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Billie Keithley recently won an Icons of Whisky award for Bar Manager of the Year. Her work at Breckenridge Distillery in Colorado has earned her the nickname “The Liquid Chef,” and her cocktails are the stuff of legends. Bourbon Women recently caught up with Keithley to learn more about what she does and why it earned her such a prestigious award.
BW: What was the road that led you to earn the title “Liquid Chef”?
BK: I’ve been in the industry for 20 years. I took a seminar in Vail led by Francesco Lafranconi. Game-changing for the rest of my life. He inspired me and I was so humbled. I said at that moment I want to do that! Never looked back. I started at the Distillery 11 years ago after meeting our CEO Bryan Nolt and Head distiller Jordan Via. A co-worker came up with “Liquid Chef” because I would always say if it’s edible I can make a cocktail out of it. It just stuck after that.
BW: As the “Liquid Chef” of Breckenridge Distillery, what is your philosophy for creating cocktail recipes for the distillery bar? What are some of your favorites?
BK: Building, balancing, amplifying, elevating, and of course all the experimenting around our Breckenridge award-winning spirits. All the smoke, fire, bubbles, and suds are the little extra for the experience. I want guests to have an experience and make sure everyone is smiling. Paying attention to detail. My favorites would be, Obi-Wan Old Fashioned, Smoked Mai Tai, Oaked and Smoked, Permafrost Pear, Colver’s Revenge, Breckenridge & Vine, Welcome Winter, Forged in Fire.
BW: What advice do you have for women wanting to build a career in mixology?
BK: Always keep learning, stay positive, ask for help, share your knowledge treating everyone equally. Passion is a key role. Inspiration may come from all directions. I keep a notebook everywhere I go. At the side of my bed I have a headlamp and notebook. 4am a super idea or just something you may want to experiment may pop up. Write it down!
BW: You’ve recently earned an Icons of Whisky award. What does this mean to you?
BK: It means so much more than I can wrap my head around. There’s so much talent out there! I smiled and cried at the same time when I found out. I’m excited for new adventures.
BW: What does your perfect whiskey weekend in Breckenridge, Colorado look like?
BK: The day would start with a decadent eggs Beni. (going to burn it off anyway) Followed with Snowshoeing Then gathering around a fire with close friends Listening a to mix of Rock-a-Billy, blues, and a little big band music. Relaxing with a gracious calming cheer with Breckenridge Bourbon. (I’d be drinking my new favorite. Breckenridge Rum Cask Finish Whiskey.) Lots of smiles with my husband and friends!
2-1/2 oz Breckenridge Port Cask Finish Whiskey
1/2 oz raw simple syrup *
3 dashes barrel-aged whiskey bitters
Stir ingredients with ice. Strain over large cube. Garnish/Luxardo cherry/healthy orange zest.
* raw simple. Over medium heat add 1 cup water and 1 cup raw sugar. Stir until dissolved. Let cool.
Photos Courtesy of Breckenridge Distillery