Shannon Stiggins took a familiar path to her place behind the stick. She began as a server at a restaurant in Locust Valley, New York. Luckily, everyone who worked there had to train behind the bar.
“There was something exciting about building drinks,” Stiggins says. “I was addicted to the rush of being in the weeds, as crazy as that sounds.” She worked her way through all sorts of bartending jobs from country clubs to sports bars, night clubs to college pubs. In 2009, she moved to New York where, as she says, “the world of cocktails was opened.”
Her current role is behind the bar at SoHo’s Paowalla, which presents modern Indian cooking with an American twist. “Our cocktails use spices common in Indian culture,” says Stiggins. Recently, she added a tiki-style cocktail to the menu. Called a Drunken Lassi, it combines two types of rum, honey, tiki bitters, mango lassi, and lime. Tiki bitters is her ingredient of the moment, as she loves the spiced flavor it adds. “I put it in everything, even my coffee!” she jokes.
Tiki bitters clearly marries well with the rum and lime in Stiggins’ Drunken Lassi. When creating
a drink, she says, “I start by thinking about a flavor, spice, or juice I want to work with. Then, I
decide what style matches the flavor profile I’m working with. So strong and bold flavors go
best with stirred down and boozy drinks. And something floral, I’d pair with something shaken
For Stiggins, it’s not just a flavor or basic ingredient that influences her recipes, it’s the exact
style or type of ingredient. Different brands of spirits, various sugar syrups, types of citrus–
they each have their own profile. “A simple daiquiri can taste a million different ways,” she
notes, “by just changing the rum, making the possibilities endless.”
The bartending community as a whole has influenced her development; watching colleagues across the globe from New York, New Orleans, London, Athens, and Paris has pushed her to keep learning. In today’s bartending world, being good isn’t enough. “Showcasing one’s skill has become a huge culture,” she says.
“Competitions like Bacardi Legacy, Speedrack, and World Class have opened great doors of opportunity and fame for their competitors. Everyone wants to be the best, but they will have to prove they are.”