Mixing Success & Passion
Chief Mixologist Macarena Rotger has broken barriers in the cocktail culture of China. She has created cocktails that have broken stereotypical gender barriers while introducing infusions of flavors and spices not found anywhere else in the world. From her Pumpkin Spice & Everything Nice to her Down The Rabbit Hole cocktails, she has given it her all.
And it has paid her finely in return.
Born in Chile but raised in Puerto Rico, Macarena was actually asked to come to China because of the reputation she developed beforehand. She is the Chief Mixologist at Shangrila's hip bar: 1515 West, and has been a massive forward propeller of women leadership in a male-dominated market. She has a passion for researching and sampling spirits in order to bring the new cocktail culture of China the best of all the worlds she has indulged in, and she has risen to the top because of her expertise.
Rotger took mixology classes when she was working in an H.R. department. She worked as a bartender while pursuing graduate studies in economics, and simply continued the trend after she graduated. She kept to bartending in chain restaurants and hotels, and eventually found her passion within the complex world of mixology.
Rotger always wanted a job that allowed her to travel the world and meet new people, but what she never dreamed was being called in to come to China and debut herself because of her reputation. When she arrived, what she found was a very unestablished culture with virtually no education. The locals were curious and thirsty for the knowledge and experience, but no one was there to take the helm when it came to the idea of ‘cocktail culture’.
That is, until Macarena stepped onto the scene.
She began educating and training, first by copying. She found that beginners were more comfortable copying the classics before they became comfortable with their own skills to branch out and find their own local style. This is why the cocktail culture in China is still in its infancy: because for a while, people simply mimicked.
However, this mimicry was important to establishing skills and knowledge necessary to infuse more traditional flavors in ways that were presentable to the locals. Taking all of this into consideration, the cocktail culture is now blooming with creativity, incredible visual presentations, and local infusions to really immerse someone into the culture around them.
Rotger, personally, is more comfortable with rum. She uses traditional Chinese five spices in her rum infusions in order to make a pumpkin spice cocktail that has registered on the market as one of her more popular seasonal drinks. However, what Rotger found in all her experiencing was a barrier she wanted to bring down.
Specifically, the gender-liquor stereotypes.
She found that women preferred lighter, fruitier, and more presentable drinks. Men, on the other hand, preferred fewer frills, less sweetness, and more bold flavors. So, because Rotger believes that gender is, in part, a social construct, she began experimenting with things to get genders to cross predisposed boundaries. For example, she started making a whiskey cocktail pink and added a flower in the middle of the drink to entice the female drinkers.
What this did was it not only broke barriers imposed on people without them realizing it, but it educated the local culture who was fairly ignorant on spirits and mixology. Getting men to try lighter, more visual cocktails while also getting women to try cocktails with more bolder spirits was something she wanted to take on as part of her education standpoint.
Her most famous cocktail, however, is called Down The Rabbit Hole. What makes this cocktail so infamous? Simple: it infuses a creative presentation with an enhanced customer experience. It fuses a color-changing cocktail made at the hands of the drinker along with a beautifully-presented mirrored tray in order to really put the consumer in the mood for the drink.
However, Rotger points out a very good point: what works in China doesn’t always work on the international market. For markets that have had their cocktail cultures for decades, they want to know exactly what is in their drink and how it is made. The frills and the presentation are less for them, and the taste, as well as the mixture, is more important. This presents a challenge when putting China’s cocktail culture on an international map because it has not yet evolved out of its beginning stages.
Rotger also has some wonderful advice for women who are wanting to break out into the bar scene, especially in China: read. Read about drinks, read about ingredients, read about infusions, and read about the culture. Watch videos online, go to seminars, and purchase reading material to travel with. Do not wait for someone to take your hand and lead you, because the only thing that will happen is that you will be left behind.
Especially if you are a woman.
In the end, Rotger wants to do two things: put China’s cocktail culture on the international map and inspire other to rise in the industry and not be afraid. She wants to see barriers broken in every respect in order to infuse cultures along with creating a local cocktail culture that can draw people in with the smooth tastes of the home around them.
Her best piece of advice? I couldn’t have said it better myself: if you know what you’re doing, no one can push you around.
And it is that belief that boils Macarena Rotger’s passion for making delicious and experimental cocktails.
*Picture from Time Out Shanghai