles as a wider base of distillers in countries around the world are putting their own local spin and native botanicals in their spirits.
GM: Are there any gin producers that you really admire?
NB: The gin industry is exploding with talent. Some of the best distillers in the world are putting their entire passion into their spirits.
GM: If you were a gin style or gin cocktail, what would it be and why?
NB: Oh I’m most definitely a Gibson. I absolutely love cocktail onions, a touch salty, dry but fun, classy and elegant.