In the series of Connect the Gram, we go behind the scenes to connect you with the person behind some of our favourite cocktail Instagram accounts. Behind some of these amazing creations, many are mainly home bartenders and living proof that to make fabulous cocktails, all you need is passion and a willingness to learn and experiment. Whether you are starting out or have been making drinks at home for a while, we you will discover some new accounts that will inspire you on this crazy journey called cocktail imbibing!
First up, we're speaking to Carissa, who some of you may recognise as the @thefermentedalaskan on Instagram. We were first introduced to Carissa's account by another drinkstagrammer who goes by the tag @cocktail.guru (more on him later in this series). To be honest, Alaska was probably the last place we thought we would find cocktail inspiration because we generally associated that state more with icy snow covered terrain, dog sleds and Alaskan wolves...not exactly the stuff that makes you think of booze. BY GOLLY WERE WE WRONG!
We were instantly blown away by the creativity of Carissa's creations, many of which utilises home made spirits and mixers from locally foraged ingredients. In fact, it was her Aviation cupcake creation that was the inspiration for the cocktail cupcake we first served up at our Redlands' cellar door tasting event. Never too busy to provide tips on any cocktail questions you might have, her generosity and genuine passion for crafting cocktails will have you bookmarking her account as a favourite. And it seems Instagram won't be the only place you'll find Carissa now - she's recently been chosen by the premier global bar fest Tales of the Cocktail to write for them for a year, showcasing the best of the local bar and distilling scene in Alaska.
What’s your IG handle and tell us a little bit about yourself.
My name is Carissa Pearce but most know me as The Fermented Alaskan. I was born and raised in Anchorage in Alaska. I am a craft cocktail recipe developer and also bartend at events. Here in Alaska, we don't get as great a selection of spirits and mixers compared to the rest of the USA, due to how much it costs to ship stuff up here. There has to be a way to change that! In the meantime, I make my own bitters, amari, syrups, shrubs, liqueurs and tinctures (which I will be selling soon!). I forage for as many ingredients as I can to add them to my own cocktails, taking most of my inspiration from nature - I love the great outdoors and there's nothing better than going for a hike up in the mountains.
Do you remember how your interest in cocktails started?
I have been making my own liqueur for years from Alaskan wild berries that I pick and would give them out as Christmas presents to my friends and family. I was challenged to make a cocktail out of it and the rest is history! I was then given the book The Drunken Botanist and have never looked back - that book inspired so many of my foraged cocktails, and if you haven’t read it already you are missing out!
When did you start your Instagram account and what was the motivation for it?
I started my Instagram account in 2015. A friend of mine who had tried my cocktail told me that the world needed to see what I was making with the local plants in Alaska. My cocktails are unique in that way and I decided to open one up and I am so glad I did! I have met so many great people in this Instagram community, some I call my friends, and I am so grateful to have people that share my interests and I theirs.
How often do you post and do you have a process for deciding what to make/feature on each post?
I try to do one or two posts a week depending on how crazy my schedule is. I am always making a bitter or amaro etc that I want to feature in a cocktail so I will play with flavours until I get the result I am happy with. We don’t have seasons in Alaska so my posts are based on what I’m inspired to create at the moment.
You've made some incredible homemade infusions and syrups! What's been the craziest one you made?
I’ve made some pretty crazy stuff over the years but the one that stands out the most is the fiddlehead fern amaro I made. I adore Cynar (which is an artichoke based bittersweet liqueur) and one day after foraging for fiddlehead ferns I had a crazy idea to make my own Cynar out of the fiddleheads that I picked. Fiddleheads taste similar to an artichoke hence the crazy idea. It took 5 weeks to get the results just perfect and it worked - I had made a fiddlehead amaro that tastes very similar to Cynar! You can't believe how excited I was - I’ve used it in cocktails and it is mind blowing. Goes to show always try what is in your brain!
Introduce us to the greatest cocktail ingredient you think there is and tell us why you think everyone should be using it.
This is a tough one because I use a variety of fabulous mixers and ingredients depending on the cocktail I’m making and it's hard to choose just one! I think the ingredient I use the most right now is amaro. I use my homemade amari in just about everything. By adding just a splash to a cocktail it will create the most amazing depth of flavours - amaro pairs well with dark and light spirits and is not confined to one or the other. It is a very versatile ingredient.
What's this we hear about you and saké - that's not something you put in a cocktail...is it?
I have developed my love of saké over the years by first trying all the bottles while dining on sushi. As soon as my favourite Anchorage boutique booze store La Bodega started carrying a wide variety of saké I was hooked! I started making cocktails with it and noticed it was hard for me to find other people who used saké in their cocktails! This was disheartening at first and quite lonely so I decided to do something about it! I created @sake_sunday as a way to show the world what you can do with saké as an ingredient in cocktails. I make my own to post as well as repost others who are using this fabulous liquid. I've received a nice response from the cocktail community on Instagram and have helped many people buy their first bottle of saké! It's so exciting to see the tags for Saké Sunday start to increase, it means I'm doing something right lol. It's fun too and in the end that's all that matters! I have started reposting cocktails with shochu as well and the plum wine. Basically anything Japanese oriented I'm interested in trying out in a cocktail.
Name 3 bars you'd recommend to anyone visiting you
The first bar is Fiori D’ Italia - Ylli, who works there is the best bartender in this state and is making amazing craft cocktails! He makes his own bitter, syrups, and infusions and he is my favourite. Secondly is my house hah (Ed: that's where you'll find us!) and lastly, I would have to say Ginger (a bar and restaurant) because they also do a pretty decent job making craft cocktails.
We’re throwing a cocktail party at home! Throw us some of your cheat sheet tips for making cocktails for the masses (and still have a good time!)
I have parties all the time at our house and I bartend at other houses as well! The secret is pre-batching. I make several cocktails in big batches; that way all I have to do is shake with ice and pour into glasses. I get to mingle with the guests more and not have the stress of using a jigger for every little ingredient I use in the cocktail I’m making. It makes for an easy clean up too!
Thank you Carissa for taking some time out to answer our questions! We hope one day to visit you in Alaska or seeing you in Sydney
You can follow Carissa on Instagram and also on Facebook under @thefermentedalaskan as well as @sake_sunday