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Roxanne Read is a professional mixologist. But what exactly does that mean, and can you really make a successful career out of it? Oh yes you can. Read on for the deets…

The beginning…

Roxanne Read studied at AFDA in Johannesburg, as a film student. “Everyone knows that student life requires a side hustle or second job, especially for earning an income,” she says. Roxanne walked into cocktail bar Six in Melville one day and there was a guy standing behind a bar juggling lemons. “I told him how cool he looked and he said I should look into bartending, which I initially declined,” she says. But Roxanne had never seen any female bartenders in the country, so she decided to pursue the unknown.

“The manager put me on a training programme and apparently all the managers made a bet about how I wouldn’t make it. I ended up working there for three and a half years and ran circles around every single guy in that bar. I made more money than most of the men,” she says. Roxanne became addicted to the adrenaline rush of serving drinks and having one-on-one interactions with customers. Fourteen years later, she’s still in the industry… and loving it.

When she first started out, Roxanne met wonderful mentors who introduced her to flavour profiling and garnishing. “They started training me up and I entered a few competitions. I’d compete in Joburg and Cape Town. At the time the Cape Town cocktail culture was very different to the Joburg scene and that encouraged me to push and work at being the best at my craft,” she says.

Thoughts on pursuing a hobby as a career?

Roxanne’s background in theatre helped her career. “My drink presentations are always OTT. I try to give people an experience. It’s not just a drink for me – it’s a 4D experience,” she says. She believes the drink has to make you remember something from your childhood or evoke a wonderful memory.

Being a mixologist means catering for every palate

“You won’t be able to please everyone, but it’s important to have a conversation with your guests, so you know what they enjoy,” she says. Roxanne finds out if her guests prefer their drinks sweet or sour, strong or weak. “I ask questions about how [they] drink their tea, what their favourite food is. All those questions give insight into the kinds of palates I’ll be dealing with,” she says. Her aim: To take her customers out of their comfort zones…

Can a mixologist further their studies?

There are schools for Mixology where you can get degrees for the industry. “To master mixology, you have to have a natural flair for it and understand how flavours combine with each other,” says Roxanne. The best way to learn is simply to experiment with different flavours and textures. “The only way to do that is by trying a variety of drinks. It’s great for developing yourself. I’ve worked in about nine different countries and every country comes with its own offering. It does take time and apprenticeship, but with a good leader, you can succeed,” she adds.

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Alex Glenday

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