Story by Seth Putnam Photography by Michael George
"The pieces begin to fall into place as Patrick Janelle’s eyes scan the oak barrels in the barn at Mad River Distillers, a craft spirits purveyor in Warren, Vermont."
For several years, he’s been turning over an idea in his mind, ever since a provincial liqueur called pastis first touched his lips in the south of France in 2008. “Every spirit has a story,” he says, quoting the tagline of his latest project, a website called The Liquor Cabinet, which aims to educate novice drinkers about the essential ingredients for a proper booze collection.
But there’s a missing piece: something Patrick came to Vermont to find. Though so much of his career has been formed by interacting with his environment through a screen, he can’t shake the feeling that real-world fellowship holds part of the answer.
There, among the stills and copper piping of the distillery, he figures it out. He will fuse the digital and analog worlds through a series of hands-on cocktail hours at bars—because what good is knowing the story of spirits if you can’t actually sip them?—with an eye on history.
What Patrick realized during his brief encounter with pastis, a French apéritif that’s a cousin of absinthe, was that spirits are ripe for those who care about the story behind their stuff. (Gin, for instance, was at one point cheaper than water in Georgian England.) The Liquor Cabinet aims to provide a deeper look at the resurgence of craft cocktails.
A cosmopolitan with a sharpness for style and social connection, Patrick had been searching for the perfect vehicle for his varied set of skills. As a graphic designer, he helped develop the tablet version of Bon Appétit magazine. As a talented event host, he orchestrated the Spring Street Social Club, a pop-up food series that brings together influential characters in the food and editorial worlds. And as a gentleman with a keen eye for aesthetics, he has amassed a few hundred thousand followers on his Instagram handle, @aguynamedpatrick—a vehicle for his personal brand that has earned him the chance to work with the likes of Thom Browne, Lacoste, Polo, and Perry Ellis, which in turn has resulted in multiple accolades, including a write-up in The Wall Street Journal and an award as the first-ever CFDA “Fashion Instagrammer of the Year.”
He has become many things, a socialite for hire foremost among them.
Patrick’s path to New York was circuitous, but isn’t that how most people make their way to the capital of the world? A product of Fort Collins, Colorado, he attended Pensacola Christian College in Florida. Later, he moved with his then-boyfriend to Frankfurt, Germany, where he spent several years as a freelance graphic designer before making the jump to The City That Never Sleeps. “New York was always the place I was going to be,” he says. “I’ve always been drawn to editorial, and it’s the capital of things that formed my interests as I was coming of age: food, drink, entertainment, performance.”
After his visit to the distillery, Patrick is finishing up a picnic on one of the carved-out boulders of Warren Falls, one of the best swimming holes in the valley. He watches a local jump off a 40-foot cliff, arcing beneath a low-hanging tree and narrowly clearing a shallow rock shelf hidden under the water. “I’m going to jump off that,” he says.
After scaling the precipice, he strips down to his Speedo. After only a few minutes’ hesitation, Patrick flings himself off the bluff into the Mad River below, and one thing becomes clear: the need for a little leap of faith won’t stop this man.
The idea for The Liquor Cabinet is something that has been churning in my brain for several years. My first obsession with spirits began with tasting pastis in the south of France. It was such an elegant, anise-flavored experience.
As a former app designer for Bon Appétit magazine and other editorial outlets, I bring the creative side of things. My two brothers, who are business-minded, handle the finances and operations.
The Liquor Cabinet is meant to be a digital destination for everything surrounding spirits and cocktails. But it’s also more than that. The virtual world is nothing if it’s not moored in reality, and one of our primary missions is to actually bring people together over spirits.
I wouldn’t have even been able to do this without The Collective Quarterly. I started concentrating on the idea in earnest while I was in Vermont because I was challenged to take all my activities—Spring Street Social Society, my experience as a designer, my interest in alcohol—and combine them. It was a moment of realization: Okay, I’m good at being a creator, but what should I do with that? It was clear that the missing piece was gathering people in a physical space.
I realized that this idea couldn’t just live online. So I decided to kick things off with a cocktail-making session at Maison Premiere, an amazing bar in Williamsburg that has hints of 1930s New Orleans. The ambience and décor are on point, the service is on point, and the bartenders are incredibly thoughtful about their cocktail preparation. They focus on classics, and they’re thoughtful and know how to leverage old recipes with new twists without going crazy.
The approach there is “How do we set ourselves apart?,” rather than “How do we make modern drinks?” Like so many things, the key is focusing on fundamentals: the service, the ambience, the quality of ingredients, all of these elements combined.
We had 25 guests—writers, editors, photographers, friends, and influential acquaintances—who each received a tote bag of tools. Then, they went “shopping” for their spirit: exploring Bulleit bourbon, Dulce Vida tequila, Hendrick’s gin, Ketel One vodka, and Mount Gay rum. The partygoers then took their haul to a Maison Premiere bartender, and together they made something with the ingredients. These guys are amazing craftsmen, and they were able to not only explain the history behind some classic cocktails but to walk the guests through how to make them, too.
The idea is that all you need for a basic cabinet is these five spirits and a few additional ingredients—citrus, simple syrup, and vermouth—to be able to make a world of classic cocktails and their oft-forgotten cousins.
The Collective Quarterly trip was a time to be inspired and to think. My mind was fully on The Liquor Cabinet the whole week. I think part of what was interesting is that we had an eclectic group of people, and gathered around some vivid common experiences. We played with drinks at the Notch House. We experimented. We were merry.
The spirits we consume tell us so much about the politics, culture, and even economics of a certain time. Those stories become intimate when we’re consuming drinks with friends, reappropriating those concoctions within our own culture among family and friends. During a time when people are increasingly interested in the food they eat and the beverages they drink, there’s an immense amount of room for the stories behind our consumption.
I feel like I’m halfway up the mountain, with plenty of room to grow and reach my potential. True living is anchored in a backbone of contentment—or else nothing will ever satisfy you. It’s only through true living that we find happiness. That’s the idea of human connection, understanding your mistakes, and conducting your life with love and care for one another.
There’s a certain element of socializing (and leveraging that “social currency,” so to speak) that is material in nature. And exploring materialism is important. It’s okay to gain things, to make money, to have influence. But it’s about realizing it all means nothing with the balance of humanity.