Could Santa Fe soon join New York, Los Angeles, Las Vegas and New Orleans at the forefront of cocktail evolution? We certainly will, if nationally recognized mixologist Natalie Bovis, aka The Liquid Muse, has anything to say about it. With her gregarious nature and passionate dedication, it’s easy to see why Natalie is the ideal ambassador for New Mexico’s cocktail culture.
Like many kids who grow up in small towns, during her childhood in Santa Fe, Natalie yearned for the lights of the big city. So after she earned her degree in French literature and theater from the University of New Mexico, she moved to Los Angeles, where she supported her creative pursuits by working in the hospitality field. She tended bar, and later, she worked in the marketing sector of the L.A. film industry, eventually becoming a restaurant publicist in Washington DC.
Then, in 2006, she made the decision to delve into cocktail culture full-time with the launch of her website, TheLiquidMuse.com. “The best way to describe what I do is I’m sort of a conduit for cocktail culture,” she explains. In the 10 years since TheLiquidMuse.com’s launch, she has lived up to that description. The breadth and depth of Natalie’s experiences have made her one of the most sought-after voices in the industry, and she’s garnered attention as a spokesperson, brand manager and distributor liaison for a number of alcohol companies; as co-creator of the industry wellness series Mind, Body, Spirit(s); as a frequent guest on radio and TV shows; and as the author of three books of cocktail recipes, with a fourth one in the works!
In 2013, as the Liquid Muse website was growing in popularity, Natalie began to wonder what was next for her. Natalie’s mentor—New York’s Pegu Club founder Audrey Saunders—advised her to get behind the bar again.
So Natalie decided to come back to Santa Fe and tend bar at Secreto. “I was going to be here a little while,” she laughs, “but then I realized I really did want to live here.” She felt a complete reversal of her childhood desire to escape, and she continues, “Spending time here, I realized I absolutely love it, and now, you couldn’t drag me away.”
After a year behind the bar at Secreto, Natalie began a new venture. She co-developed OM Organic Mixology Liqueurs, a line of certified organic liqueurs that is now sold in seven states and is listed on some very prestigious menus, including Nobu in New York, the Four Seasons in Las Vegas, and the Ritz Carlton in Miami.
Today, she continues to be an emissary of cocktail culture. She explains, “When I started The Liquid Muse, I was lucky to be in cities that were on the cutting edge when mixology was gaining popularity,” she says. “In mixology, a lot of it is self taught, so a lot of what you do is read and study and find a mentor and learn from the right people.”
Her goal for The Liquid Muse is to help interested folks in Santa Fe to learn cocktail culture, history and techniques. She reaches out through events, education and the media. To that end, she writes for her website and for other publications, she holds trainings for bar staff and distributor sales teams, she makes guest appearances on TV and radio shows, and she works as a brand consultant, cocktail caterer, as well as a recipe developer for big-brand liquor companies and distillers. If you’re still not convinced she’s the one to advocate for Santa Fe and put us at the vanguard of cocktail culture, consider this: Her recipes are so popular, they are regularly featured at high-profile events ranging from Playboy Mansion parties in L.A. to President Obama’s 2013 Green Inaugural Ball in Washington DC.
Natalie has a seemingly endless supply of energy, as she also stars in a weekly podcast called One for the Road, and she has created a video series called “Digging In” that focuses on farmers, chefs and sustainable cuisine in New Mexico.
She teaches seminars at trade shows and conferences, and she’s a familiar face at cocktail festivals nationwide, where she periodically judges cocktail competitions. In one of her most impressive accomplishments to date, in 2015, she created the New Mexico Cocktails & Culture Fest to foster cocktail culture in Santa Fe and New Mexico.
“I recognized there were people in Santa Fe who were interested in studying and reading the books and who wanted to be a part of the global cocktail culture. I realized this would be a wonderful destination for a cocktail festival,” she recalls. She began putting together an educational festival that elevates and celebrates New Mexico cocktail culture.
Santa Fe has so many elements that are crucial to sophisticated cocktail culture. Natalie notes the city’s inventive and creative population, respect for history and heritage, and a truly remarkable appreciation for the culinary world. “People in Santa Fe appreciate food in a way that is rare in the rest of the United States,” she observes. “Here in Santa Fe, people are incredibly passionate about the culinary world, and mixology is one part of that. Spirits and cocktails are very much a part of that sphere.”
Her festival aims to bring these strengths together, fill in the gaps, and propel Santa Fe into the top of cocktail culture. “I’m honored to bring in luminaries from the cocktail world to talk and to teach here in Santa Fe,” she says. In New Mexico Cocktails & Culture festival’s inaugural year, Dale DeGroff (aka King Cocktail), the winner of the 2015 James Beard Who’s Who in Food & Beverage, as well as the 2009 James Beard Wine & Spirits Professional Award, led seminars, to the delight of the attendees. “People couldn’t believe he was coming to our little town!” Natalie exclaims. “But he is incredibly kind and gracious and he came to teach.”
Other big names that Natalie persuaded to teach in Santa Fe include Tony Abou-Ganim and Bobby G Gleason. These contacts are a real testament to Natalie’s long-term dedication to cocktail culture, and the lasting connections she has made along the way. She recognizes their contributions, saying, “I reached out to mentors of mine and said, ‘I want to create and support the cocktail community in this area, will you help me?’ and they all came. That’s incredibly touching and I am eternally grateful.”
In addition to educational efforts, she’s also bringing awareness of cutting-edge trends to the Santa Fe public. She points to the move toward sustainability and eco-friendly practices, which she hopes to spearhead with OM liqueurs. She also notes the exploding popularity of eastern influences, and the inclusion of Asian flavors and bartending techniques such as soju, shochu, sake and Japanese whiskey. “Those have been on trend for a while,” she remarks, “and they are only becoming more fascinating to us as we explore the flavors further.” She also notices that American consumers are beginning to embrace and understand bitter liqueurs like Amaro, and fortified wines like vermouth, port and sherry. She imagines local mixologists will embrace and adapt these trends with enthusiasm and personal creativity.
“It’s time we raised the bar in the Land of Enchantment. In cities around us—Denver and Phoenix—international bar awards are being won, and Santa Fe deserves to be in that circle,” she insists. That’s what drives Natalie’s commitment to the New Mexico Cocktails & Culture Fest. She says, “It’s a great opportunity to show off my hometown and to educate people here, and get us to the level where we participate in the national cocktail culture. It’ll only elevate tourism and respect for culinary culture here—which includes cocktail culture.”
Whatever comes next, the future looks bright for Santa Fe’s burgeoning cocktail culture. And with Natalie leading the charge, a Santa Fe cocktail heyday is surely on the horizon.
Recipes from The Liquid Muse Herself!
1 1/2 ounces Taos Lightning rye whiskey
1 ounce OM Dark Chocolate & Sea Salt Liqueur
3/4 ounce port
Dash chocolate bitters
Garnish: drunken cherry (soaked in whiskey)
Stir with ice, strain into cocktail glass.
2 ounces OM Cranberry & Blood Orange
1/2 ounce organic cherry juice
Top with sparkling wine
Garnish: rim a cocktail glass with red cookie sugar (moisten champagne flute rim, then dip in sugar)
Gently pour all ingredients into rimmed glass.