Sarah Rahl’s journey in mixology is one of passion for the career.
By Elle Bent, Photos courtesy of Commodore Perry Estate Auberge Resorts Collection
Sara Rahl, the lead mixologist for Austin’s Commodore Perry Estate, debuted an immersive cocktail menu inspired by the resort’s grounds and the sights and smells of the rose garden on property. Rahl is a veteran in the industry, and as a creative, she is passionate about being behind the bar and doing what she does best: crafting.
Where do you find inspiration when creating a new cocktail?
I like to focus on a specific theme for our rotating seasonal menu at the mansion. The spring/summer menu was inspired by the grounds at Commodore Perry, specifically the rose garden. The fall/winter menu was inspired by nostalgia. I like to have a mix of approachable creations along with a few more adventurous concoctions.
Talk about the cocktail menu in the mansion and what inspired you as you created it.
Recently, I’ve been inspired to explore nostalgia. I’m from Maine, and the fall through winter months elicit a lot of core memories of growing up in New England. We have a small bar team here but are lucky enough to showcase our own unique diversity among the few of us. When creating our fall and winter cocktail menu, we called upon memories of growing up in our respective small towns, from Texas to Maine. What were the flavors, smells, sounds, traditions and atmosphere that made us think of the season?
What challenges have you faced as a mixologist, especially as a woman?
One of the biggest challenges is feeling confident to pursue this as a career. I’ve found there is always a stigma attached to bartending, especially female bartenders. As someone with a college degree, it’s not lost on me when people will ask what I want to do with the rest of my life. I don’t suppose a chef would get asked the same question often. I think bartending is starting to merge with culinary arts. It’s always been creative and exciting for me.
I was working at Austin Proper in March of 2020 and was ultimately laid off for a few months during the height of the pandemic. I thought about what I wanted to do for the rest of my career, that maybe this was the time to change direction. Ultimately, I ended up going back to Austin Proper, essentially hired back as a pool bartender, something that had kick-started my career at Four Season eight years prior. I stayed on for another year or so, making my way back to volume bartending in Peacock before deciding to take the advice of an old manager from Four Seasons and go into sales.
When I say that was one of the worst decisions I’ve ever made, that is being optimistic. I lasted a little over a month and, with the support of my wife, quit without any prospects on the horizon. I started consulting and creating cocktail menus. It was then that I came into Commodore Perry for an interview and felt this would be a spot that would be worth getting back behind the bar. This full-circle moment solidified that being behind the bar creating cocktails is what I want to do as a career.
What community have you found in mixology?
It’s definitely changed over the years. Pre-COVID hospitality is so different from post. As a young bartender in Austin, I found myself out late after shifts and frequenting service industry bars. I made some of my best friends working in hospitality. I met my wife working together at the Four Seasons. As I get older, I look forward to a good happy hour, but 11 p.m. is an ideal bedtime.
[In my] current community, we were able to host a few amazing women in the Austin bar world for guest spots at Commodore Perry during the month of August. For the most part I’ve always worked with men behind the bar, but the women in Austin’s bar scene are always championing one another. It’s great to see, and as I get older the business relationships behind the bar become more prevalent than where everyone met up the night before.
What advice do you have for other women interested in mixology
I would tell them to listen, learn and act. I think absorbing information from anything and everything is so important. You’ll never know everything, ever. That’s what makes it fun. I try to show instead of tell. Show your worth; show your creativity, avoid telling.