Carlie Steiner knows cocktails. The 24-year-old Virginia Beach native graduated in 2012 from the prestigious Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, N.Y., with a bachelor of professional studies degree in culinary arts management. The Washington resident launched her career in the nation’s capital, helping to open the cocktail lab Barmini by superstar chef José Andrés in 2013.
For two years, Steiner was a craft bartender at Barmini as well as the adjacent Minibar restaurant in D.C.’s Penn Quarter neighborhood, both part of Andrés’ fine dining concept company ThinkFoodGroup.
In 2014, Steiner and her business partner Liz Ball founded Stir Bartending Co., which specializes in craft cocktail catering for private events in the Washington area.
Between mixing drinks and preparing for Winter Storm Jonas, Steiner talked to us about working for Andrés, the state of D.C.’s bartending scene and her favorite cocktail.
What’s the story behind Stir Bartending Co.?
I had gotten a ton of requests to do private parties and requests from friends and friends of friends to come and bartend their events. I was just coming into something that was already set up and I was noticing that it’s just the same old thing every time you go to an event. You get your vodka sodas, your gin and tonics, your rum and cokes, couple of beers and wines. And there’s nothing wrong with that. But I wanted to offer a service where you had a different choice. You could do something really personal. Something really special. And so we started a craft cocktail catering company.
Can you talk about Variations on a Theme?
Variations on a Theme is where I get to get back behind the bar, and it’s so fun. Essentially I will take a classic cocktail — the first one of the series was an Old Fashioned — and then I’ll do anywhere from seven to 10 variations of an Old Fashioned. Sometimes that means it’s still whiskey-based, but using different modifiers and different bitters, and other times that means I can do a play on a tequila Old Fashioned, mezcal Old Fashioned, rum Old Fashioned, things like that. And then it’s kind of an educational thing … it’s cool because people get to come in and learn about the history of the Old Fashioned.
What was it liking working for José Andrés?
It was absolutely incredible. I have only good things to say about working for ThinkFoodGroup. I had never really seen myself going in any sort of corporate direction at all, and for my first somewhat corporate-like experience it was outstanding. I have a ton of respect for José as a chef, but also as a businessman. I just think that he really changed the way that D.C. eats and I think that’s really important. He’s the reason that a lot of younger chefs are able to do what they’re doing today because he set the ground that ‘hey, D.C.’s a food scene and now everybody can play.’
What are your thoughts on D.C.’s bartending scene?
D.C.’s bartending scene is, in my opinion, one of the most incredible scenes to be a part of because there’s something that I found here that I don’t see in other scenes. There’s so much collaboration here in D.C., and that’s something that separates us and it allows us to actually grow faster. That attributes a lot to why we’ve grown so fast as a food and cocktail scene. We are able to work together and play off of each other, instead of it being totally cutthroat competition.
Do you have a favorite D.C. watering hole?
I recently moved to the neighborhood of Park View, which is just south of Petworth, and I would say my new favorite D.C. bar would be Petworth Citizen. It does happen to be where I do the Variations on a Theme in a bar called the Reading Room, which is actually inside Petworth Citizen. It’s like a bar in a bar.
What is your favorite cocktail?
That’s really hard for me. Honestly, I don’t really have a favorite cocktail. But if I had to choose I would choose the Old Fashioned.
Where do you see the craft cocktail movement going?
I see it leveling out a little bit. Cocktail bars are popping up everywhere in D.C. and that’s awesome and I don’t really see that dying any time soon. I think that’s here to stay. Classic cocktails are here to stay. Some of the more crazy things we’ve seen like some of the more avante garde or molecular-based cocktails, I don’t think that those are going to last too long. That’s a little bit more of a fad than a staple. But I definitely see this resurgence of cocktails sticking around for a while.
What is the most memorable experience you have had bartending?
I don’t know if I can pinpoint it to one exact situation. But I do know that some of my best memories of bartending are still at Minibar and Barmini. What we were able to do there was so cool and personalized and I’ve really carried that on to my company, to Stir.