Sarah Jackson: Mover and Shaker
The Fastest Female Bartender in New England
The Portland Hunt & Alpine Club’s Sarah Jackson, 33, had not planned on being a bartender at all, let alone the fastest female bartender in New England.
Jackson moved to Portland with her boyfriend and cat five years ago. She’d completed culinary school and tried her hand working the lines in several Maine restaurant kitchens. But she found that neither the pay nor the level of customer interaction with the patrons—part of the restaurant world she loves—was as high as she needed. So she moved to the front of the house.
While waiting tables at Hunt & Alpine—an establishment nationally recognized as one of the best cocktail bars in the country—owners Briana and Andrew Volk asked Jackson if she would like to try her hand at bartending. She did.
“They literally taught me everything I know about bartending. They took a chance on me, and [three years later] I think it [has] worked out pretty well for everybody,” says Jackson.
She might be understating her success. In early March, Jackson won Speed Rack, a female-only, high-speed bartending competition: 32 female bartenders from all over New England, four judges, and a crowd of 500 fans packed into the Royale Night Clubin Boston. LyAnna Sanabria, a bartender at Chaval in Portland’s West End neighborhood, came in second place. Jackson’s win was supposed to advance her to a national competition, but coronavirus concerns made that impossible.
Speed Rack, named for the well that holds the bottles a bartender will use throughout cocktail service, is designed to highlight the up-and-coming generation of women in the spirits industry and support breast cancer research, education, and prevention. The bartenders must make one of 79 cocktails randomly called out by the judges. The ladies make the drinks as fast as they can, with five minutes to replenish their wells in between. The judges taste every single cocktail—hundreds in total—to determine each tender’s accuracy. “They sip and they spit,” Jackson explains.
It was exhilarating, she says, and “a wonderful way to bring women together for a good cause.”
Jackson estimates there are between 50 and 75 female bartenders in Portland. There is a sisterhood among them: They visit each other’s bars on off nights; they become friends; they have potluck dinners monthly. “You work so much in this industry that who you work with becomes your family,” she says.
Prior to the competition, Jackson practiced for weeks with these female bartending friends. They filled empty bottles with water and took turns getting behind the bar.
“Setting up a well for speed and then immediately making drinks is a lot to wrap your head around when you only have a few minutes, so to have other people’s opinions [about the process] is so helpful,” she says.
Jackson attributes her success at Hunt & Alpine to a mixed male and female management hierarchy. “Where there are [only] men in charge at a bar or restaurant,” she says, “it can be difficult to grow [as a female].”
Jackson is reasonably confident that when social distancing orders are relaxed, she will be back behind the bar, moving and shaking as quickly as possible. In the meantime, she is hanging out at home, perfecting classic and new drinks alike.
Rosie DeQuattro is a freelance writer and regular contributor to Edible Maine and, formerly, to Edible Boston. She loves to tell the stories of the dedicated and passionate men and women of Maine who produce our food, and about what it takes to get it to our plates.