When we grow up, we want to be Anistatia Miller and Jared Brown, one of the coolest couples in the drinks industry. Mind you, unlike us, they really know their stuff. As self-confessed, walking drinks encyclopaedias they’ve written over 35 books, host talks and masterclasses and conduct research for brands on the subject, all under the umbrella of their company Mixellany. We caught up with them to find out what makes them tick.
You met and got engaged in record time (two days), what brought you together?
JB: “Food and drink. Anistatia hired me to help her host a Christmas party. The first words she ever said to me were, “You can’t open a bottle of wine!” as she stared at the cast on my left hand. I replied, ’I just cooked lunch for a hundred people.’ She dragged me in by my good arm. By the end of the night it was as if we’d always been together. Perhaps the funniest moment was when it got down to me, her, and this rather lecherous drunk who thought I’d be leaving and he’d be staying. He told me I could go. I looked at her. She didn’t need to say a word. I got it. I tossed my arm around him and marched him to the door, catching his coat as I passed it, saying, ‘Couldn’t dream of walking out on all those dirty dishes, great to meet you, have a good night.’ The door shut before he knew what had happened. We listened to him knock for a couple of minutes, with Anistatia trying desperately not to laugh out loud.”
AM: “Jared’s cousin Daniel and the caterer who ditched on me at the last minute. Daniel had been trying to get us to meet for about five years. He kept saying, ’You’ve got to meet my cousin, Jared. You two have a lot in common.’ When a caterer failed to report on the day of the dinner I was holding for 55 people, Daniel suggested Jared would be a good candidate. He showed up three hours after I rang him and that was it.”
What was life before Shaken Not Stirred/Mixellany?
JB: “We’ve never really done anything individually since we met. Prior to that I was working as a chef, doing some freelance catering and restaurant consulting. I’d worked almost five years at the Essex House on Central Park South in Manhattan in operations.”
AM: “President of the New York Art Directors Club Book Division. Design consultant for Rizzoli International Publications and Random House. Creative Director for a New York marketing company.”
How do you complement each other, both personally and professionally?
JB: “I write to entertain, impress, and surprise Anistatia. She is my test audience. In business, she sees the big views, I deal in details. There are no egos involved. We’re both as happy to be working prep as working the stove when we cook together, and we rarely leave one or the other to cook alone.”
AM: “We process information differently which works in our favour on all levels. Jared tends to dredge stuff up from the oddest places and throw spanners into concepts seemingly written in stone. I look for patterns in seemingly unrelated facts and actions, then formulate conclusions. It works nicely together.”
Anistatia, please describe Jared; Jared, please describe Anistatia.
JB: “Determined, honest, and forthright, she was a born director or executive. Combine that with her creative talents and passions and she could have just as easily been a phenomenal artist if she had chosen that path.”
AM: “An absolute genius and still sexy after all these years.”
What’s the best thing about working together?
JB: “Working together 24/7, and we haven’t had a fight since we stopped trying to live and work in a New York bedsit with two cats that was about 100 square metres. (We survived that for almost six years.)”
AM: “There ain’t no in-house politics involved. I’ve had enough of that in my lifetime, thank you.”
And the hardest?
JB: “I would say ’knowing when to stop’ except that the work we do is so enjoyable.”
AM: “Dunno. Ain’t nothin’ hard about working with Jared.”
What’s the best thing about working in the drinks industry?
JB: “There are a lot of industries where people drop in from other industries and flit away to others. You can’t really excel at selling breakfast cereals and then step into drinks. It’s far too specialised. Thus it is not so much an industry, it is a family. There are siblings and business marriages, black sheep and kissing cousins, parents and children. Within it, there is a lot of caring.”
AM: “It’s the one industry where you meet the entire spectrum of humanity, from chemistry graduates and future novelists to masters of industry and rock ‘n’ rollers. You don’t find that broad a swath anywhere else in this world.”
And the hardest?
JB: “Explaining to my mother that I was known and loved by bartenders around the world.”
AM: “Ask me when we get back from 14 days in Mexico, five days in Cuba, two days in Berlin, four days in Amsterdam, all within four weeks. It ain’t the years, it’s the miles.”
Did you choose the drinks industry or did it choose you?
JB: “It chose me. I knew my wines pretty well by the time I was eight (though, like any eight year old, I leaned toward Rieslings and other overly sweet whites). When I was 10 I made my first distillation. I read that the American colonists had repeatedly frozen cider and lifted out the ice to concentrate the alcohol. As cider wasn’t readily available in the US in the ‘70s, I had to make it first, then freeze it. The result was dreadful! By age eleven I was using other people’s base spirit to make liqueurs. Coffee liqueur mostly. My mother was confused, but indulgent. About 10 years ago I met my father’s side of the family and discovered they had about three centuries in the brewing industry that they could trace. Clearly, alcohol was (and frequently is) in my blood.”
AM: “It chose me. My dad was in the business, so you could say I was born into it. Bartending was the first skill I gravitated to when I was sixteen. Writing stories about bartenders, bars, and drinks from the past came more naturally than either Jared or I ever expected. Developing spirits became the frosting on the career cake.”
How do you work?
JB: “I injured my back years ago and got a bed desk to work lying down. It was so comfortable, I got one for Anistatia. We spent a few years writing side-by-side, elbows touching, but as a rule we rarely spoke to each other. It was easier to email back and forth. ’You hungry? Lunch in about 15. In the midst of a thought right now.’ I still use my bed desk regularly, or join Anistatia in the office where we have matching desks. Well, I say matching but hers is a drafting table with an iMac and a couple terabyte back-up drives, a printer, pencil cups overflowing, in-boxes, etc. while mine is a cushy daybed with a pile of Moroccan pillows and my laptop on my lap. My doctor recently remarked that I have an unusually straight spine. I told him that for years I’ve done my best work on my back. I guess that didn’t come out right. He had to leave the room to stop laughing.”
AM: “We work all over the house, actually. Depends on the day. Sometimes in the office, sometimes in the library, in bed, in the sitting room, outside on the lawn. We just throw stuff back and forth at will. There’s no set pattern, no regimen, we just do stuff and somehow it all gets done.”
Masterclasses, research, writing, public speaking, projects for drinks companies – which of these do you prefer doing and why?
JB: “All of the above. It’s as much a passion and an obsession as it is a profession. While sharing discoveries with the industry is a great pleasure, private research – information that never sees the light of day unless a brand decides to release it – is too. The thrill, as they say, is in the chase.”
AM: “You have think of this more as rock ‘n’ roll. You go into seclusion to write songs, record an album. The world is your research library, your inspiration. Once you’ve got one in the can, you go on the road to perform what you’ve done, the new stuff, the old stuff, the stuff that makes your audience come alive. I love doing it all it. Depends on where in the cycle we are at that given moment. Right now, we’re gearing up for new research and road shows simultaneously.”
On average, how long does it take you to write one of your books?
JB: “Longer than it took Barbara Cartland.”
AM: “Gosh. The original Shaken Not Stirred: A Celebration of the Martini took 90 days to write. That’s what the publisher gave us as a deadline. The two-volume Spirituous Journey: A History of Drink took about a year. The Deans of Drink took four months. Research time? We both keep files and notebooks chock full of little snippets of information that we find each and every day of our lives. When an idea for a book or a commission for a book avails itself, we open Pandora’s box and start playing with the jigsaw puzzle.”
Does the research of projects ever stop?
JB: “I just checked and I still have a pulse. As long as that’s going, the research is unfinished. An unfinished project? Cataloguing our drinks library.”
AM: “Nope. We actually will be revising a couple of titles that we wrote three or four years ago because new information has come to light. There is no real ongoing project. We just constantly dig through stuff, whatever takes our fancy that day.”
Do you have set roles within Mixellany or does each commission bring out different traits?
JB: “Anistatia is better at working from our established knowledge base than I am. I will research the same topic again as if it were the first time every time. Her approach is far more pragmatic, but she’s happy to leave me tilting at windmills as it occasionally rousts a dragon.”
AM: “Set roles? Not really, save that I do the bookkeeping and deal with the accountant and the banks. Aside from that, whom ever gets there first does it. After a few marriages, I admit to not being good about division of labour. In my best possible world, it’s a free-for-all, whom ever gets there first gets it done.”
How has the drinks industry changed over the past 10 years?
JB: “Consumer and on-trade sophistication has soared globally in the past decade. It’s great to see the sort of people who used to be happy drinking or serving vodka sodas debating about the relative merits of different bitters and universally celebrating the Negroni.”
AM: “Pride and passion have finally found a place in the drinks industry on all levels. There are spirits producers who are passionate about their products. There are bartenders who have more in common with chefs when it comes to pride in their work. A great short-order cook has a compatriot in a great high-volume bartender. A breakthrough creative chef has a twin at the bar, the talented mixologist. A gregarious celebrity chef even has a match amid the bar personalities who have and are making names for themselves amongst consumers. Good? Yes.”
What are your tipples of choice?
JB: “Gin, vermouth, rum, whiskey, whisky, tequila, sherry, vermouth (worth mentioning twice here), port, real ales, good lager, mescal, cachaça, amaros, liqueurs, Champagne, cognac, cava, rosé, but never soft drinks or cider.
AM: “Gin, vodka, aged rum, bourbon, scotch and all of the drinks that lie within.”
Who would you most like to have a drink with, living or dead and what questions would you ask them?
JB: “Anistatia. I’d ask if she’d like a Martini. Second choice, my father. He passed away when I was six. I’d have a million questions for him. I’d start by asking him if he’d like a Martini.”
AM: “A pint with T.E. Lawrence (aka: Lawrence of Arabia) at his old local in Oxford just so I could ask him; ‘Why?’ A cocktail with Ray Bradbury, who once said: ’If you want to write, if you want to create, you must be the most sublime fool that God ever turned out and sent rambling. You must write every single day of your life. You must read dreadful dumb books and glorious books, and let them wrestle in beautiful fights inside your head, vulgar one moment, brilliant the next. You must lurk in libraries and climb the stacks like ladders to sniff books like perfumes and wear books like hats upon your crazy heads. I wish you a wrestling match with your creative muse that will last a lifetime. I wish craziness and foolishness and madness upon you. May you live with hysteria, and out of it make fine stories, science fiction or otherwise. Which finally means, may you be in love every day for the next 20,000 days. And out of that love, remake a world.’ For that statement alone I want to buy him a few rounds and thank him.”
Which of your projects are you proudest of and why?
JB: “Sipsmith would have to score high on that list as I’ve been able to throw so much of what we’ve learned into the product.”
AM: “All of them.”
What are your most treasured possessions i.e. the thing you’d grab in a fire.
JB: “Have I shown you my Prohibition coin? It’s not from the second Prohibition, it commemorates the first one that started in 1855. I should also mention that I’d be in the library throwing books out the window. I’d probably try to chuck the mattress first to minimise any damage to them. Rare books are not consumable commodities. As owners we are their caretakers, ensuring that they pass to the next generation in the same condition we found them.”
AM: “Kitten. She’s our 15-year-old angel and travel companion. Object? My copy of T.E. Lawrence’s Seven Pillars of Wisdom. I’ve had a rare copy of the 1935 edition with its original sales brochure for over 45 years. It was written by my childhood hero.”
What are you working on at the moment?
JB: “An exhaustive trilogy on the history of Cuban rum (we’re editing and publishing it –the writer is Cuba’s top rum scholar); The Drinker’s Almanac, a compendium of all the random facts and anecdotes we’ve uncovered in the past twenty years; an article on new Paris bars for the Financial Times; and new (I should really say ‘old’) product development for Sipsmith.”
AM: “Editing the three-volume magnum opus of Cuba’s preeminent Cuban rum historian which we will publish in Spanish and English this year. Getting ready to hit the road on a few research missions in the next two months. And writing the historical libretto for a large project in London.”
“A side note: “Three times as I went to retrieve files related to this from email I went to search for ’cocktail lovers‘ and typed ’cocktail livers‘ instead. Reminds me of my doctor in New York who, every time I went for a physical, would look at my liver test and shake her head: ’This can’t be right. Your liver function is perfectly normal.’ I would explain that I don’t binge, I indulge. She never understood that one.”