Shannon Mustipher wants you to taste more rum. The head bartender at Brooklyn’s Caribbean restaurant Glady’s and representative for Denizen has been running around town consulting on menus, developing recipes and generally getting the city’s populace more excited about rum cocktails.
Between her own bar’s Tiki specials and regular menu, pop-ups with Szechuan fast-food makers Strange Flavor at bakery-bar Butter & Scotch, and speaking about rum at the Museum of Food and Drink, Mustipher has been working hard for something she only started to get into a few years ago.
“I have a thing for Daiquiris,” she tells the bartender at Prospect Heights’ neighborhood bar Erv’s on Beekman, where we’re discussing how quickly Atlanta native and Rhode Island School of Design-educated Mustipher has become the area’s go-to rum expert.
He makes her one with Denizen, and she reminds me of that eternal truth: You can always tell good bartenders, and rums, from bad ones in a Daiquiri. Here, we have a good one, which bodes well for the bar’s Tiki week.
Mustipher has been working in hospitality off and on for a decade. Her love for the industry began, she says, when she was a barista and could tell by the color of an espresso shot being poured how it would taste.
But it was a lie at one of her restaurant jobs that got her behind the stick. “I wasn’t prepared, but I did get one shift,” she says. “And from there, I begged myself into other people’s bars.” That began two years of what she calls “cobbling it together” before landing at Glady’s, where she redeveloped its brunch cocktail menu and eventually became the director of the bar program.
That was when she had to expand her knowledge of rum beyond the major bottles and build a selection of around 50, where English, Spanish and agricoles are all represented.
“In New York, there are maybe eight bottles of rum that you’ll usually see,” she says.
Getting thrown into the category proved a way for her to use her painting and art history education—something she thought she’d given up in favor of bartending.
“When I’m creating cocktails, I think of my backbar as a palette, or a color wheel, or a gray scale to work from,” she says. “Meanwhile, presentation is really important, and as I got more into working with rum and Tiki as a whole, it became so theatrical. I got to tap into the storytelling element, the styling element. It felt like it was really helpful to be coming from that place while making drinks.”
At Glady’s, she has built one of the best selections in New York to reflect the Caribbean heritage of the neighborhood, where residents traditionally came from Jamaica, Trinidad and Guyana. That provided the base of English-style rums. Her desire to show the breadth of the category, though, led her to tasting more than 200 rums in her first month there, giving herself a crash course in all the different styles. “It was about diversity, the neighborhood and quality,” she says.
“How many whiskey or bourbon or scotch drinks do you want to make before you feel a little hemmed in?” she asks of why there has been increased interest, not to mention too many Tiki nights happening in the city to count.
“We’ve seen a move away from the age of a serious buttoned-up mixologist,” she says. “There’s a place for that; I enjoy that from time to time. But after a decade, I want to have fun. I don’t want to feel like I have to be all hushed when I have my drink.”
For bartenders who want to throw more fun in the form of rum onto their menus, the best advice Mustipher can give is to try every bottle you can get your hands on. “If you’ve only had 10, then you really don’t understand the category,” she says.
“You can make rum anywhere in the world.” From the sugar cane to the cultural approach, the spirit can’t be pinned down. What’s the only certainty in rum, according to Mustipher? That Daiquiri test.