A Sense Of Belonging: A Q&A With Jammie Keen, Olympic Tavern

The historic Olympic Tavern in Rockford, Illinois is a great place to grab a meal, a Top Note cocktail, and good conversation. Plus they’ve got a spacious outdoor area perfect for sunny Midwestern summer dining (right around the corner)! We were fortunate to catch up with bartender Jammie Keen live on our Instagram live series Highballs at High Noon where she made two Ginger Beer highballs for us. Catch the recipes in the video to make your own!

Download the free Highballs at High Noon e-book here!

Q: What was it that first got you into cocktails?  

Jammie Keen: I started in the industry as a server. I have always been a person that felt strongly about knowing what you sell. Additionally, I have worked in a lot of small business restaurants and bars, which meant you had to multitask. Whether it’s hosting, bartending, or dishwashing, if someone didn’t show for a shift you had to find a way to cover it. It also helps that I like drinking cocktails too.

Q: What new cocktail discoveries are you exploring right now?

JK: I have been finding inspiration in ways to cut back on waste or multiuse. For example, how to use a lemon after the rind has been cut off: turn it into an acidic tincture.

Q: Why do you think people at home might be intimidated by making cocktails?

JK: I think people assume there is a secret that all bartenders know when we make cocktails, when in reality a good cocktail has been made multiple times before we learn the perfect formula. People are afraid of mistakes. A home bar should be stocked with what a person finds most enjoyable. The rest is innovation.

Q: What are some of your favorite cocktails to drink at home?

JK: Oh man, I run the gambit. It could be a shot of Fernet-Branca, a Manhattan, Tom Collins or anything with bitters in it. I’m a bitters junkie.

Q: What do you take to a party?

JK: I normally think about who is throwing the party and what kind of drinker they are - beer, wine, whiskey. I always try to bring something I know that if it is left unopened the host would appreciate it later. If I don’t know the host well, I bring flowers or wine.

Q: Where do you think the cocktail and bar industry is headed?

JK: I definitely think the low abv/mocktail trend will be sticking around. However, I want to see a revitalization of sherry and cognac. Everyone has been watching Bridgerton - let’s see those Victorian drinks return!

Q: What has the pandemic taught you?

JK: The pandemic has taught me to be patient. Everything seems to go at a pace that the industry has no control over. It has also reaffirmed my belief that the service industry is the cornerstone of communities. We provide more than just drinks or food, we provide a sense of belonging.

Follow Olympic Tavern on Instagram.

Follow Top Note Tonic for the latest Highball at High Noon sessions.

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