Bar Cart Cocktail Co.’s Katie Blandin Shea
distills the seasons with foraged ingredients
by Camilla M. Mann
Photography by Evynn LeValley
The setting was a Carmel flower shop closed for the night. Ten young women circled a rustic table, leaning in to learn Katie Blandin Shea’s secrets for using foraged plants like juniper and chamomile to create cocktails that each tells a story. Really, really good stories.
Her premise: a good drink begins with fresh flavors. To that end, she sources seasonal ingredients from farmers’ markets, estate gardens, and wild fields and forests.
Blandin Shea officially launched her Bar Cart Cocktail Co. last spring, offering workshops such as the one in the flower shop, Burst + Bloom, as well as her main business—designing and serving custom cocktails at public or private events. But everything in her career seems to have led up to this moment, and it’s no wonder that her personal passion for cocktail experimentation has long since won an ardent following among her friends.
Blandin Shea studied agribusiness at California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo and has worked on organic farms and in the food and beverage industry ever since. She managed Cal Poly’s Swanton Pacific Ranch heirloom apple orchard and herb garden in Davenport before overseeing Serendipity Farms’ market stands and sales distribution. More recently, she has worked with a local ginger company.
At the inaugural session in March of Flowers & Gin, her workshop series, Blandin Shea provided seasonal ingredients including juniper bark, jasmine and chamomile. While guests sniffed, crushed and swirled, to infuse spirits and syrups to bottle the flavors of spring, she poured her cocktails. For the namesake libation, Flowers & Gin, she blended gin, honey, chamomile, tangerine and strawberry, topping it with spring blooms. In a nod to winter’s departure, Blandin Shea created a drink called Cashmere, which featured foraged juniper, jasmine, almond milk and gin.
“I would say I’m a cocktail craftsman, creating a drink the way a chef would create a dish,” she says. “I aim for a sense of place and story with each sip.”
She fashions nonalcoholic versions of cocktails when the occasion calls for it.
For example, she developed a mock negroni for a fundraising dinner hosted by MEarth, a food and environment education nonprofit organization located on the Carmel Middle School campus. As a standin for the classic cocktail’s campari, she made a grapefruit peel and amaranth syrup; to replace the gin, she brewed a juniper, bay, sage and pine tea. With the richness of flavors, you didn’t miss the alcohol. She’s also game to interpret any theme.
For a private luxury watch release party, she used kale-cucumber juice to mirror the green face of Rolex’s Datejust Pearlmaster 39 and added garnishes that echoed the timepiece’s variegated sapphires. Blandin Shea also makes her own infusions, bitters, shrubs, tinctures, juices and other ingredients for her regular cocktail line, and carefully selects spirits to match them.
“I look at the desired outcomes of flavors and choose a spirit with the same notes or complementary notes to enhance the ingredients,” she says.
About her kaffir lime-bay leaf bitters (see recipe opposite), she says, “The cachaça sugar cane spirit is sweet and vanilla-like and works well with the astringent, woody notes in the bay and the tropical notes of kaffir lime.”
If you find yourself planning a wedding or other event with a budget for handing your bartending to an artist, but kaffir lime and bay aren’t your thing, no matter. Blandin Shea specializes in custom drink menus and offers complimentary tastings to make sure they’re what you have in mind. And she’ll even bring her own handmade bar.
Camilla M. Mann is a freelance writer, photographer and foodie blogger based in Seaside.
Bar Cart Cocktail Co. • www.barcartcocktailco.com
EXPLORE: Bar Cart Cocktail Co. will pair drinks with Big Sur Roadhouse’s entrant in the Carmel Valley Annual Chili Cook-off on Sept. 17 in Carmel Valley and will serve its nonalcoholic creations at The Party with Alton Brown on Oct. 3 at the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Make It Sustainable Weekend.
California Bay Laurel Kaffir Lime Bitters