Arts and Culture

In 1917, Louisville-native Tom Bullock published a book of original cocktail recipes called “The Ideal Bartender.” At the time, Bullock was somewhat of an anomaly in the bartending world — he grew up black and poor, but went on to inspire cocktail enthusiasts all around the country with his signature drinks.

Now, a century later, Copper & Kings distillery founder Joe Heron is again looking to Bullock for inspiration in his new project, The Ideal Bartender School.

The initiative, developed and curated by Copper & Kings, aims to provide a highly-credentialed bartender qualification to diverse individuals from socioeconomically challenged backgrounds. The 14-week course will be offered free of charge to those selected. The curriculum will encompass hands-on practical skills development, theoretical instruction and required homework and teamwork.

Heron says he was initially drawn to Bullock’s story because of how his bartending abilities lent him the opportunity to become economically mobile.

“He managed to move from Louisville to St. Louis and established a career, success and a reputation because he had developed the skills,” Heron says.

But Heron says when he looks around at the bartending world today, there’s still a notable lack of diversity — something he hopes The Ideal Bartender Academy can change.

“I had a conversation with Mayor Fischer, and we agreed that the income disparity and the ability to move people forward — we’re going to have to come together to enable opportunity for everyone,” Heron says.

For that reason, Heron says it is also important to note that this is a broad-based Louisville hospitality community initiative.

In addition to Copper & Kings’ resources, many members of the Louisville hospitality industry, including other distilleries and breweries, will provide specific instruction relevant to their expertise.

“My hope is that we see this inspire other people to do it,” Heron says. “Take baristas in coffee, which is a really transferable skill that enables good jobs, good wages, that can elevate and lift you. So people can do coffee, can do beer, anything you want — our initiative is what we thought we were best able to do.”

The course will launch Feb. 22. The class size will be limited to a maximum of 20 people.

Ashlie Stevens is WFPL's Arts & Culture Reporter.
Roxanne Scott covers the economy for WFPL News.