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The Cocktail Bandits: Encouraging a Diverse Beverage Industry

Single Malt

Who needs a drink? With all that’s going on in the world, it’s not unreasonable to say we all might relish the occasional quaff. Spirit sales since the pandemic, in fact, are up 33% according to the cash back app, Ibotta. With so many people now home, the pandemic has created an exacerbated home mixology trend with beverage kits and ready-to-drink cocktails (and yes, Zoom parties and Happy Hours) continuing to advance as restaurants and food and beverage leaders expand their offerings.

To learn more about creative cocktailing, Beyondish went to the experts: the curly-haired Cocktail Bandits Taneka Reaves and Johnny Caldwell. The Charleston, S.C. beverage and hospitality bloggers and co-authors of Holy Spirits! Charleston Culture through Cocktails, know their libations. Through their brand, the two also promote female empowerment through advocacy for the food and beverage community from a feminine, urban perspective.

Why did you start this venture?
We love to drink! We love cocktails and learning about them. We were passive consumers before, but we ended up becoming more active consumers. After we graduated from college [they met as freshmen at the College of Charleston], Taneka got more into food and beverage and that’s where it really started to spin.

What’s your mission?
Our overall mission is to encourage a more diverse and inclusive food and beverage industry. We still don’t see enough women behind the bar or running beverage programs or distilleries. When we talk about people of color it’s even less. We’re all suffering because of that. We want to have as many backgrounds and perspectives at the table and in the conversation as possible.

What inspired you to write a book?
We were approached by the oldest publication company here in Charleston, Evening Post Books. They saw our blog and emailed us and asked for the blog in book form. We weren’t even prepared or thinking about book production until that opportunity came. It took us about two years to get together enough information and research. We wanted to be regional because we didn’t see anything from Charleston that was talking about beverage culture or food culture with people of color. It’s always been not people of color. So that was a great opportunity, so much so that we were the first African American women to write a cocktail book in this country.

What makes a great cocktail?
Balance. A good drink needs to be balanced with sweetness, with the tart and with the spirit forward if it’s an alcoholic drink. We also want to emphasize we don’t just do spirits. We talk about teas, water, we even did a kombucha photo shoot today. We talk about anything you can imbibe if there’s a way we can make it craft and fun for your occasion, your event or just for when you’re having friends over. We always say choose a really good spirit. If you’re choosing a good base, whatever you add to it is just going to emphasize it.

What makes Charleston a great cocktail town?
I think it’s the cultural backdrop and the fact that we have such a strong food scene. Food and drink go hand and hand. Also, being on the coast, we have a port city so we get things in from all over the world. In the beginning we would go to every training on drams, whiskey, gins, just to learn as much as possible. Had we been in another city, we wouldn’t have had the chance to attend those things, meet those ambassadors and build brand relationships.

What are some of your favorite bars in Charleston?
Back when we could go to bars and get cocktails – a lot of our favorites have shut down – we really liked Gin Joint. Cocktail Club is really cool, Faculty Lounge. We like places that have an early happy hour.

How has your business changed during Covid times?
We’ve been doing zooms, private family groups, we’re doing bachelorettes, even corporate. We’re able to send guests a list. We even have some kits and we will send them out so they are able to make the cocktail and interact with us.

What’s your go-to drink?
Tequila. Another thing that’s always in the house is ginger ale. We always tell people that if you’re building out a bar, get good quality ginger ale. You can pretty much make a cocktail with anything and ginger ale.


Alexa Madeiros

Alexa Madeiros is a Boston-based writer with a growing passion for the food and beverage industry, having worked in it since age 14. A graduate of Lasell University with a degree in marketing, she’s an experienced content creator, social media coordinator and copywriter. She has written for POLISHED magazine and her own Boston food guide, Big Bellied Boston. Follow her at on Instagram at @bigbellied_boston.


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