Put down the pink margarita. D.C.-based freelance writer Kayleigh Kulp is trying to redefine “girlie” drinks with her recently published book Booze for Babes: The Smart Woman’s Guide to Drinking Sprits Right.
Are women’s drinking habits so different that they need their own book? And what gender stereotypes persist at the bar? Y&H quizzed Kulp on myths about women and booze, where to drink, the city’s best female bartenders, and more. Check out the Q&A below.
Why write a book about drinking specific to women? Do they really drink differently?
I wrote this book because I used to be what I call a creamsicle queen. I’d drink anything anyone put in front of me—bottled margarita mix, whipped cream vodka, whatever. Then I went on a travel assignment to Kentucky and Tennessee, where I visited several whiskey distilleries. I learned to appreciate whiskey, even though I thought it was too strong at first, and eventually learned to adore it.
I came back and wondered why this was such a big deal for me but not for the men in my life. I began delving into the on-again, off-again relationship women have had with the “hard stuff” throughout history, and examining marketing by liquor companies that had genderized our drinks over the years. I also came across all of these amazing women working in the spirits industry who told me what it was like to work in the male-dominated world of liquor.
I knew women could relate to my experiences of feeling lost when it came to liquor and I wanted my fellow broads to feel like they were learning from a friend. So do women really drink differently? Sure they do, by and large, and there are also different expectations for how women drink. Case in point: I just ate at Matchbox on 8th Street SE a few days ago with three girlfriends. Two of them ordered red wines, another a whiskey smash, but I ordered a Yamazaki 12, neat. The waiter smiled and exclaimed something like, “I knew I liked you!” I’d bet he does not say that to his male clientele who order it.
Is there a drinking tip you’d give women that you wouldn’t give men?
No, the tips I give to women would apply to men too, like: Don’t drink only what you think you should be drinking based on advertising and social norms. But those things do seem to inform and shape women’s drinking habits more than those of men, so that’s why I speak to women specifically. Plus, I’m coming at it from experience. Drink what you like, and like it because you truly appreciate it for what it is, too. In the book, I also get into all kinds of more specific tips, such as how to be comfortable going to a bar alone, how to mix business and booze at a bar, and how to order with confidence.
What do you think is the biggest myth about the way women drink?
That we are just not interested in drinking the brown and boozy straight. I don’t think that’s the case at all. I think it’s less common to see because we’ve been exposed to them less and taught that only misbehaving women do that. Therefore it’s not as natural for many women to reach for the neat or on the rocks anejo tequila, brandy or scotch as their go-tos. I hope to change that, though. The book helps readers train their palates to new tastes and flavors, and also the bigger alcohol punch that is hard to get used to if you are a wine drinker.
What got you seriously interested in booze?
When I realized it was truly one of the finer things in life I didn’t know anything about. I also realized that spirits are woven into everything in our lives, from our social and cultural experiences to our celebrations and our sorrows, and our travels. So why not make sure you are always drinking the best? Learning about all of the different nuances and traditions of various spirits is natural extension of one’s curiosity and adventurousness. So go get ’em, girls.
What’s your drink of choice?
I have several, and they are all boozy classics: Manhattan (I love all of the twists on the ingredients you can do, because the proportions are perfect), the Vieux Carre, and Sazerac.
What are five things every woman should have in her home bar?
That’s tough. My bar is overflowing with booze and glassware, the latter of which I collect from vintage and thrift stores. But the five must-haves include a set of elegant, heavy bottomed rocks glasses; a quality bourbon, scotch, or rye; Angostura bitters; a cocktail shaker; and a jigger (preferably with two measures on it).
What are the best bars for babes in the D.C. area?
I think hotel bars are often overlooked as lovely, relaxing places to enjoy handcrafted cocktails. You know, back around the late 19th century, the social politics of drinking began to change. Women were looked down upon for drinking in public or in the presence of men, but it was in hotel bars that ladies were the most welcome, though they remained segregated in different rooms than the men. This started gradual public coed drinking in cabarets, saloons, and other places.
Hotel bars remain comfortable and safe environments to sip and enjoy drinks without feeling pandered or rushed. You can savor and reflect at the same time, whether you go alone or with friends. I really love the Quill at the Jefferson. They sometimes have a pianist, and it’s dark and sultry in there, which makes you feel important and confident. I also found one of my favorite drinks there, the Bitter & Boozy, which is a combination of dark rum, cognac, and amaro. The Mandarin Oriental’s Empress Lounge has live jazz on the weekends and very interesting cocktails, and you can comfortably sit at the bar counter of Bourbon Steak in the Four Seasons and bend a bartender’s ear about the dozens of whiskies on the menu. At the Ritz in Georgetown, there are comfy couches by the fire in the lobby, and they bring out s’mores at happy hour.
Do you have any favorite female bartenders locally?
I don’t have bartenders I go to regularly, but there are definitely some ladies in D.C. who do great work and are setting an exceptional example for the craft. These include Caroline Blundell from Ripple, Alexander Bookless of The Passenger, and Rachael Ewing, who is a young, local Scotch expert now at Ri-Ra and formerly of the Jack Rose. And of course there is Gina Cherservani who is committed to fresh and affordable drinks, as well as history and cultural context. Founding Farmers has a great staple of kickass female bartenders too; several of them came to a whiskey tasting I did at Graffiato and they were really fun and engaging, and clearly passionate about their work.
Where is your book available?