Pro Bartender Isaac Huss and the Art of the Cocktail

“There is something special about how a good drink, like a good meal, can elevate the experience, especially with people you care about.”

(photo: Photo Provided)

A resident of St. Paul, Minnesota, and raised in a Catholic family, Isaac Huss is a parishioner at Our Lady of Lourdes in Minneapolis, frequents Holy Cross in Minneapolis, and has a day job at Nativity of Our Lord in St. Paul. Huss also has an unusual way to contribute to community life at all these churches: As a professional bartender and cocktail-maker extraordinaire, he brightens up parish events with beer, wine and, well, cocktails.

And what might have been this inspiration?

Not his parents. (“Sorry, Mom and Dad!” he said). “My mom had an occasional glass of wine out and about,” he said, adding that there was no liquor kept in the house. Although his father had left behind his Catholic upbringing, the rest of the family attended Mass each week, and Huss stayed faithful through grade school. “I had the public high school as an opportunity to move on,” he said, “and to spread my secular wings, if you will. In reality, that didn’t prove to be attractive, and that coincided with my getting involved with our parish youth group.”

After that, Huss said he really grew in his faith and entered the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul. “I actually spent four years in college seminary studying to be a priest,” he said. “It provided an opportunity to discern God’s plan for my life, but it was also like having a second home and the priests served as our spiritual fathers.”

The priests and visitors enjoyed the classic martini and Manhattan cocktails, and Huss found it special to be able to make them in the priests’ home. “Some of my warmest memories of life and college,” he said, “was sitting around with priests and mixing up whatever we had on hand for not-so-craft cocktails. I got pretty good at making a Tequila Sunrise with orange juice and grenadine… who knew tequila could taste so good… It is great to host people in that way.”

After college and in between careers, Huss found a Groupon for the Minnesota School of Bartending and thought it’d be a good way to hone his skills a bit — and potentially as a way to earn some cash. He said the staff makes sure you know all about liquors and teach students to make cocktails quickly. “I did appreciate that I learned to make the classic cocktails. But I also learned you cannot sacrifice quality for speed,” Huss added.

Despite having this certificate, Huss’s first gig wouldn’t let him work as a bartender, instead starting him at the host stand. “But the restaurant wanted even the hosts to know the drinks,” he said, “so I would learn how to make them at the bartender’s training, and then I would go home and practice on my roommates. About the same time, some buddies started building a program of events for young professionals at Our Lady of Lourdes. We would have a time of prayer, then a presentation in the parish hall. In between I would provide refreshments, beginning with beer to wine.” But it also proved to be the perfect opportunity to take his cocktail-making to the next level. He’d prepare several craft mixed drinks — many of them recipes adapted from the restaurant’s — and would serve them to the group, which would sometimes be as large as 125 young adults.

As it has turned out, Huss has made quite a mark in his parish, thanks to the monthly “Vespers at Lourdes” program, which just finished up its seventh year. “The craft cocktails we would provide became something of a staple, even a draw which set our event apart,” he said. “Eventually, people started asking me to teach them how to make the drinks, which turned into a class I’ll teach called Cocktails for Beginners, which I’ll host in my home or on location,” he said. “Then when the stay-at-home orders came during the COVID-19 pandemic, I started a video do-it-yourself series called Quarantine Cocktails.”

How does Huss tie this with his faith? Hospitality, he said. “There is something special about how a good drink, like a good meal, can elevate the experience, especially with people you care about. Good cocktails can lift spirits and get people to stay longer — and be happier — which often leads to richer conversation.”