Meet Alyssa Heidt, an inspiring bartender at the top of her game. Now based in Oslo, American-born Alyssa has worked across three continents at some of the best cocktail bars in the world.
She’s spent her entire professional life working in a (typically) male-dominated industry, but hasn’t let that stand in her way. Through hard work and an infectious desire to learn, Alyssa has defied convention in order to follow her dreams. She lives Naked.
On International Women's Day, we chatted to Alyssa about the industry, her career so far, and the challenges she’s faced along the way.
Did you always know you wanted to be a bartender?
I’ve always been into mixing and experimenting. Even when I was a kid, I’d make strange creations in the kitchen and force my grandparents to eat them. I have no idea how they were able to eat some of the things I made, but they’d always say it was good.
When I started to discover cocktails in college, I knew I wanted to be a bartender. From then on, it never crossed my mind to do anything else.
Do you use Naked in your cocktails? What makes it work so well?
Naked is great for cocktails because it’s versatile and mixes super well. It’s not aggressively peated, not overly smoky, it’s just really well-rounded and smooth, making it perfect cocktails.
I also recommend it to people who are unfamiliar with the scotch category, as it’s a great entry way to good scotch.
Have you found that bartenders are more likely to be male at high-end cocktail bars?
Mostly, yes. Some places I’ve worked at have been overwhelmingly male-dominated. At the very first cocktail bar I worked at in Chicago, it was pretty much all males behind the bar.
I was put in the role of cocktail server, and served for 3 years before I was even considered to be a bartender. I studied, trained, practiced, read and learned. Eventually they started training me behind the bar. All the hard work was worth it in the end.
What’s it like at Andre Til Høyre, the bar you work at now in Oslo?
There’s always been an air of female empowerment about Andre Til Høyre. It’s female-owned and operated, and the majority of the staff are female.
It’s a nice cocktail bar, set up like a little apartment, where you can basically have the world’s best house party. It’s a pretty great place to work, especially if, like me, you’re rising to challenge gender bias and believe that females can do the same work as men, which obviously they can.
What does it feel like to be one of the leading female bartenders in the industry?
That’s very flattering, but I strive to be just a leading bartender. I’ve never really considered my gender as a hurdle, I’ve always tried to do things everybody else can do.
If I am considered a leader - and especially a female leader - I think that does come with some responsibility. I’d like to be a role model to younger females who are considering bartending as a career, or who maybe don’t want to stick with it because of some gender biases.
Naked is all about freeing ourselves from (often) limiting conventions. Do you think this applies to you in your job?
Yes, absolutely. One of the themes of International Women’s Day this year is ‘Choose to Challenge’, which I think goes hand in hand with Naked’s philosophy. As long as you speak out against the biases within our industry, then I think you’re celebrating International Women’s Day.
What’s next? Where do you see yourself in five years?
My husband and I both work in the industry and enjoy making cocktails, so I’d love to start a beverage consultancy with him, writing menus for cocktail bars.
I’ve also got some plans that I want to institute here in Oslo, creating a platform for females in the industry. Group meetings, maybe a mentorship programme, things that will encourage females to become stronger and better in their field. Watch this space.
And, finally, what would you say to fellow females looking to pursue a career in the industry?
I’d say knowledge comes first. Study hard, read lots, practice, practice, practice.
Oh, and most importantly, don’t take any sh*t.