Meet the Bartender: Meghan Balser
You can find her at Seven Grand, Trust, and the upcoming Craft at the Cove. Just don’t order a Long Island Iced Tea
Meghan Balser behind the bar at Seven Grand. | Photo: Alli Phillips
Of all spirits, it’s whiskey and tequila that draw fanatics. Or, well, not necessarily fanatics, but folks who appreciate the history and craft behind how each spirit’s made. Not too often do you find a whiskey aficionado who equally loves tequila and vice versa. That’s why I was intrigued to hear that Meghan Balser, who helped open North Park whiskey bar Seven Grand, was a brand ambassador for Suerte tequila, creating menus of tasty tequila cocktails for Suerte pop-up events.
Not only that, but she’d also picked up some shifts at newish Hillcrest spot Trust. Talk about mixology multitasking.
I sat down to chat with Balser about what she’s been up to and what she has planned for July 25, when she’ll be behind the bar at Level2’s monthly Craft at the Cove cocktail series, serving up Suerte cocktails and some whiskey drinks for good measure.
So, tell me a little about your background in bartending.
I’ve been in San Diego a little more than four years now. I started as a cocktail waitress at Pegu Club [in New York] and then a moved up from there. A really good friend of mine who used to work with me at Pegu Club, Erin Williams, moved out here to do the bar program at Saltbox at the Palomar Hotel. I was looking for a switch and I was really up to moving anywhere… So, I kind of took her up on the offer because she had a job available and she had a place for me to stay. I’d actually never been to San Diego, either, which was a little scary jumping on a plane, but it was an adventure.
So, you were at Saltbox?
Not to for too long, maybe six or seven months. It wasn’t my speed. The cocktails were great, but monetarily it wasn’t good for me. When I first moved here, we did a short little road trip. I went to the Seven Grand in L.A. and when I found out they were hiring here, I jumped on it. I’ve been there since the beginning. I’m really proud to work there—I think it’s a great bar.
And you’re also doing some shifts at Trust?
I used to work with [Trust lead bartender] Juan [Sanchez] at Seven Grand, and I know he’s done a bunch of cocktail programs all over the city. When I found out he was working at Trust, I thought it would be good for me to try to pick up a couple shifts. I really wanted to get back to cocktails. I feel like I’m known for being this cocktail person, but to be honest, I’m pouring whiskey at Seven Grand. I’m not making too many cocktails there—Old Fashioneds and Whiskey Sours. But I really wanted to get back to more of a cocktail-focused program. And the food [at Trust] is amazing.
So what’s a whiskey girl doing…
As the brand ambassador for a tequila company? I used to work for Congenial Spirits, which was based out of L.A., and we had a whole portfolio of spirits. One of them was Tapatio tequila and I helped grow that brand in San Diego. So, Suerte actually sought me out when they needed someone for Southern California. It would be more seamless if I had a job as a whiskey brand ambassador, but brand ambassador jobs are few and far between. And I do love tequila and I’m really glad I’m working for a tequila brand that’s made the right way—and it tastes really good, too.
What are you planning for Craft at the Cove?
I wanted to represent Seven Grand and Suerte, so I’m going to do a half whiskey, half tequila menu. I’m going to do a [nopales] agua fresca cocktail, a rye cocktail—I have one with lime, mint, green Chartreuse, and honey, so it’s still nice and light and fresh. I’m going to do an Old Fashioned with a charred pineapple [simple] syrup and R&D bitters, and we’re going to do three tequila cocktails. We’re going to do a flight of Suerte as well, so everybody can try a little bit of each expression.
Tell me about how Seven Grand’s Bar Three Piece is going?
It’s going really well. Basically, we took all of the more rare whiskeys to the back bar. It’s basically for that whiskey nerd who wants to go in there and try some cool stuff they haven’t had before. It’s more of an intimate environment, like a whiskey den experience. We offer two draft cocktails and you can have an Old Fashioned with any of the whiskeys. And, it’s where we hold our Whiskey Society.
What do you look for in a whiskey?
I like it to have a long finish—nice and rich. I like a really nice, mild sweetness, a lot of, like, chocolate notes, dark fruit. I also like bourbon with a higher rye content—that’s why I love Four Roses. I love Booker’s—it’s one of my favorite bourbons. I just like it to be really rich. I don’t like light bourbons or light whiskeys in general. I like it to have very distinctive, unique characteristics.
Fill in the blanks: I wish people would stop ordering ___________ and instead try ___________.
I wish people would start ordering out of their comfort zone and start being a little more adventurous. People seem to order what they already know, or antiquated drinks. It might truly be what they like, but people order, like, a rum and Coke, or a Sea Breeze. People order a Long Island Ice Tea all the time at Seven Grand. I just wish people would be more open to trying something—it doesn’t necessarily have to be adventurous, but something, like, "Hey, I never tried that before, but let me taste it. If it’s gross, I’ll never order it again." That’s all.
When you’re not working at Trust or Seven Grand, where do you go for a cocktail?
Lion’s Share. I love it there, but I really don’t get there enough. I want to get to La Jolla more often. George’s [at the Cove] is beautiful. Wonderland is my go-to in OB. Kindred is a new favorite, too.
And what are you drinking? What do you look for in a cocktail?
I like stirred and straightforward drinks. It doesn’t matter the base. And I know this is becoming a fad lately, but I really like all my drinks to have a little bit of salt. At Noble [Experiment], I was drinking Fiddy-Fiddys [a martini that’s half vermouth], but I was drinking half tequila and half Dolin with a little sprinkle of salt and orange bitters—it’s perfect. Adding that little pinch of salt changes everything.
When can people find you at Seven Grand and Trust?
Seven Grand, I’m there on Wednesdays and Saturdays and Trust on Thursdays and Fridays.
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