Behind the Bar: Trudy Thomas, Camelback Inn

There are bartenders. And then there are bartenders. Trudy Thomas is the latter.

By bartenders (emphasis on the art), we mean those who take their jobs a lot more seriously than the rest - those who discuss bartending in terms of dedication and passion; those who treat their craft with the kind of reverence that is normally reserved for a piece of artwork or the great American novel.

"It really is a passion for me," Thomas says. "It's who I am."

Thomas is more than a bartender. She holds several titles fitting of one with such dedication to her metier. She is the Director of Beverage at the Camelback Inn, for one, where she mentors upcoming bartenders and has a hand in just about every cocktail - and cocktail menu - that is served at all of the six bars at the resort. For another, she is the co-founder and vice-chairman of the Arizona chapter of the United States Bartenders Guild. She is also the president of Liquid Remedy, Inc., her own beverage consulting business, and the mixologist for Yellow[tail] wines.

As of now, Thomas is one of two certified mixologsts in the state of Arizona (the other is Jason Gerard, the other founder of the Arizona chapter of the Bartenders Guild). And last year, she became the first person to be certified as both a wine and a spirits specialist by the Society of Wine the same day.

"I teach that bartending is a time-honored profession," she says. "It's the balance of flavor, it's about using recipes and adhering to standardized recipes, it's the order that we build them in, it's fresh juices," she continues on.

Now, you see what we mean by bartenders.

Oh, there's one more title, but it's more unofficial than the rest: Thomas has come to be known as the "first daughter of bourbon." A daughter of Kentucky, she grew up among the bourbon distillers near her hometown and developed a lifelong fascination with "America's native spirit," as she calls it.

She started bartending while studying speech therapy at the University of Kentucky and never looked back.

"No one ever tells you you can drink for a living," she says.

A few years after college, she moved to Chicago where she quickly fell in with one of the most famous names in food: Wolfgang Puck. She spent four years working closely with the world famous chef in his Café Division before she started her own business and spent another four years working with regional chains in Chicago.

When she took over operations at the Camelback Inn a year and a half ago, Thomas bought a Kold-Draft ice machine for the bar at BLT Steak, in order to use the purest, hardest ice possible. She discusses the order in which you build a cocktail (from the cheapest to the most expensive ingredient, ice last), the balance it takes to create a great drink, and the history behind any and every cocktail on their new menu of Prohibition era cocktails.

From the Elderflower Pimm's Cup and the Sapphire Aviation to the Clover Club and the Blood Orange Pisco Sour (for two of those recipes, check back tomorrow), these are seriously old cocktail recipes - with a twist, a balance of flavors and an intelligence that lives up to the passion of the woman who designed them.

"It's always evolving," she says of her craft. From Kentucky moonshine to artisan cocktails, apparently, so is she.

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Lauren Gilger
Contact: Lauren Gilger