By: Megan Kirk
Jack Daniels is launching a new program celebrating the contributions of Black and brown bartenders with Gentlemen Jack Culture Shakers. The first of its kind, the program is shining a light on the diverse culture of mixology and serving up a shot of history at the same time.
Among those acknowledged is Detroit bar manager Asher Miller. Beginning as a dishwasher in a local restaurant, Miller planned on leaving the restaurant industry in hopes of returning to school. Then, opportunity knocked on his front door.
“Our head chef offered me a choice between bar-backing and being a server. Bar-backing sounded more fun,” Miller explains. “I had no concept of what bartending was in general, much less what craft cocktails would entail. I went into it blind.”
Falling in love with the art of cocktails and learning the artistry, Miller rose in ranks. Bartending for the past four years and managing bar operations at Grey Ghost in Detroit’s Midtown neighborhood, he was met again with opportunity when he was referred to the Culture Shakers program.
“I work very closely with Jack Daniels’ parent company through my bar program. I have a lot of contact with reps on various levels. One of the state representatives actually recommended me for the program,” Miller says. “We’ve done a lot of events together, especially over the last four years. They’ve gotten a chance to see my work ethic, the products I create and how I run a program.”
The program, which features several bartenders from across the country, pays homage to a scene not often learned. The Black and brown influences of bartending and mixed cocktails is overlooked by the masses.
“You don’t learn a complete history of beverages in the United States. You learn a very white-centered history,” Miller says.
To help spread knowledge on the history of Black and Latinx bartenders is New York Best Selling Author Alice Randall. Penning the novel Black Bottom Saints, the Detroit native, who now teaches at Vanderbilt University, explores the roles Black and brown bartenders played in the evolution of cocktails. Paying homage to names such as Ada ‘Brick Top’ Smith and Thomas Bullock, the author believes that Jack Daniels is helping to honor these forgotten bartenders.
“Culture Shakers, this program, is putting those names back up because it is important to see the present and the future. But, when you erase this path and we don’t recognize that the great bartenders of American life were these Black people, innovating, we lose a big part of the story,” Randall shares.
With deep roots to Detroit’s bar culture and having an extensive background in Black cocktail creation from early childhood, the novelist argues Detroit has notably played a major role in early bar culture and cocktails.
“I was born in Detroit in 1959 when Detroit, Michigan was arguably the epicenter of American bar culture,” Randall says.
Going on to name a few bars in the city that changed popular bar culture, Randall explores the rich history and notoriety of these establishments.
“It was the Elbow Lounge, The Prosperity Lounge, The Phelps Lounge; there were fancy bars and there were blind pigs and there were show bars, and frankly, as a little girl, growing up with my parents in Detroit when I was little, I was at some of all of them,” Randall shares.
In addition to the program, Gentleman Jack Culture Shakers is releasing a film to add a visual perspective. The film, which explores bartending from the aspects of each of the cocktail artists chosen for the program, presents the art of alcohol from each of their perspectives.
“The filming process was very interesting. It took me a while to warm up because I’m a pretty awkward person,” Miller says. “My favorite part was going to the distillery. Everyone loves to work there. They had a passion for Jack Daniels.”
As Culture Shakers gears up to release its first class of bartending influencers, the importance of representation in the field continues to be a focal point.
“I think that as we continue on and we have programs like Culture Shakers that continues to uplift the Black and brown bartenders and people of different groups, just to show how diverse this industry truly is and how much color and flavor you can get from different people, I think its extraordinarily important,” Miller shares.
The film is set to release in January 2021 and was filmed by Storm Saulter in each of the six participant’s hometown. For more information on the Jack Daniels brand, visit their website at jackdaniels.com.