Iesha Fairrington: Crafting Her Own Career in Cocktails
Born and raised in Colorado, Iesha arrived at the Onyx Bar of the Four Seasons Resort Scottsdale at Troon by working her way up in several very well known bars in Phoenix. Iesha defines her job as a bartender as “educator of all things spirits as well as an experience creator and generator,” but it was a journey to get here. Along the way, she actively sought out mentors to guide and support her in her professional growth. Taking initiative and learning to believe in and support herself, has been a big part of her personal growth. She continues to push herself: taking on a Half Iron Man (in April) and working on her internal healing journey, "one breath at a time." Here's herstory.
How did you get started in food and beverage and how did you get to where you are today?
Before working as a bartender, I worked in a high behavior group home with the dream of working with special needs members at a gym. After moving to the Phoenix area, I was looking for a way to make ends meet and started out as a server in Tempe. After my first experience as a server, I realized that I wanted to be behind the bar, an opportunity that I pursued successfully at several area bars. First at Cold Beer and Cheeseburgers, then Chelsea’s Kitchen, where I entered my first bartender competition. At Ostrich, I perfected the art of craft cocktails, prior to moving on to Buck & Rider and Century Grand. My time at Century Grand is the reason why I bartend the way I bartend today, the reason why and how I do things the way I do them.
Who has been your biggest influence and why?
ME! I have been on my own since I was 16 years old, so almost half of my life! I have had to craft my own career in cocktails by pursuing mentors to guide me. Over the course of my career, I have been fortunate to work with Kristina Jonas, I consider her my “bar mom,” she was my first mentor and person within the industry I truly respected. Others who impacted me: Jason Asher (most inspired bartender in 2010), Libby Lingua & Mitch Lyons (creators of Highball Cocktail Bar in Phoenix), and Natasha Aasgaarden (Previously with LGO Hospitality), who has always supported and driven female empowerment.
I love that you mentioned being your own biggest hero, tell us more about your self-discovery.
During the pandemic and when everything was locked down, I experienced a setback when it comes to alcohol consumption. I had to realize, that I was not better…and started on an internal journey to better myself. The book “It Didn’t Start with You” by Mark Wolynn was life changing. Accepting the love I received versus (I thought) I deserved has helped me heal. We need to heal ourselves…We need to clean house inside our heads. It took me a long time to love what I saw in the mirror!
We need to heal ourselves…We need to clean house inside our heads. It took me a long time to love what I saw in the mirror!
Self-Care: how do you take care of yourself with your physically and mentally demanding job?
I am training for a half Iron Man (in April), and in addition to bartending, I work as a Personal Trainer at a local gym chain.
I do the breath work to deal with the anxiety I have dealt with for a long time.
Self-praise and self-love aren’t selfish, they are a part of my daily self-care.
I manifest my dreams and my goals, I use music and have learned to respond to myself: I take a mental health day when needed!
What advice would you give young women wanting to follow in your footsteps?
Nobody will ever ask you, if you went to bartending school! As a young bartender, you will have to ask yourself, if you want to become a career bartender or not, and which type of bartender would you like to become? Expose yourself, work at different bars, learn and look at the craft of bartending, you will need to truly WANT it, continue to educate yourself. Join the USB (United States Bartenders’ Guild), and as with everything in life: connections and networking. Put yourself out there and participate in bartending competitions!
How does the environment you are in affect your creativity when it comes to cocktails?
My creations are definitely South West driven. I created a South West inspired Sangria, a low ABV (alcohol by volume) cocktail, perfect to watch the sunset at Onyx! For the Southwest Sangria, I am using Tepache, a fermented beverage made from the peel and the rind of pineapple, a salute to our Mexican neighbors.
What cocktail trends do you see for fall/winter 2023?
Ingredients such as thyme and rosemary are dominant––herb infusions are big.
Bourbon, rye and rum are a perfect base for the celebrated seasonal sips such as toddies!
Tequila will always remain well represented.
When clients ask me what’s in the cocktail, I tend to not tell them. I want them to experience, taste, learn about the cocktail without being influenced by a spirit or ingredient used in the cocktail. This also opens up conversation with guests, which I love.
Non-alcoholic cocktails seem to pop-up on many drink menus, what trend are you seeing?
The drink menu I created includes drinks that can all be served as mocktails as well. There is no need to work harder and reinvent the wheel. If the cocktail is well balanced and “works”, so does the mocktail! There is definitely a higher demand for mocktails than in previous years.
What cocktail trend over the past few years has most surprised you? What ingredients have surprised you the most?
Cocktails with plant based ingredients. Awareness has risen over the past years and and customers are more interested in knowing what they put in their bodies. Inspired by the Blood Moon a little bit a go, I created a cocktail reflecting the beliefs of the Blood Moon, the drink is called Ruby Moon, for which I created my own beet syrup. Inspiration for a cocktail can come from everywhere and where you least expect it. I am thrilled to be working at Onyx, where my creativity is welcomed and encouraged!
Inspired by the Blood Moon a little bit a go, I created a cocktail reflecting the beliefs of the Blood Moon, the drink is called Ruby Moon, for which I created my own beet syrup. Inspiration for a cocktail can come from everywhere and where you least expect it.
You say, "Taste for information, not for like or dislike, because taste is personal!" Can you explain how you find the information and what kind or type of information are you looking for when tasting and/or creating a new cocktail?
I am mainly looking for balance. Creating new conversations, changing the perspectives of the clients in front of me. I love serving a gin drink to a non-gin drinker and have them experience a well balanced and created drink. Based on feedback from clients, I can tell if they prefer a more acidic, sour, sweet or even salty drink. As a bartender at Onyx at the Four Seasons, I am part of the hotel guests’ experience; I am here to create experiences! Trial is a big part of that interaction.