In a way, Tess Posthumus is exemplary of the generation of bartenders that came of age around 2010. They got their start when the cocktail thing first grabbed headlines in lifestyle magazines. The PR machines of the big competitions they entered helped them raise their profile. And as digital natives (or almost), they played the social media game to perfection. But a bit of press in your local newspaper doesn’t make a career— you need a lot of hard work and good ideas to stand out from an ever more crowded field. And in that sense, the multitasking Tess (bartender, bar owner, writer, educator, event creator…) is a unique case. That’s probably why she is the youngest judge on the Havana Club Bar Entrepreneur Awards panel.
That she would become a bar entrepreneur was not written on the walls though. After all, at university, she studied sociology, media and culture — which should have destined her to academia rather than the very private industry of bartending. As so many before her, Tess had been making money on the side working in restaurants or for catering companies. Her break came in 2009, when, still a student, she got a job at Door 74, the bar that launched the craft cocktail movement in the Netherlands. And soon enough, she entered competitions.
It’s now fairly trendy to speak ill of them, but according to Tess, they still have tremendous value: « Even if you’re not competitive, you should join. Besides the nice prize, you get to grow your network, you get to see how other bartenders do their thing, you can realise you’re not there yet or on the contrary that you can do this. You also get to work on flavours, balance and your own creativity. It’s very good to grow as a bartender. » And then, there’s the fact that brands usually put a lot of money into getting good PR for their finalists, which can help propel your career. Or at least could — there are now so many competitions and so many winners. « The media won’t write about you if there’s not something interesting about you », warns Tess.
One of the things that set her apart from early on, she says, is that she was writing for Dutch newspapers. And although she says she doesn’t really enjoy writing — « I’m a bartender, I have a lot of energy and I prefer working with people to sitting in my office » — she doesn’t seem able to stop. In 2016, she published 'Cocktails met Tess '(English translation pending), her first book. It’s meant for the layman, the enthusiast who wants to start making cocktails at home. She’s now putting the finishing touches to her second one, to be published next September by our good friends at Mixellany, Jared Brown and Anistatia Miller. « It’s on genever. It’s my passion project. It’s a very cool spirit — they say that 25% of all classic recipes were made with it — but mostly forgotten, even by Dutch bartenders ». She adds that « writing is a way to educate consumers and bartenders who are starting ». And education is a big part of what defines Tess’ approach to her industry — she’s also one of the partners behind the Perfect Serve Barshow and the Amsterdam Cocktail Week.
She also definitely sees Flying Dutchmen, the bar she opened in 2017 with Timo Janse — whom she met at Door 74 — as part of that wider project. And not only because of the open door seminars or guest shifts they organise. The place is also designed to make cocktails more approachable to the non-initiated. And it makes business sense: « In emerging cocktail cultures, the only connection people have with cocktails is Martini and James Bond, or Cosmopolitan, the pink drink from Sex & the City », Tess says. So they focus on the classics: « Most bars in the Netherlands focus on signature drinks. We decided to take a step back, in order to teach to walk before you start running — or, in our case, flying. » At Flying Dutchmen, the menu is organised in cocktail flights — you walk with a Whiskey Sour, say, then run with a New York Sour and fly with a Trinidad Sour. It’s a refreshing take in an industry where home-made vermouth and barrel-aged cocktails have become the norm. But Tess makes it clear that their idea is precisely to work as a gateway: clients should come and learn what a Negroni is or what a Negroni can become so that when they visit a place with mostly signature drinks they understand what the bartender is making them.
Tess sees education as a necessity: « Cocktails are hip but what if it’s just a trend and in five years we’re back to drinking beer because there’s no foundation? The aim is to layer the information so that the cocktails are here to stay and they’re part of a drinking culture ». And identifying needs has been at the heart of her career so far. Her book is a perfect example: there was no manual for home bartenders so she wrote it. But the book created another opportunity: « Readers wanted to know where they could buy the bar tools I mentioned. Consumers didn’t have access to them. So now I have my own bar tool set ».
This may sound surprising, but Tess doesn’t think entrepreneurship was a given for her, on the contrary — she told us she’d have been happy growing as an employee within a progressive business. One could say it’s the opportunities that led her to where she was, not a masterplan. « I get bored quickly. I like doing different things, but the broad line connecting it all is drinks and education », she sums up. « If I see a necessity and nobody is stepping in, I’m going to do it. I like to be creative, I like to grow quickly into different areas. There are so many things to learn. My interests lead me more than I’m led by money », she adds. To make a success of it, you don’t necessarily need the perfect business plan: with passion and a drive, you can make a lot of things happen.