By David Ransom

Photo courtesy of Tales of the Cocktail

Rules are made to be broken, and while Rocks Stars, originally conceived as a profile column focusing on “Movers and Shakers” in the sprits industry, will for all intents and purposes remain that way, from time to time I may just throw in some thoughts on experiences I have along the spirits trail that I find need some play.

To that effect, I would like to bang a few keys on the keyboard, updating you on this year’s 8th Annual Tales of the Cocktail conference held in New Orleans this past hot and steamy week, by bringing to light what I consider to be the week’s top five events:

Here we go, in no particular order, except the last one:

5. Wednesday evening’s Beefeater Welcome party. Held in the New Orleans Contemporary Arts Center, This “welcome party” had it all: Alice in Wonderland characters floating through the room, trapeze artists floating through the air, and some beautiful cocktails with the “always classic” Beefeater gin, made by some of the world’s great bartenders, like Jamie Gordon and Audrey Saunders, while others, like Tony Abou-Ganim and Dale DeGroff roamed the room. A great way to kick into the week’s festivities.
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Shawn Starbuck Kelley
By David Ransom

The last thing Shawn Starbuck Kelley ever expected, was to be on the receiving end of a pitch… In her life, it’s usually her that does the asking. Not that she isn’t thrilled to be promoting something to the press. That’s something she’s VERY comfortable doing! It’s just that she’s just usually discussing one of the many spirits brands in her stable, not the finer points of the world according to Shawn. So when I asked her if I could interview her for Rocks Stars, Shawn, while surprised, was thrilled to sit down for a chat.

As Director of Public Relations for Pernod-Ricard USA (, producer of such iconic brands as Absolut, Beefeater, Plymouth, The Glenlivet, Chivas, and Jameson, Shawn is one of a handful of names at the top of the leader board in the world of spirits, mixology and cocktails, who didn’t get there by shaking a shaker, or squeezing a lime. Not that she didn’t roll up her sleeves and do some dirty work along the way, it’s just that her path was a bit more circuitous, and possibly, dare I say it…, more interesting?

No, she wasn’t a lawyer, doctor, or pop singer who gave up a lucrative career to follow her dream of a life in food, nor did she leave the family coffee shop business, as her name may imply, to strike out on her own. Starbuck is a family name, but they’re not based in Seattle, and the closest she comes to being in any way associated with a coffee brand, is that Pernod Ricard owns Kahlua.

Growing up as the last of five children in a middle class family in Detroit Michigan, Shawn recognized early that food (and drink) would always play an important role in her life. She says, “I came from a family of gourmands. I grew up with an appreciation for good food, whether it was fresh fish and local veggies during summers on the shore of Lake Michigan, or learning how to make my parents’ evening drinks when they came home (Mom’s drink was an Old Fashioned and Dad drank Read the full article here »


Charlotte Voisey
By David Ransom

Photo by Jennifer Mitchell

Charlotte Voisey doesn’t look back.  Ask her why, and she’ll tell you it has nothing to do with her ambitions.  It’s more of a physical thing. It causes her no pain (don’t worry, her neck is fine), and actually makes her laugh.

Laughter comes easily to Charlotte.  With her easygoing nature and hardworking spirit, she’s found a niche in the world of spirits that few get the opportunity to attain, and she’s making the most of it.  As Portfolio Ambassador and award winning “Company Mixologist” for William Grant & Sons, Charlotte is in charge of promotions for a number of brands, most visibly, Hendrick’s Gin, one of the leaders in the wave of new world gins that have taken the cocktail world by storm over the last few years, and to say that she is good at what she does, is an understatement. Charlotte is as equally at home shaking cocktails behind a bar or in competitions, as she is teaching in front of a crowd, and her enthusiasm draws you in.  “You’ll find I‘m not shy,” she says.  A few minutes in conversation with her, and you’ll realize just how right she is.

Raised in London, England, Charlotte hails from a family of strong minds; all of whom have chosen a different path to their success (her mother is a top graphic designer, and her sister is a physics professor at Cambridge), so it’s no surprise that Charlotte ended up at the top of her chosen profession.

After majoring in international hospitality in university, Charlotte cut her teeth behind the bar in some of the London’s up and coming establishments, eventually working her way up to the management level.  After a while, finding she loved the business, but also wanting to see the world a bit, Read the full article here »


Tony Abou-Ganim: The Modern Mixologist
By David L. Ransom

There’s one ingredient that Tony Abou-Ganim won’t leave out of any cocktail he makes. You can’t buy it, but he thinks no drink should be made without it   It’s not a secret either; he’s happy to discuss it with anyone who wants to know what it is. Just ask him…

It’s no surprise he’s willing to let you in on his must-have ingredient.  You’d expect that from Tony, one of the world’s great mixologists. One conversation with him and you’ll know why he’s garnered the attention and accolades he has throughout his career,  which began behind the family bar, The Brass Rail, in Port Huron, Michigan.  Beyond his skill with spirits, Tony’s easy-going nature and soft-spoken confidence draw you in, making you want to know more about the ideas and philosophies of this child of the Midwest. He speaks with that unique quality of making you think you’re the only person in the room with him, and as you listen to him, his dreams soon become yours.

 Was it always this way for Tony? Probably. You can see it in his eyes.

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