Food & Drink
Q&A: Bit By A Fox’s Prairie Rose — Shaking Up the Cocktail World, One Drink at a Time
by Lea Faminiano
[All images courtesy of Bit By A Fox]
You can get hooked on drinks, and you can most certainly be smitten with cocktails, but is it possible to be addicted to a cocktail blog? With Bit By A Fox, Brooklyn cocktail maven Prairie Rose seems to have made it happen, for me, at least – and her blog has had her followers sipping happily along with every post.
I briefly met the lovely Prairie at this past September’s Taste Talks – we sat next to each other at Brad Thomas Parsons’ bitters workshop, and after trying all the bitters we could handle, she handed me her business card with a big smile, then floated away into the crowd. Rather than leaving it to lie forgotten at the bottom of my purse (as most business cards tend to do, oops!), something (a little boozy little bird, perhaps?) told me to actually check out her website. Since then, I’ve kept my eye on Prairie’s blog, reading all the fabulous recipes, and trying to keep up with her mixing cocktail after cocktail on Instagram. Self-described as “a boozy blog with bite,” Bit By A Fox is exactly that – part recipe book, part cocktail eye-candy, with a hefty portion of style and quirkiness, Prairie has crafted a virtual space devoted to everything cocktail related that is informative, accessible (no long list of expensive ingredients for one drink here!) and super friendly.
Not only does Prairie blog, but she’s also pursuing her love for cocktails out in the real world, creating her own syrups, serving up drinks at various events, and collaborating on all sorts of projects. Prairie was sweet enough to answer a few questions for The Couch Sessions, and she tells us more about how she got into cocktails, blogging, and her favorite drinks – read on and if you haven’t, bookmark Bit By A Fox, because trust me, you’ll be hearing much more from Prairie in the near future.
Fun note: Bit By A Fox was recently nominated as a finalist for Best Cocktail Blog in Saveur’s Best Food Blog Awards – I’ve already voted, make sure you do, too! Here’s where to vote – voting ends on April 9th, so make sure you get your vote in ASAP!
The Couch Sessions: Tell us a little bit about your background – how you ended up in NYC (unless you’re from here!) and how you got your start in crafting cocktails.
Prairie Rose: I’m originally from the Pacific Northwest. I grew up in Olympia, Washington and studied theater at Cornish College of the Arts in Seattle. But I always knew that I’d eventually end up in New York City. I was one of those kids who obsessed about moving to the big city when I grew up and I was lucky enough to be able to visit regularly despite being on opposite coasts. My mom grew up in New York and most of that side of my family was out here. After a brief stint in London studying with the Royal National Theater, and some prerequisite post-college travels, I ended up crashing at a friend’s apartment in Brooklyn with an over-sized back pack, credit card debt and very little skills. I mean, I studied acting! But there’s always a restaurant job in the city for those types, right? So, that’s what I did – hat check girl, waiter, hostess, bartender. I ended up managing a bar in a French bistro in midtown at 23 years old with no prior experience…and pretty much did everything wrong! But that was my first lesson in French wines, and I was fascinated. I went on to other restaurant jobs around the city and picked up a lot more wine knowledge along the way, and when I eventually left the restaurant industry (in favor of a day job in the corporate world of marketing), I continued my studies in a more formal setting. I completed the Wine & Spirit Education Trust’s Level 2 and 3, Advanced Course at the International Wine Center in Manhattan. They offer a diploma program there and I intended to complete that, but I had found myself more interested in focusing on spirits, primarily. I then shifted my focus, completed the WSET Spirits Course, took cocktail classes all over town, bought every cocktail book in print and made it my duty to create a pretty active cocktail”lab” in my kitchen!
Why was Bit By A Fox born?
One of the reasons I got into seriously studying spirits and cocktails and familiarizing myself with the industry in the first place, is because I had plans to open a brick and mortar bar business in Brooklyn a few years back with a partner. Our concept, actually, helped us to win a nationwide contest, sponsored by Bayer Healthcare and Daily Candy. We received a small amount of seed money and some media exposure, and were featured alongside other notable women in an online photo collection by legendary portrait photographer Annie Leibovitz. That business, unfortunately, never came to fruition, but I knew that the insane amount of work and research that went into it was still incredibly valuable. I wanted to leverage my years of research and knowledge of the rapidly changing spirits landscape, as well as share with the world the cocktail recipes that I’d created over the years. There was also a sudden surge of interest in all things cocktail-related since I’d started this journey. Not just a boom in bars with quality cocktails and speakeasies, which had been happening for a while, but there was a real interest from “cocktail enthusiasts” who were tricking out their home bars, learning the classics, and getting pretty skilled behind the stick. From my research, I knew that there was potentially a growing audience that might be interested in what I had to share….so, the Bit By a Fox blog was born!
Your cocktail creations are so inventive and they all look absolutely delicious – how do you come up with your recipes?
My recipes have morphed slightly over the years, but I’d like to think that they’ve all been yummy! As simple as that sounds, that has always been my goal – to be delicious! I’ve never understood mixing a million, wacky things together just to be unusual…and it’s expensive! I like to keep it simple and seasonal. Like most people, I tend to go for heavier, spicier cocktails in the colder months and brighter, more refreshing tipples when it warms up. Fresh ingredients and balance is key. Other than that, you can be inventive. I like having the parameters of a balanced cocktail to work within…because I am then able to discover the freedom within that. My flavor ideas generally come from what is in season and sometimes from spices that I’ve had in foods that I think might work well in a drink. Sometimes the inspiration comes from the spirit itself, and figuring out what ingredients might be able to highlight or complement the flavors already present in the spirit on its own.
This might be like asking you to pick your favorite child – but which of your drinks are your favorite go-to recipes to whip up?
This has also changed over the years. I used to be really into labor intensive cocktails when I had people over. I think the cocktail nerds out there may be able to relate. It’s pretty exciting once you have all of your fun bar tools and various bitters and imported, rare liqueurs and fancy, round ice cube trays. And you want to show off your new, nerdy skillz! Some of those labor intensive cocktails are amazing but this was before I knew how to properly entertain! Now, it’s all about keeping it easy. The French 75 is forever a crowd pleaser and so easy to whip up. I like to include one of my hand-made syrups to spice it up and make it a little special. Negronis are also a fan favorite. And these can be pre-batched, which is key when you have more than two people over. You don’t want to be shaking cocktails all night while everyone else is catching up. And if you add some sparkling wine to that, even better! The Famiglia Royale is so easy and delicious and can be refreshing in the summer or festive in the winter.
I only really started getting into cocktails this year, and I’ve been working my way down a list of all the cocktail spots I want to try – but that list has just been growing longer and longer! Where do you usually go to grab a drink in the city?
Come summer, the Garden Snake cocktail at Flatbush Farm in Park Slope has my name on it. There are so many amazing spots for cocktails now! It’s hard to pick a favorite. It often depends on what part of town I’m in and the occasion. For a really authentic cocktail experience: Employees Only, Dutch Kills, Death & Co., Pouring Ribbons, The Clover Club, Experimental Cocktail Club and Ward III are all really great. Attaboy is also super solid and has such a great, relaxed vibe in there. Bearded Lady in Prospect Heights is fun and they can get adventuresome with their drinks menu. But there are amazing cocktail programs in restaurants as well. I’m pretty into Momofuku’s seasonal cocktail menu and Le Bernadin has a lovely array of (albeit) pricey tipples!
I’ve been following you on Instagram and noticed that you’ve been taking part in tons of cool events at places such as Atlantic Cellars and also at private events – how have these collaborations come about?
Once I started the blog, it wasn’t long before I was asked to do events. My background had been in producing events on the private and corporate level, so it was sort of a no brainer that that would be the next step for me. The partnership with Atlantic Cellars came out of my friendship with the general manager, Guido Venitucci. We had worked together in a number of restaurants around the city that he managed or owned. He had hired me to produce some successful dinners and tastings, and we had worked well together. When he made the move away from restaurants and into wines and spirits retail, our interests were once again aligned and he brought me in to help out with their local spirits tastings. It’s been a great opportunity for me to develop relationships with the makers and distillers of these local brands and, hopefully, through the blog and other social media, I’m helping to get the word out about these small batch spirits. Kate Galassi, from the amazing weekly, curated food subscription service, Quinciple, asked me to include some cranberry themed cocktail recipes for their Thanksgiving box last November. And then she brought me on board to do some cocktail events for Quinciple in wine and spirits stores around Brooklyn over the winter. I’m still recovering from the holidays, though! I worked some holiday parties with over 200 people, learned some great lessons in time management and hiring staff at the last minute, and all while trying to maintain my sanity and my day job! They all, luckily, went amazingly smooth.
Any dream cocktail collaborations?
There are so many incredible spirits brands on the market, it would be hard to pick just one to collaborate with, but I love what St. Germain Elderflower Liqueur is all about. From the quality and versatility of their product, to their beautiful packaging and inventive marketing efforts, they seem like an amazing brand to work with. I also love collaborating with chefs and conceptualizing cocktails for special food events. Since we’re talking DREAM collabs…April Bloomfield, Mario Batali or David Chang!
And just for fun: if you had a completely free day in the city to do whatever you want – what would you do?
A completely free day where I was rested and ready to hit the town and not just recovering from my crazy life? What a luxury! I’m assuming, on this free day, it is beautiful out since that is when New York can be the most fun to trip around. I’m a big fan of wandering the city on those kinds of days and not having a set plan. I also like having an entire day in one neighborhood…like Red Hook, Brooklyn. I’d love to start out with a bike ride into Red Hook, have a yummy brunch at Fort Defiance, where we’d sit on one of their few outdoor stools facing the window into the restaurant. After a few delightful Ramos Gin Fizzes we’d think it wise to head over to Baked and gobble down some sort of sinful thing like the Peanut Butter Crispy. To work off the morning’s indulgence, we’d ride our bikes to the waterfront and hang out by the rusted out train cars outside Fairway. We could walk over to the waterfront museum and take in some tug boat history and then make our way over to Valentino Park to chill in the sunshine for a bit. Maybe someone would volunteer to head over to Steve’s Key Lime Pies for a swingles run. Or we’d save room for a Red Hook Lobster Pound lobster roll. In any case, we’d probably end up touring some distillery – Van Brunt, Sorel or Cacao Prieto are all down there – window shopping in the boutiques on Van Brunt, and then getting some pre-dinner cocktails at Botanica. Dinner would be in the garden at the amazing Good Fork restaurant and I would order the bi bim bap, of course. If we still had a little juice left in us, maybe we’d make our way down to Sunny’s Bar for a nightcap. Although, after all that, I doubt a bike ride home would be in order!
What can we look forward to from Bit By A Fox in the future?
There is a plan in the works to start a YouTube channel with short videos featuring some of the stuff that I profile on the blog. We’ll keep it short and sweet so people don’t get too sick of my face! Before that goes live, however, I have plans for a more official Bit By a Fox website. The blog has a DIY vibe and I’d like to continue writing for it, but I see that there is now a need for some more interactive and service elements in terms of cocktail searching and creating, that a clean, user-friendly website would be able to provide. And, finally, I have plans to launch some cocktail related products later this year. I’m pretty excited about it, but I can’t reveal too much since we are still in the early stages of development. But stay tuned! If you follow the blog or any BBAF social media, you’ll be the first (outside of my mom) to know!
Thank you so much, Prairie! Everyone: don’t forget to check out Bit By A Fox, and definitely don’t forget to hop over to Saveur’s Best Food Blog Awards page to vote for Bit By A Fox as the Best Cocktail Blog!