By Brian Samuels
One may wonder how business partners Meaghan Sinclair and Harmony Dawn Kelly remain so chipper. But when you realize they spend their days developing cocktail recipes, well, it all makes sense.
Their company, Booze Époque (pronounced ay-poke, it means “era” or “time period” in French), is a “traveling high-end bartending service.” The idea came to them at Burning Man. Yes, that Burning Man; the wild, weeklong event held every year where attendees create their own mini city out in the Black Rock Desert of Nevada.
It all started in 2010 when Meaghan was invited to guest bartend at a Burning Man camp called The Petting Zoo.“Burners would just bring whatever ingredients they had lying around their camp and we would make drinks with a plethora of really strange ingredients. It was such a fun and creative experience that I wanted to repeat it again the following year but at my own camp,” Meaghan explains.
The following year at the event, her husband, a computer programmer, created a vintage video game arcade. Meaghan and Harmony, who had been friends for a number of years and had been going to Burning Man since 2001, spent a couple thousand dollars on liquor and created their own bar. Attendees brought their mixers over and the two of them mixed cocktails out of whatever was available. As Harmony describes, the bar got quite a crowd, at one point reaching a couple hundred people.
“It was next to one of the biggest music camps, so it had tons of foot traffic. Throughout the week donations of mixers and miscellaneous bottles of everything, from Prosecco to rum, kept coming. Eventually, batching cocktails for 25-50 people at a time became effortless.”
After everything died down and they had a chance to relax, they began thinking about developing something similar in Boston.
“We realized we were having just the best time. We wondered why no one was doing a sort of pop-up bar in Boston and decided to give a mobile bar fueled by homemade ingredients a try. That is how Booze Époque began to take shape,” Harmony recalls.
Meaghan, a former band manager who lives in Cambridge, and Harmony, a tarot card reader and massage therapist, were able to get things going with the help of funding and “emotional support” from Meaghan’s husband. In April 2012, they were ready to launch.
Since its inception, Booze Époque has been hired to cater a variety of events, from garden parties to weddings, art gallery exhibits, and rock concerts. Syrups, bitters, and shrubs are made from scratch. And, as much as possible, Meaghan and Harmony rely on local ingredients. Produce for fresh juices are purchased from farmers markets and they source flavored salts, sugars, and teas from the Soluna Garden Farm store in Winchester.
Their cocktails are anything but ordinary. Instead of mixing a traditional Old Fashioned, for example, they’ve developed their own spin (what they call the “New England Old Fashioned”) with black walnut bitters, bourbon, brandy maple cranberries, and kumquats. Then there’s their most recent creation: a beet, cardamom, rose water, lemon, and vodka cocktail. It doesn’t sound like those flavors would go well together, but what you get is a drink that’s both earthy and refreshing.
Of course, it’s not easy running a business, even if it involves something as enjoyable as cocktails. They work closely with their clients to develop custom recipes based on the individuals’ likes—their favorite spirits and ingredients. Often the process is quick, but other times it can be arduous.
“We just made eight in the course of three days because we had four events that all wanted custom drinks. That was pretty intense. It’s really variable. Sometimes we have a flavor profile that we follow and nail it on the first try, other times it can take 5, 10, 20 tries to get it right. We never send out drinks we wouldn’t want to drink ourselves, so we try to make them perfectly.”
The other side of Booze Époque’s business is the workshops Harmony and Meaghan teach at Kitchen Inc. in Somerville to those interested in mixology (they also do classes at the Cambridge Center for Adult Education.) Meaghan explains how one of their seminars, “Creating the Signature Cocktail,” is designed to give people a complete understanding of what goes into making a drink.
“We start with a mini cocktail history lesson, move on to a tools tutorial, and then walk our students through a tasting of spirits, bitters, mixers, fruit, juice, and herbs. Then we work with them on creating a cocktail they feel represents their tastes. It’s a lot of fun, but it’s definitely important that all those components come together to get the full picture of what bartending is all about.”
It seems that with the amount of work involved with running their own company, they might not have much time to think about the future. But these two have grand plans for where they’d like to take the business.
“Aside from complete world domination?” Harmony says, jokingly. “We’re working on getting a little TV pilot together. We’d also love to teach more seminars and, eventually, have our own bar. There are so many possibilities. It’s pretty exciting.”
Brian Samuels is a Boston-based food photographer and writer and is the creator of the food blog A Thought For Food (athoughtforfood.net). His work has been featured on Saveur.com and in Bon Appetit, The Wall Street Journal, The Huffington Post, and Edible Boston. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.