Nobody knows how to talk to bartenders like a bartender. Tom’s Town Distilling Co. is counting on that fact in hiring Matt Seiter, who was until recently bar manager at BC’s Kitchen in Lake Saint Louis, as its first brand ambassador.
Seiter will be behind the bar for a Tom’s Town event Tuesday, June 20, when the distillery releases the latest in its line of Kansas City collaborations: Machine No. 2, a malt whiskey distilled from Torn Label Brewing Co.’s quadjillo beer. The ticketed event begins at 5:30 p.m. (tickets are available at fareharbor.com/toms-town/items/54114), and Seiter will be bartending in Tom’s Town’s tasting room, at 1701 Main St., afterward.
Seiter’s understanding of the industry and the relationships he has formed during his years behind the bar are expected to help him bolster sales of Tom’s Town’s spirits, first in the St. Louis area, then throughout Missouri and Kansas and eventually in other states as the distillery expands distribution.
“(Bartending) is an art form. It is a craft, and he speaks their language,” says David Epstein, who co-founded Tom’s Town in the Crossroads Arts District in 2015.
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The job is about more than semantics, though. There were 1,315 craft distilleries in the U.S. in 2016, and the industry is growing rapidly, according to the American Craft Spirits Association. Competition is fierce, and it’s no longer enough to be craft, or local, or even just plain good.
People need to taste the product, understand its full potential and develop a connection with the brand. That’s where Seiter comes in. He’s looking forward to introducing bartenders, bar managers and other professionals to Tom’s Town’s Eli’s Strong Arm Vodka, McElroy’s Corruption Gin and Pendergast’s Royal Gold Bourbon and helping create cocktail recipes and menus when needed.
“They’ll touch 40 to 100 people a night,” Seiter says of the bartenders he’ll be working with. “They are our true ambassadors.”
Retail outlets are also key, because that’s where consumers often first encounter Tom’s Town. Collaborating with staff there is important, as is hosting tastings and classes — something Seiter, a former high school history teacher, is especially looking forward to leading. The overall strategy is still evolving, he says, but one thing is clear: He’s excited about the opportunity to represent Tom’s Town.
“I’ve already cut my teeth and have a somewhat decent name around this community, in this state and in the Midwest,” says Seiter, who will be working full time for the distillery. “I’m hoping that brings a bit of validity to the amazing juice (distiller Rob Vossmeyer) puts in the bottle.”
How does Seiter know what people will like? Experience. Seiter began bartending on New Year’s Eve in 2006. He remembers it exactly, because a bartender at the restaurant where he was a server was fired mid-evening, and Seiter stepped in. He’d already been to culinary school and worked in restaurant kitchens and as a server and had long wanted to try his hand at bartending. It was a perfect fit.
Seiter began accumulating bartending books, sought out training programs and moved to Chicago, where he bartended and became involved in the city’s U.S. Bartenders’ Guild chapter. He returned to St. Louis, helped start a USBG chapter there and took over as the bar manager at Sanctuaria.
During his tenure, the bar earned two Tales of the Cocktail Spirited Awards nominations, one in 2011 for the World’s Best Cocktail Menu and another in 2012 for World’s Best Spirits Selection. In 2013, his book “Sanctuaria: The Dive Bar of Cocktail Bars” (Nectar Media Group, 2012) made the list of best new cocktail book nominations.
Seiter didn’t stick to his own side of the state, though. He routinely visited Kansas City, and he was a finalist in what was then the Greater Kansas City Bartending Competition (now part of the Paris of the Plains Cocktail Festival (popfestkc.com) in both 2011 and 2012. He also helped found one of the festival’s most popular events, the Mohawk Melee team bartending competition, and in 2015 presented a seminar on gin’s rightful place in the tiki canon.
After leaving Sanctuaria in 2013, Seiter created three Deckopedia products (think cocktail books in card form) including Mixology 101, Cheers! Just Because and International Mixology. He writes a cocktail column for Feast Magazine and regularly hosts cocktail classes and seminars at festivals such as GinWorld (ginworld.com).
All that makes Seiter a perfect asset for Tom’s Town, Epstein says.
“He just has a library-like mind of cocktail recipes and is uber creative,” Epstein says. “It just became so obvious that this was the missing link for Tom’s Town.”
As for Seiter? He’s happy to have a reason to spend more time back in Kansas City.
“I’ve missed this town severely,” he says. “Now that I have a professional reason to come over, I’m looking forward to shaking hands and seeing people in their realm.”
To reach freelance spirits and cocktail columnist Anne Brockhoff, send email to blithespiritskc@ kcstar.com.