Chilled 100 Member Brittany Kellum began working in the industry during college. “I began at one of our restaurant group’s original locations, Dressler’s, and proceeded to grow over time into a bartending role at a new concept we were opening (Dogwood),” she recalls. A few years and a lot of learning later, she was asked to lead the bar program at the next concept the group opened, Fin & Fino. “I loved being a part of starting something brand new and bringing a fresh and different take on something done all over the world, food, and beverage. Now here I am four years later, still excited and challenged with new menus, new trends, and an ever-evolving library of cocktails,” she shares. We ask Brittany to tell us more.
What makes Fin & Fino unique? Distinctive drinks, décor, a certain vibe?
Fin & Fino has a very fresh, beachy, and bright vibe. The decor and feel is always flowing with waves, oyster shells and a mix of light and dark blues. With that, our drinks hope to hit every end of the spectrum from fun tiki to austere sherry and everything in between. I like to think we have something to offer everyone, from your cocktail enthusiast to someone who is just beginning to explore cocktails. One thing that makes us unique is our “Call of the Clam” cocktail where we ask the guest’s preferred tastes or spirit, and just go from there. We also have a section of our menu called “Waiting for Magic,” which includes one cocktail from each of our cocktail menus over the years with no description/recipe. The guest orders and is surprised–it’s fun for us and them.
Who has been most influential in your development as a bartender? A mentor, a parent, a fellow bartender, and why?
I work with an amazing group of people who inspire me every day. Their passion for the hospitality industry and creativity is a constant driving force behind our program. We call ourselves the “Clams” and are constantly creating special cocktails for our guests when they order “The Call of The Clam.” Being able to create a cocktail on the spot, given the guest’s specific taste profile, gives us freedom every day to mix, match and taste new and inventive cocktails. A lot of those cocktails end up going on our menu eventually!
What inspires the drinks on the menu?
Inspiration comes from anywhere and everywhere–cooking, cocktail books, travel, research, and people I work with. We also find inspiration in themes for each of our new cocktail menus. Our current menu theme is ‘Happy Accidents Roadtrip’, with cocktail names such as “A little buzzed”, “Pork Rinds and Peyote” and “Drunk Karaoke in a Shania Twain wig.” We even created a mad lib on the menu, using our crazy cocktail names, that our bar guests can fill out while they are sitting here.
What does it take to run a successful bar program nowadays?
Number 1 and always number 1 is surrounding yourself with people who have the same love and respect for the industry. We are always trying to deliver something that is exciting and special to the guest but also tastes good. While it’s interesting to use crazy ingredients, sometimes keeping true to the classics with a slight twist is where you end up finding your greatest creation.
Any advice for bartenders—what are some trends happening now in the industry that are important to know?
No cocktail is a bad cocktail. Test, try and encourage. Just because you may not like a cocktail doesn’t mean it isn’t someone’s newfound love.
Do you have any advice for novice/at home bartenders?
Three ingredient cocktails are always a good start! Take a Negroni for example: 1 oz gin, 1 oz sweet vermouth, 1 oz Campari/Aperol. From there you can swap out ingredients and get other cocktails; bourbon instead of gin will make a Boulevardier. Swap out the sweet vermouth for blanc vermouth and you will have a take on a white negroni!
What is your favorite ingredient right now and why?
Vermouth and amaros have always been a favorite for me! There are so many amazing options out there that exchanging one vermouth for another can completely change the identity of a cocktail.
How do you go about creating a new cocktail? Is there a specific process or simply a moment of inspiration?
It usually begins with something I read somewhere or a final idea or taste I’m trying to achieve and go from there. And lots of trial and error. I also lean on the clams a lot. They are all so creative and have a unique approach and thought to every idea on the table.
Do you have a special technique you use or a tip for making a particular drink?
Not specifically a special technique, but an ingredient I put in absolutely every drink is a pinch of pink salt. I find that it plays a big part in balancing out sugar and acid and makes citrus taste brighter.
Where do you see the bartending/cocktail culture headed?
We have such a great cocktail culture in Charlotte and it’s only getting better. If we keep supporting each other and creating diverse programs that all can enjoy, I think we are headed in the right direction.