Utah mixologist pours out history with the drinks at Cocktail Collective

Alexi Fisher adds lessons and upcycled barware at her one-of-a-kind ‘culinary school for cocktails.’

(Rachel Rydalch | The Salt Lake Tribune) Alexi Fisher, Cocktail Collective owner, is photographed, holding one of her mixed drinks, at her business in Salt Lake City on Wednesday, Feb. 9, 2022.

Alexi Fisher mixed her first cocktail in college, bartending her way through school as she studied neuroscience at Westminster College and then clinical psychology at the University of Utah.

At the time, Fisher said, she was a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, “so I wasn’t actually drinking. I’m not going to lie — I was making these drinks, and was like, ‘I hope people like them. I have no idea!’” They tipped well, she said, but she was never sure if they were just being nice.

Thirteen years later, Fisher is COO of The Hammered Copper, an eco-friendly mobile bartending service that travels across Utah. In December, she opened Cocktail Collective, “a culinary school for spirits and cocktails” in ArtSpace Commons. It’s the only educational facility of its type in Utah, and perhaps the nation.

The Hammered Copper gets its name from a pair of copper mugs Fisher and her husband, Joe, found in a secondhand shop. “We love Moscow mules,” she said. “Some of the best barware I’ve ever used is stuff I’ve found, not purchased.”

Fisher noted that copper grows stronger the more it’s banged around and used. She identifies with that.

(Rachel Rydalch | The Salt Lake Tribune) Alexi Fisher, owner of Cocktail Collective, strains her cocktail before garnishing in Salt Lake City on Wednesday, Feb. 9, 2022.

After graduation, she went to work in the mental health sector, but found herself working 14- and 16-hour days in hostile, dysfunctional environments. Fisher said it was her husband who suggested to her “you should go back to bartending — it’s the last time I remember seeing you at your happiest. You need to go back, and you need to do that. We’ll figure out the rest.”

After a disappointing run applying at several Salt Lake City bars — where there was rarely a female bartender in sight — Fisher went freelance in 2010. “I had this baby business very fast,” she said. From 2013 to 2017, she became the western states brand ambassador for Johnnie Walker scotch. She launched The Hammered Copper in 2018.

The Cocktail Collective emerged from the pandemic, when Fisher began teaching online classes and distributing unique vintage barware she had found while thrifting.

“You find all these pieces that have so much use, and when you understand the history of the specialty that comes with each classic cocktail, and why each glass was used in a certain way, I think it adds to the eclecticness and the interest in the history of drinking and classic cocktails,” she said.

She describes Cocktail Collective’s space as “ever-rotating,” with a small shop for vintage glassware and barware and house-made dehydrated garnishes, and a flexible event space that holds 46-to-60 people. Fisher emphasized that it’s not for events like weddings. “It’s supposed to be a learning space,” she said. There are lots of great places in Utah to learn about wine, she pointed out, but nothing for spirits and cocktails.

(Rachel Rydalch | The Salt Lake Tribune) Cocktail Collective, a cocktail class and education business owned by Alexi Fisher, is located in Salt Lake City on Wednesday, Feb. 9, 2022.

The other project Fisher created during the pandemic was The History of Drinking podcast. “My friends got sick of me talking about the history of what we were drinking when we would go out to drink,” she laughed. History is a big part of Cocktail Collective classes; she’ll offer one later this month explaining why some countries distill whiskey, and others whisky.

She’s teaching four Black History Month classes, two in person and two virtual. She said they are personal to her as a Black woman bartender. “But I’ve also done a lot of research for them,” she said. “One aspect that I feel like gets absolutely overlooked, especially for anyone who drinks or makes cocktails, or enjoys a beer or wine, is how much of what we enjoy today is because of slaves and people who survived incredibly hardships during the 16- and 1700s.”

Cato Alexander, who opened Cato’s Bar in South Carolina in the early 1800s, “was the father of the cocktail, or the father of mixology,” Fisher said. “Jerry Thomas is known today as the father of mixology, which goes back to erasure of people who really gave us what we love today. That’s the point of these courses I have coming up.”

The virtual classes, on February 17 and 24, will feature cocktails linked to Cato Alexander and Louis Deal (who, in 1893, faced racist backlash after being promoted from waiter to bartender at Cincinnati’s Atlas Hotel). The live classes on February 19 and 25 will focus on John Dabney (restaurateur and perfecter of the mint julep) and Tom Bullock (the first Black author of a cocktail book, “The Ideal Bartender”). Those taking the virtual classes can order a Black History Month cocktail kit that includes a jigger, all the nonalcoholic ingredients, a recipe card and a historical pamphlet, as well as bartender lingo.

“That last part is incredibly important,” Fisher said. “If you say you’re going to do a quick chill or do a flip, people are like, ‘I don’t know what these words mean!’ I like to give people an index of all the verbiage they’ll need in general.”

(Rachel Rydalch | The Salt Lake Tribune) Alexi Fisher makes a cocktail at her business location, Cocktail Collective, in Salt Lake City on Wednesday, Feb. 9, 2022.

Fisher said she aims to be a learning resource for other bartenders and mixologists, but she also wants to educate people on how to mix, order and enjoy a good cocktail.

“When you’re going to a bar and ask the bartender, ‘I don’t know what I want, what would you suggest?’ The bartender has a whole line of people at the bar, and they’re like, ‘I don’t have time to tell you!’ So, it’s kind of not only equipping people with the ability to know what they like, but also empowerment of what’s on the shelf and what’s actually worth your dollar,” she said.

Informing people about their cocktail options, she said, is about “getting people comfortable. It can be very intimidating, especially for women when they’re going to the bar and they don’t know what they want. We want to provide a safe space for people to learn all these things.”

Cocktail Collective: 824 S. 400 West, suite B128, Salt Lake City, 801-872-9926, cocktailcollect.com