Chicago is home to the infamous deep dish pizza, the classic Chicago-style hot dog, and the Italian Beef, but thanks to one man, it is now home to the world’s best bartender, Charles Joly. After opening the Drawing Room in 2007, Charles’s name began to be heard across the country, helping draw notice to the blossoming craft cocktail movement in Chicago. After progressing to the Aviary in 2012 and spearheading yet another successful beverage program with Grant Achatz, he was voted American Bartender of the Year at the prestigious Tales of the Cocktail event and was awarded a proclaimed James Beard award.
As if that wasn’t enough, he also teamed up with restaurateur, Matt Lindner to create Crafthouse Cocktails -a product line of bottled cocktails, fully designed and intricately crafted by Charles himself. Not only it is truly remarkable at what he has been able to accomplish over the years, but despite all of his heightened success and public attention, Charles remains genuine and permanently wears his Chicago pride on his sleeves everyday.
What made you want to begin your journey with cocktails?
CJ: The revival of cocktail turned out to be a perfect fit for my personality and skill set. More important than the cocktails is the hospitality that comes along with them. You’re seeking to provide a memorable experience to your guests whether at home or hosting in a bar. Add in the world of craft cocktails and you creative side is piqued as well. This was all but a lost American art form that is being reclaimed with fervor. We created Crafthouse Cocktails to offer a well balanced expression from my area of expertise while freeing up people to enjoy a perfectly crafted cocktail so they can focus on their time with friends and family.
Who influenced your career growing up and what are your earliest memories that involve mixology?
CJ: I’ve been behind the bar for nearly 17 years. Prior to diving into the world of more refined cocktails, I was learning the really important parts of the job- speed, hospitality, and efficiency. After helping to develop and open several bar concepts around the country, the group I worked with opened the Drawing Room. Along with the Violet Hour, we were the first in the city to present a soup to nuts cocktail program. Prior to opening the Drawing Room, I was introduced to my now long-time friend Bridget Albert. She is a spirits/cocktail educator and author of “Market Fresh Mixology.” She was the first person to really open my eyes to the possibilities.
There was a point in your life when you had long hair, can you elaborate on that time?
CJ: I also had more hair on my head…. Before coming full on into the bar business, I played music in a couple local bands. I left this when being presented with the first bar that I would become general manager of at a young age. While I’ve always been involved in creative arts of some kind, the resurgence of the cocktail gave me a new outlet for my creative side. At last, the job I loved doing fully married with my strong creative tendencies.
Where do you think Mixology is heading?
A great cocktail should be an expectation, not an exception.
CJ: Like food, wine or craft beer, having something thoughtfully crafted and of high quality shouldn’t be reserved for special occasions. Every bar in America has the ingredients on hand to make some basic cocktails (citrus, sugar, spirits, etc) – we’re seeing everything from neighborhood bars to big restaurants adopting a cocktail program. We are truly living in the second golden age of the cocktail. There are more spirits available from all over the globe and more people who know how to use them. It’s a good time to be sipping at your favorite watering hole.
Where do you draw inspiration from when working on your different projects?
CJ: Inspiration comes from everywhere. I don’t have any one launch point, but the creative side is definitely a huge motivator for me. The common thread that all lifelong hospitality professionals share is to make people happy. People enjoy a cocktail for a myriad of reasons- I love to be the one delivering that whether it be a la minute at a bar or via Crafthouse Cocktails.
What are your top 3 cities with your favorite mixology scene?
CJ: This movement is literally happening all over the world. Across the U.S. it has its roots far beyond the major cities. I really like some of the smaller markets that go unsung. I actually write a quarterly piece on my personal bar crawls through these cities (archived at com) I’ve profiled Oahu, Milwaukee, Boston, and Madison.
Top 3 ingredients you enjoy working with?
CJ: Tough question to nail down. My style was influenced very early by the kitchen, so I’m always working seasonally. Spring is (nearly) here, so rhubarb and strawberries will be our first indications. My tastes change throughout the year. I like to change my garnishes as well. Take the Moscow Mule for example: in the summer I like a big bunch of mint as garnish. In winter I like to change it up to a scrape of cinnamon garnished with the whole stick. Little touches can make a big seasonal difference.
What are your next career goals / goals for Crafthouse Cocktails?
CJ: I’ve been very busy. There have been tremendous travel opportunities that take me all over the world to work with bartenders, continue my study of spirits in their native lands and get to know the people behind them. I’ll continue this journey with upcoming trips to Eastern Europe, UAE, Asia, Europe and all over the U.S. We want to continue to grow Crafthouse Cocktails. We have something special there. It is a simple, but well thought out product that really fills a need. We have control every step of the way, so I can control quality and the end product.
Any quotes you live by? Mantras?
Keep it simple and do what you love. Balance is key.