Katie Rose - Burnhearts
Interviewed by Brian West
Photos by Jonathan Canny
I first met Katie Rose a little over a year ago, when I was judging a cocktail competition in which she was participating. There were several new faces to this sub-culture within the bartender scene on this particular night, all of them impressive. But it was Katie who left the lasting impression on me with her cocktail—an earthy, herbaceous long drink, perfectly balanced with hints of citrus, garnished with a long orange peel skewered and wound around a green herb (I can’t recall what) into the form of a carrot. It was amongst my favorites that night.
That would have been all I knew of Katie, but her name kept coming up in conversations around town about who’s doing exciting things with cocktails in Milwaukee. In a world dominated by men, Katie has been crafting a very well-respected name for herself as one of the best in the industry. Pile onto that her talent, her laid-back, cool attitude and quirky personality, and you have a killer bartender who’s as happy mixing up an incredible cocktail as she is cracking open a Pabst.
Find her at Burnhearts most nights of the week, and tell her Alcoholmanac Magazine says, “Hello!”
Q. What is your experience (number of years, etc.)?
At the end of July  I'll have been bartending for four years.
Q. Favorite drink to serve and why?
My favorite drink is always the one that after I've given it to the person, they say "This is EXACTLY what I wanted, this hits the spot!" That's my favorite drink.
Q. Why bartending? How did you choose this profession?
I didn't really choose it—it sort of chose me. I was asked by owner Jess Seidel to go from customer to bartender … at first I didn't want to at all! It took a little convincing on her part, but I am SO glad everything turned out the way it did. I owe her a lot, and am really grateful for her encouragement.
Q. If you weren't tending bar, what would you do?
Definitely something that would allow me to be around people. Marketing is my background, but it's difficult to imagine myself doing anything else other than being behind a bar. I really, really enjoy what I do.
Q. What do you do on your night(s) off (what is your ideal night off)?
Despite the fact that I'm always in a bar, I like going out to other bars, too! On my nights off I usually try to stop into other places to visit other bartender buddies and see what's happening around town. I'm a super-social person, so to sit at home on a night off isn't that appealing to me … but there's a time and a place for everything.
Q. Biggest pet peeves?
My biggest pet peeve is definitely when a customer treats you like you are a piece of machinery. It's the worst. I am nearly always smiling and happy behind the bar, and when someone doesn't return a hello or a thank you, or just barks orders and throws money at you ... it's really disheartening.
Q. Favorite night/story behind a bar?
There's been A LOT of really great nights, but my favorite time behind the bar is when it's really busy, there's good people in the bar, and good tunes going, and you just go into this zone and you hum along. It makes me feel really great, and people can pick up on it. Next thing you know you've got a really great party in front of you and yet another favorite night.
Q. Your philosophy behind the bar and advice to other bartenders?
I don't have too many wise words, but one thing I always try to stay true to would be the idea that the bar is kind of like your house when you're the bartender. When people walk in, I want them to feel welcome and comfortable and happy that they've stopped by. Burnhearts has a warm, inviting vibe as it is, and the thing that's most important to me is to reflect that, and to be a small part of the reason people have a really great time. I think staying humble is extremely important.
Q. What are your plans for the future?
Winning the lottery and then maybe someday I can have my own place? I'm not much of a plan-maker.
Q. What is your bar known for? What sets your bar apart from the others in your area?
Burnhearts is one of those rare spots that able to pull off the "something for everyone" thing. It's got that neighborhood corner bar feel, but there's so much more to it than that. Want a Pabst and a shot? Cool. Want a handcrafted cocktail with fresh-picked herbs? No problem. How about a rare Belgian sour, or a customized beer off of one of the engines? Done. We definitely have an incredible beer selection. The other owner, BJ Seidel, has taken the beer program to a really amazing level, and now we're on the map for serious beer fans and for those who seek out something new and different. I have taken it upon myself to take both the craft cocktail world and the craft beer world and use them together to make great drinks. I've put out a series of "beer cocktails" that reflect our love of all things alcohol at Burnhearts.
Q. From where do you draw your cocktail inspirations?
I absolutely pull a majority of my inspiration for cocktails from food. I am fortunate enough to have amazing friends in my life, many of whom are brilliant home cooks, or chefs who work in restaurant kitchens all over town and are incredibly talented. I eat all. the. time. From those flavors I will get an idea for a drink, or try to translate a food flavor into a drink ... it's really fun.
Q. What drink would you say you're known for?
When I put out the new summer cocktail menu at Burnhearts this season, the "Hop & Tonic" really took off. It's refreshing and interesting, and it integrates both booze and beer. I make a "hop tincture" with Cascade hops, juniper berries and lavender that's a small, but key ingredient in the drink. But, opening a Pabst and pouring a shot of Powers is really something I can go down in the books for, too.