With bars and restaurants closed around the country, the feeling of plopping down in a seat at the bar after a long week of work is one many people are missing while living under COVID-19. A good drink is the foundation of many a Friday night, whether it’s a fun night out or a relaxing night in. But few people think about the hands making the drinks. Culture Shakers, a new short film by Storm Saulter aims to tell the little-known history of BIPOC in the cocktail industry by highlighting the Black and Latinx mixologists in Gentleman Jack’s Culture Shakers program.
“Every cocktail comes from somewhere,” said Davíd Leon Jr., a Chicago-based mixologist who could be frequently seen behind the bar at The Walk In in Logan Square.
Leon is Puerto Rican and one of six bartenders from around the country chosen to be a “Culture Shaker.” When making a new drink, Leon loves to call on his Carribean heritage, with many of his go-tos using taíno ingredients. Each Culture Shaker included one of their own original drinks in a virtual cookbook. Leon’s drink is called “Anansi” and uses Gentleman Jack, lime juice, grilled banana cinnamon dem, allspice-infused aquafaba, and Angostura bitters.
The film follows each of the Culture Shakers in their respective cities—from Chicago to Miami to Seattle—as they talk about their personal journeys, their favorite drinks, and what it means to be a mixologist of color in an industry that is still predominantly white.
“My goal was with each city to create a portrait of a mixologist and their city, and they try to embody that in a special cocktail,” Saulter says.
Saulter was born in Negril, Jamaica, and is an award-winning filmmaker. His second feature film, Sprinter, swept the 2018 American Black Film Festival, winning “Best Director,” “Best Narrative Feature,” and the “Audience Award.”
Saulter, Leon, and I speak over a Zoom call on a Friday afternoon. Leon tells me his favorite drink is a daiquiri, while Saulter loves anything with coconut. Saulter says the film is an ode to the cultures that created some of the most popular drinks today, from coquito to rum punch.
“It’s much more about the histories of the individuals and what they’re bringing creatively,” Saulter says. “It’s framing the cocktail as something that is embodying not only flavors, but histories and movements.”
Leon says that he’s often…