I love using this forum to learn more about some of the women who I'm inspired by, especially in the cocktail world. We have several profiles and collaborations in the works for 2016, and I'm thrilled to kick that off with an interview with Madeline Popelka. Read on for an interview with Mady and her recipe for a Blood Orange Whiskey Sour that is 100% up my alley: delicious and to the point (doesn't have a million obscure ingredients), and it's a looker, too!
I first met Mady through her work with Women & Whiskies, a group formed by Campari America that's dedicated to the (very important!) cause of teaching women more about whisk(e)y drinking. Hurrah! I was in love with their gorgeous photography — which is often done by Mady herself and their whiskey-based cocktail ideas. Kerry & I were able to attend their first New York event last summer: a little Whisk(e)y 101 evening. It was great — informative for a complete novice and still educational for someone with more knowledge of bourbon, rye, and Scotch.
Check out the Instagram accounts Mady runs for Women & Whiskies and herself. They're packed with the beauty of San Francisco plus amazing produce and the cocktails she makes with her farmer's market hauls in San Francisco!
Hope you enjoy!
Can you talk a little bit about your work and what you do — and how you came into this booze marketing business?
It’s a crazy story — are you ready for this?
My career in the liquor industry started in the accounting department at SKYY Spirits (now Campari America). ACCOUNTING! The work itself was boring — it was the same thing every day, every week, every month — but, I was so happy to be working for a COOL company.
There was so much creativity bottled up inside of me, so I started a blog, Neighborhood Kitchen SF, with my friend Kendall in early 2013. We lived 4 blocks away from each other and walked to the farmer’s market every Saturday morning (still do 3+ years later) to get goodies to make food & cocktails with. Naturally, I started incorporating Campari America products into the cocktail recipes. I was falling in love with the brands, and was 100% ready for a more creative job. When a position opened in the marketing department, I went for it, and I got the job- I think writing about & taking photos of the brands on Neighborhood Kitchen scored some bonus points with the marketers. ;)
I was always obsessed with social media as a user, and when I started optimizing it for marketing purposes, it took that obsession to a whole new level. I saw the value it brings to brands and businesses — from awareness, to sales, to brand perception. That’s when I decided to step away from brand management, and to focus on digital marketing full time.
My company Digi Darling helps brands boost their digital presence. We provide a variety of services to brands that help them reach their business objectives using social media, from holistic digital strategy, to content creation, to influencer relations — it’s the perfect mix of strategy & creativity!
I first knew you through your work with Women & Whiskies. How did that project in particular get started?
Campari America started Women & Whiskies in 2011 when they realized women wanted to learn more about whisk(e)y. There were so many men’s whisk(e)y clubs and tasting events, but nothing for women. W&W starting holding LADIES ONLY events so women could feel comfortable tasting & learning about whisky, and also be able to ask whatever questions they wish without worrying about a douch-ey guy making a snarky comment.
Before I fully managed the program, I was brought on to run the social media. When I started we only had 200 Instagram followers — it’s so exciting to see W&W reach nearly 20,000 whisk(e)y-loving women now!
You are working in the ever-changing and rapidly growing space of social media. How have you seen things changed in the time you’ve been involved?
Instagram changed the game. That platform made it normal to follow complete strangers- people you have no personal relationship with, but find inspiring in one way or another. You’d never send a Facebook friend request to someone you don’t know personally, and on Twitter there were only so many inspiring people as it's text driven with a character limit. Instagram 1) made it easy to inspire, as it’s a visual platform, and 2) made it easy to find and follow people you don’t know personally.
These inspiring instagrammers (i.e. “influencers”) can now make a living by working with brands because of their followers. It's created a lot of opportunities for bloggers, photographers, and other creatives with stunning feeds. It has also changed the marketing game- brands are investing more money in influencer & social media marketing and backing out of traditional marketing tactics that now aren’t as relevant to their consumers.
Where are you drinking in SF these days? Do you have a favorite old haunt? New one?
One of my favorite cocktails bars in SF is Tosca Cafe. It’s my go-to place for a night cap. They have this House “Cappuccino” that’s actually an armagnac & bourbon hot chocolate with steamed milk. So decadent & cozy!
I also really love wine (so lucky to be an hour away from Napa!) and beer. Churchkey is a tiny craft beer bar that has about 8 beers on tap at a time — brands and expressions you’ve never heard of. Once there’s nothing left in a keg, they switch it out for another craft beer. You could go there 3 times in one week and see a different beer menu each time!
Who are some other women whose work you’re excited/inspired by?
Arianna Huffington inspires me. She has built an empire, but defines success as being happy & healthy, not just wealthy & powerful. I love the message she reinforces: define your own success — live the life you truly want and deserve. She’s the one who got me thinking “do I really want to be busting my ass in the corporate world building someone else’s dream?”. Nope, I want to build my own dream!
MADELINE POPELKA'S BLOOD ORANGE WHISKEY SOUR
1.5 parts bourbon (I used Wild Turkey 81)
1 part fresh squeezed blood orange juice
.75 part fresh squeezed lemon juice
.5 part 1:1 simple syrup
Combine all ingredients in a shaker and shake with ice for 8 seconds. Strain into a rocks glass over fresh ice and garnish with a lemon or blood orange wheel.