In our Rising Stars series, seasoned beverage professionals spotlight five of the most outstanding up-and-comers in their city—and discuss the mark each is making on the drinks scene.
From the outside, Boston may have a reputation as a beer town. A combination of sports-obsessed fans, throngs of college students, and the fact that the city is home to the infamous Samuel Adams and Harpoon brewing companies reinforces that idea. But if you look closer, there’s a thriving cocktail culture, as well as restaurants that pay serious attention to their wine and beer programs, that’s elevating the scene.
Boston is still operating with Puritan-era alcohol laws, however, and grappling with skyrocketing real estate prices as traditionally blue-collar neighborhoods are transformed into affluent enclaves. Small, independent businesses have been forced to set up outside the city limits, and a common industry complaint is that bartenders, servers, and other restaurant professionals can’t afford to live where they work. Fortunately, none of these challenges have changed Boston’s character as a drinking city. If anything, they’ve bred a drinks community more passionate about delivering innovative, more sophisticated experiences—while still recognizing that having fun is the most important part of the equation.
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The Charismatic Newcomer
For Haley Fortier, owner of the bars Haley.Henry and Nathálie, which are focused on natural and small-production wines, the person who most exemplifies Boston’s rising wine talent is Rylee Kirkpatrick, a server at Coppa in the city’s South End. Kirkpatrick impressed Fortier with exceptional hospitality and an intuitive ability to bring guests just the wine they’re asking for, even when they aren’t sure how to ask—a skill even industry veterans don’t always possess. But Kirkpatrick goes beyond just getting the wine right, Fortier says. “Rylee has the ability to take the guest through an experience, from start to finish, in a way that is welcoming, informative, and completely down to earth. That’s really what hospitality is all about—the entire process rather than one single moment,” she says. “It’s hard to find that type of charisma in people. It just makes me want to bottle that person up and use them as an example of how to get through to guests without coming off as pompous, arrogant, or completely detached.”
Only 23, Kirkpatrick has a passion for wine that many people don’t discover until later in their careers. “There are so many iterations of wine and so many different expressions of each grape. I’ve been trying to find myself—I’m ever changing and so is the wine industry,” says Kirkpatrick, who recently enrolled in the introductory course with the Court of Master Sommeliers. “I’ve found a community,” says Kirkpatrick, “that says, ‘Hey, it’s okay if you don’t understand it right now.’ But I love collecting information and knowledge. My nose is always buried in some kind of wine book, and I love imparting wisdom, and I will talk until I’m blue in the face.” Kirkpatrick also says that they take inspiration from Fortier, who showcases women and nonbinary producers in her wine bars. “I want to be a voice for that community,” Kirkpatrick says. “I’m loud and constantly making my presence known, and I want to have that kind of platform available to introduce people to these smaller-production wines.”
The Revolutionary Entrepreneur
Trillium Brewing Company may be one of the biggest names in Boston’s craft beer scene right now, but the brewery’s cofounder, JC Tetreault, says Matty Bailey and Modern Draught—a draft installation, cleaning, and maintenance company—are not just critical to Trillium’s success but are revolutionizing the way that Boston’s best restaurants and taprooms serve beer. “Matty Bailey and the team at Modern Draught have quickly become far and away the best, most comprehensive and holistic group to work with on the all-important last mile of beer service,” Tetrault says. “It’s obvious that the care they take is on a par with the intense devotion for the beer [that] you see from brewers and publicans. They would never take the approach of one size fits all. They’ve got the knowledge and willingness to explore, design, and implement custom, flexible systems that allow us to pour each of our diverse range of beers at a precise temperature and carbonation level and at the speed best suited.”
A home brewer who worked as a chef in Boston for 17 years, Bailey, 39, switched to a front-of-house focus when he realized he didn’t aspire to owning a restaurant. He joined the opening team at Row 34 as a bartender, but after the entire draft system went down on a busy Friday night and they were told they couldn’t get it fixed until Monday, he saw an opportunity. With the help of Kris Crowell, the one person the team found in Boston who was able to help fix the system that night, Bailey created Modern Draught.
“We wanted to work with restaurants on their schedule,” Bailey says. “Then we found out that a lot of people don’t understand the importance of what we do. So we decided to take the idea of line cleaning to the next level by pushing both the education and the technology.” In three years, Bailey and Crowell have expanded the company to 12 employees and amassed more than 300 restaurant and brewery clients in seven states, including several breweries, such as Trillium and Night Shift Brewing, in Massachusetts, Kent Falls Brewing in Connecticut, and Veil Brewing Company in Virginia. “Beer is no longer a second-class citizen,” Bailey says. “For the first time in history, restaurants are spending as much on their beer systems as they are on their wine coolers.”
The Sherry Slinger
With much of Boston’s creative wine culture now focused across the Charles River in places like Cambridge and Somerville, Eileen Elliott of Social Wines wine, craft beer, and spirits shop points to Row 34’s wine director, Mira Stella, 29, as being one of the most innovative drinks professionals in Boston proper. According to Elliott, Stella has taken over one of the city’s busiest seafood restaurants and forged a wine list that’s anything but traditional. “She [charts] her own path in searching out unique varieties from unique places,” Elliott says. “It would be so easy for her to lay down a Chardonnay, but she doesn’t. Her pairings aren’t overly cerebral, either. It just works.” Elliott notes that besides including wines from places like Jura, Corsica, and Styria, Stella has been instrumental in opening a sherry-by-the-glass program too. “To be able to take niche wines and do it on a large scale is a huge accomplishment,” Elliott says. “[Stella is] vibrant—she’s got this rock star quality to her—and she’s confident. She really embodies being a young woman working in wine, and I love that about her.”
Stella’s love for sherry originated at one of her early jobs in Boston, working at Tres Gatos in Jamaica Plain, where she helped with the restaurant’s all-Spanish wine list. After career-building stints at Alden & Harlow and Waypoint, which she helped open and where she was more focused on spirits, she brought wine and sherry back to the forefront when she joined the Row 34 team in February 2018 as their wine director. “When I’m eating oysters, I’m drinking Manzanilla,” Stella says. “It’s just a perfect dry white wine that you can drink with all sorts of cuisines.”
To create Row 34’s largely biodynamic wine list, Stella draws inspiration from elsewhere in the restaurant. “I like how the beer list at Row 34 doesn’t necessarily get caught up in filling in boxes,” she explains. “It gave me the freedom to have a similar style with the wine list. I feel okay about having multiple funky whites or four racy reds at a time.” Her goal is to keep it weird and keep it rotating. “Every month I get excited about changing the list more and more,” she says, “and people now come in to see what new, interesting wines we have.”
The Holistic Jack-of-All-Trades
Max Toste, co-owner of the craft beer and cocktail hot spot Deep Ellum in Allston, remembers when Ryan Lotz would show up there for a drink after his shift at the now-closed restaurant Lineage. He was “just a kid bartender,” Toste says, “but he was obviously intelligent.” Ten years later, after stops at The Hawthorne and No. 9 Park, Lotz, 31, is now running three very distinct beverage programs for the team behind Bar Mezzana and its sister restaurant, Shore Leave. It’s not just Lotz’s deep knowledge of beer, wine, and cocktails that make him a rising star, says Toste. “If you can get behind the bar,” he says, “deal with guests, make drinks that are delicious, put together cocktails with a focus, then have that focus pair with the cuisine, then train and motivate your staff and get them to sip your Kool-Aid, and then get behind [your] manifesto and do it again—that’s really impressive to me.”
Lotz says he enjoys juggling multiple programs, especially since they’re all inspired by different cultural traditions. At Bar Mezzana, the wine list has an Italian focus; at Shore Leave, it’s all about tiki cocktails; and at No Relation, a sushi concept within the Shore Leave space, Lotz crafts drink pairings for the omakase menu. The restaurant group recently announced a fourth outpost, an American-style brasserie, that he’ll also be responsible for. “I realized I loved cocktails, but the holistic experience was missing,” Lotz says, noting that he aspires to be a jack-of-all-trades when it comes to drinks. “Wine and cocktails and beer—they’re all different sides of the same [profession]. I didn’t see too many people managing the different components as a whole, and I wanted to align a program for a restaurant holistically.”
Lotz, who graduated from Boston University as an art history major, says that after he observed cocktail culture in Boston getting too serious—and seeing how that seriousness affected his guests’ ability to have fun—he made it a priority to lighten the room with offerings like Tiki drinks and simple Italian-style spritzes. “I want to have viewpoints,” he says. “I want fewer colors on my palette, but the ability to paint with more shades of those colors.”
The Life of the Party
Ask spirits specialist John Mayer Spressert where to go out drinking in Boston and he’ll tell you that Southie has taken over as the number one place to party. Over the past 15 years, the people in this once blue-collar neighborhood have shifted from working-class drinkers to young professionals who now live in Southie, or frequent the area as a drinks destination. At the center of Southie’s drinks scene, Spressert says, is Kaitlyn Fischer, who took over the bar program at Loco Taqueria & Oyster Bar two years ago. While he says that it would have been easy for her to stock the bar with basics, he emphasizes that Fischer has really done it right, incorporating high-end, small-production mezcal and tequila producers into Loco’s program. But it’s not all about the artisanal producers on the list. “She knows how to throw a party, and that’s something that gets lost around craft bartenders,” Spressert says. “Sometimes we take the craft part, so to speak, too seriously, and we lose sight that people are coming to a bar to get drunk and have fun, and she gets it … You go to Loco to have a good time, and Kaitlyn knows how to facilitate that.”
Fischer, 32, says it was a little daunting to take over such a high-volume place as her first management job and work with spirits like high-end tequila and mezcal, which many drinkers don’t know too much about. While the atmosphere at Loco is fun, convivial, and rowdy at times—Fischer notes that customers often become close friends, travel partners, or even roommates of the staff—it’s important to Fischer that the bartenders really know their stuff. “Our whole team has to be educated and passionate,” she says, “while at the same time I’m trying to tell them, ‘Relax, we’re going to throw a big party.’”
After keeping a small-producer focus on the tequila list and expanding the mezcal list from 5 to 14 producers, which include Mezcal Vago, Creyente, and Del Maguey, Fischer has passed on her love for the spirits to the staff, even sending them to Jalisco, Mexico, to learn about artisanal tequila production firsthand. “The biggest thing I try to instill in my team, though, is to really take care of [the customers],” Fischer says. “If someone we’ve never met comes into our bar, we try to unfold their story, figure out what they’re looking for, and hopefully give them an experience they’ll love.”
Alicia Cypress is following her passion for wine after spending more than 20 years as a journalist at National Public Radio and the Washington Post. She’s currently a managing editor at Reviewed.com, a part of the USA Today Network, and she writes a wine blog, itswinebyme.com. She’s received the WSET 2 certification (with distinction) and hopes to continue her studies. Talk about wine with her on Twitter or Instagram.