You might already know the remarkable Mary Palac, in her current role as the Spirits Educator for the Diageo Hospitality Partnership. Or, perhaps you know her from her time behind the bar at San Jose, California’s first craft cocktail establishment––Singlebarrel––where there was no menu and everything was ‘bartender’s choice.’
“I left Singlebarrel to open the program at Mortar & Pestle in San Jose, put together by the folks at Bittercube,” Palac recalls. “Also, at that time, I started working briefly for Jennifer Colliau at The Interval––a bar within a non-profit museum in Fort Mason. I have always admired Jen and looked up to her, so it was a fantastic learning experience for me.”
Then again, maybe you know Mary Palac from Paper Plane (also in San Jose), where she got such a spotlight for her talent, she was a 2020 Spirited Awards® Top 4 Finalist for Bartender of the Year.
“Paper Plane was the bar that really defined me,” Palac says, “and has been my home bar for the past 5 years. It is where cocktails became fun again, not this serious rule-driven thing. It is on par with some of the best bars and best bartenders in the world. I joked when I was nominated for Bartender of the Year, that I’m not even the best bartender on the team at Paper Plane. That’s how extraordinary our staff was. It’s the program that helped shape me the most, and allowed me to travel and grow the most within this industry.”
Her original hometown of Manila, Philippines often finds an homage in her libations, allowing patrons a moment of armchair travel. Drinks like the Rickshaw—featuring a tart calamansi syrup to replace a Sidecar’s expected simple syrup––take something expected and turn it on its head. That one is bright yellow and refreshing and is a signature drink among several that have put her on the American cocktail stage.
Tales of the Cocktail® 2021 will be Mary’s seventh conference – and she can still vividly remember her very first, back in 2014.
“I was the nerd up at the front of each seminar,” she says, laughing. “I always showed up early, and it was so easy to be overwhelmed by all the events and parties. But, I put education first. I met so many new people and heard of so many different programs and opportunities, it really was a catalyst for me and my career. I carried around Craft of the Cocktail on the off chance I ran into Dale Degroff,” she says. “I did, and he signed it for me.”
Many bartenders had a moment of Pandemic Pivot, and Mary Palac was no exception. The opportunity arose to step onto the brand side for Diageo, and she jumped at it.
“It’s been an amazing learning experience for me,” she offers. “I still miss bartending, but I’m so excited to be able to visit and support my favorite local bars in a different way. One of my favorite things … and this was true even when I was bartending … is making friends. It’s always what I felt distinguished a great bartender. A great bartender creates joy. Building relationships, connecting to people, and making friends is what brings me the most joy.
In honor of this partnership with Q Mixers, she made her own libation to spark a little spectacular joy.
The Ube Halaya Fizz is a perfect example of using her knowledge of Filipino ingredients, this time reaching for Ube––a bright, brilliant purple tuber, similar to a red yam. This drink is also vegan, thanks to the replacement of egg white with aquafaba.
As for Palac, you’ll find her on the road now rather than behind Paper Plane’s acclaimed bar top. Tales of the Cocktail® has also pivoted by converting the conference to a digital format as we continue social distancing. You can find Mary participating in this year’s Q Mixers Meet at Tales, but Like so many of us, she’s eager for the next in-person Tales of the Cocktail, where we will find her front row like always, taking copious notes on seminars, but also mingling and communing.
“I can’t wait to see all the friends I’ve been missing since before the pandemic. It fills my heart with joy just thinking about it,” she says. “I truly believe every person I’ve interacted with, young and old, has served as a mentor for me. I think mentorship is much like friendship, and it’s a reciprocal relationship of give-and-take. Some people who have affected my life the most are George Lahlouh and Patrick Braga, who helped make Paper Plane what it is today, and Robin Nance, Don Lee, Ivy Mix, Lynnette Marrero, and Anne Louise Marquis. They’ve all affected my life in such amazing and positive ways.”
Q Mixers and Tales of the Cocktail Foundation present, Meet at Tales––a program going behind the scenes with eight industry leaders, delving into their best times at Tales of the Cocktail®––raising a virtual toast to the people, places, and drinks that have shaped their careers.
After several challenging years, Meet at Tales is a chance for our Industry Leaders to give advice and mentorship to those rising up. Six lucky Tales of the Cocktail 2021 registrants will be selected to Meet at Tales for a 15-minute conversation and will receive a custom cocktail kit developed by the Q MIXERS Industry Leader they are paired with. Following Tales, each Industry Leader will select one individual for a one-hour follow-up conversation.
We could think of no better partnership for this project than Q Mixers––a brand whose entire mission is to make truly spectacular mixers. Additionally, during this year’s conference taking place in a hybrid format September 20-23, Q Mixers will host 4 Mix at Tales Happy Hour events ––each of which pair up 2 industry leaders to host a happy hour to field fun and pertinent questions, brainstorm, and have a few drinks of course.
Add Mary’s Mix at Tales Happy Hour event to your Tales of the Cocktail 2021 agenda taking place digitally on September 20th at 4:00 PM CST.